Profile of Henry Ford
Ford became not just a model of a great industrialist, but a model of a great icon of
Hi, I'm Frank Couvares for About.com, and I'm here to talk to you about Henry Ford.Henry Ford is one of the great icons of American individualism and entrepreneurship. He is the man who many believe invented the automobile, but he didn't. He certainly did invent - or at least, perfect - the continuous mass production assembly line. And it is that that allowed him to produce, in 1908, the Model T, which became the most popular car in the world because it was cheap, it worked well, and it was easy to fix. Millions of Americans bought them in the years following, along with the Model A (its successor) and Henry Ford became not just a model of a great industrialist, but a model of a great icon of small-town American ingenuity.If he was famous for the continuous assembly line, he was equally as famous for the Five Dollar Day, which he inaugurated in 1914, and it made Ford a model of the enlightened businessman. There was a dark side to the Five Dollar Day, and it was what Ford called his sociological department. In return for that five dollar day, workers had to subject themselves to a kind of Big Brother oversight, that increasingly drew criticism from workers, but from others who began to see it as a kind of dictatorship by the benign despot. The Five Dollar Day nonetheless worked very well for Ford. It helped him to recruit workers, and it helped him to keep labor peace in his factories.But that all changed in 1919 at the end of the First World War, when the great productive burst of wartime industries turned into a recession. Men were fired, wages were reduced. After that, Ford's attitudes toward his worker's became increasingly hostile. In the 1930s, the United Auto Workers (as part of the CIO) began organizing the auto plants, but not Ford. Ford held out until the end. But eventually, even Ford signed contracts with the United Auto Workers. Executives began seeing him as an increasingly distant and, in some ways, broken man.In his latter days, he devoted a good bit of his fortune and much of his energy to building Greenfield Village, a kind of Disney-like model village of small-town America from the 19th century that he came from, and in some ways, still lived in mentally. There's something very artificial, but none the less represents for Ford, and perhaps many other Americans, that idea of the small-town garage mechanic who makes it big.Thanks for watching. To learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.