The history of the Ford works is bound together inseparably with that of it's namesake, Henry Ford. He was born in 1865 in Dearborn near Detroit. His forefathers were farmers who originally came from Ireland. His father was a carpenter with the railways, before he worked his own farm in Michigan. This area had a certain attraction because of the reasonable property prices. The Ford clan were able to amass considerable land ownership. The first generation of immigrants helped the second generation to establish themselves.
Tools instead of toys ...
Dearborn was, at this time, little more than a “one horse town”. Henry attended the single-class village school. His father, William Ford, held various important honourary posts. Social contacts and a certain amount of respect would also in the future, prove to be important for Henry Ford. His parents were rather poor than well off. At that time, working the land was a hard life, all his life his target was to build an engine for the machines, which would make the work easier. Among the farmers and (former) carpenters, having a talent for (precision) mechanical machines was rare. Thus Henry Ford had a certain special status. As an adolescent (at the age of 13) he used to repair the clocks in his neighbourhood. A key-event in his life, at the age of 12, was the introduction of the first steam-powered tractors. Once they arrived at the respective farms, they could be used to power threshing machines and other equipment. The independently moving machines, which needed no horses to pull them, became the focal point in his life. Indeed, he first of all, carried on collecting and repairing clocks parallel to his apprenticeship as a machine builder at The Dry Dock Company in Detroit.
After approx. three years, being more farmer with a leaning towards mechanics than vice versa, he returned to Dearborn. Here, one summer long, he helped out at Westinghouse with their work on the Locomobile. He himself also built a steam wagon, however, he was never happy with its heavy weight and the dangers involved. At least the more practically minded Henry Ford was reading American and also English magazines, in one of these he found the description of a gas-powered engine. This, he thought, using liquid fuel, could be a possible candidate for vehicle engines, indeed the building of it seemed to be a long way off. The interest in gas-engines did however, cause Ford to finally drop the idea of steam-power. Apart from that, the roads in the USA were much worse than those in Europe at the time, where steam-powered vehicles were already being used. The following year he was already a travelling representative and repairman in the same company. In 1885 he met Clara whom he married in 1888. In his own opinion, his wife was actually more convinced of the success of his engine-building, than he himself was. They first lived on a farm, where he carried on testing, until he was drawn, once again, in 1891, to Detroit. Where in 1893 their son Edsel was born.
He was successfully employed in Detroit at the Edison Illuminating Company servicing the turbines. This allowed him enough time to follow his hobby, the building of an engine/motor-car in a small workshop, as long as the turbines kept on running trouble-free. He climbed the career ladder and became a leading engineer earning at least 150 Dollars a month. He was given a staff and a seperate place for his project. Karl Benz was able to get his first (two-stroke) engine running on New Year's Eve, for Henry Ford it was Christmas, and with the assistance of his wife, he was able, for the first time, to coax a regular running sound from his copy of a two-cylinder engine.