Henry Ford and his first cars

Henry Ford: A passion for cars

Henry Ford always had a keen interest for mechanic and inventions, even as a young man. In 1891 he moved to Detroit with his wife and took a job as night engineer for the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. In 1896, he had risen to chief engineer, but he had developed a new passion; building a horseless carriage. The same year on June, 4, he completed his Quadricycle, a primitive engine that had only two forward speeds with no reverse.

In 1898, with his second car, he persuade a group of businessmen to back him in the biggest risk of his life—a company to make and sell horseless carriages. The company is created in 1899 but after only one year of operation, with a net loss of $86,000, Ford has to declare bankruptcy. In 1901 he creates a new company which will only exist 3 months before to meet the same fate.

Ford doesn’t give up; he decides to take bigger risks, building and even driving racing cars. The success of these cars caught the attention of new financial backers; Alexander Y Malcomson, an important coal distributor, John Gray, a banker of Detroit who is also Henry’s uncle, but also the brothers John and Horace Dodge. On June 16, 1903, with a capital of $150,000, Henry Ford incorporates his third automotive venture, Ford Motor Company (he owns just 25% of the company).

The first model, the Ford A, is sold on July 23, 1903. The red car, with an 8 hp engine, can reach 28 miles/hour and has two forward speeds and reverse. Over 1,700 models are sold, over a year and a half, not a bad result in a period where cars where luxury goods. Several other models will follow, but Ford is often at odd with his business partners. The model ”K” is launched in 1906 mostly on the insistence of Malcomson, in spite of H. Ford’s objections. It is a luxury model of $2,500 propelled by a 6 cylinders engine. Even if the price is ultimately lowered to 1,000$ (nearly 33,000$ in today’s dollars), it is a commercial failure. Ford draws the correct conclusions and want a more modest, 4 cylinders cheap car, reliable, simple and usable on the mostly rural routes of the United States. But he can only realize his dream in 1906 when he succeeds to John Gray as the president, with 58.5% of the company’s shares. The “model T” was around the corner; two years later, Ford would use his experience with the model “N” to bring a new car that will make history.