[text developed from material at Ford.com]
Born in Wayne County, Michigan, in an area that later became Dearborn, on July 30, 1863, Henry Ford was the oldest of six children. Although he chose to leave the family farm and pursue his own interests, Henry never strayed far from his roots.
Although he had established a solid career with good prospects at Edison Illuminating, Ford was restless and ready to venture into the field of automotive engineering, in which he had long been experimenting. As a young boy, Ford took apart everything he got his hands on; he became known around the neighborhood for fixing people's watches. As he grew up, he explored every mechanical opportunity he could find, learning to fix steam engines and run mill operations. In the 1890s, he focused particularly on internal combustion engines.
"Young man, that's the thing! You have it-the self-contained unit carrying its own fuel with it! Keep at it!" These early words of encouragement came from Thomas Edison, who was to become one of Henry Ford's closest friends.
The friendship between Henry Ford and scientist and inventor Thomas Edison, which spanned more than 30 years, is almost legendary. From their earliest meetings, they encouraged and inspired one another, often contributing to each other's work.
In Edison, Ford found a sympathetic mind and true friendship that transcended the boundaries of mere celebrity or fame.
Henry Ford called his first vehicle the Quadricycle. It attracted enough financial backing for Ford to leave his engineer position at Edison Illuminating and help found the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. The company faltered for a variety of reasons, and in 1901 Ford left to pursue his own work again. Later that year, the Henry Ford Company was born, but Henry Ford himself stayed with it only a few months. He left in early 1902 to devote more time to refining his vehicles.
Within a few months of the June 16, 1903 founding of Ford Motor Company, the first Ford, a Model A, was being sold in Detroit. Although there were 87 other car companies in the United States, it soon became clear that Henry Ford's vision for the automotive industry was going to work.
What made Henry Ford successful where others had failed (or succeeded on a much smaller scale)? It wasn't just his vehicles, excellent as they were-it was his unique understanding of the potential of those vehicles to transform society.
Before Ford, cars were luxury items, and most of his early competitors continued to view them that way, manufacturing and marketing their vehicles for the wealthy. Ford's great stroke of genius was recognizing that with the right techniques, cars could be made affordable for the general public-and that the general public would want them. Ford focused on making the manufacturing process more efficient so he could produce more cars and charge less for each.
Some of Ford's greatest innovations came not in the cars themselves but in the processes for creating them, like his 1914 introduction of a moving conveyor belt at the Highland Park plant, which dramatically increased production. Starting construction on the Rouge plant in 1917 was the first step toward Ford's dream of an all-in-one manufacturing complex, where the processing of raw materials, parts and final automobiles could happen efficiently in a single place.
Ford was also unique in recognizing that his business was about more than just cars; it was about transportation, mobility, changing lifestyles. He anticipated the ripple effect from mass production to create more jobs that let more people afford the cost-effective cars he produced.