July 30, 2013. Remember that date if we’re all still here after the Mayan Apocalypse. That’s when the man who reinvented the world, Henry Ford, will be celebrating his 150th birthday. Whether you remember his legacy as the world’s greatest inventor, or just a senile old hack who got lucky–or maybe a little bit of both–it’s impossible to deny the man’s accomplishments. After coming back from numerous bankruptcies and failures, Ford was the first automaker to integrate interchangeable parts, an assembly line, and mass production into a successful formula to eventually produce more than 16 million of his Model T runabouts. [Warning: This article is a history lesson. You will learn something if you finish it.]
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. His first production car was the Model A, which debuted in 1903 after garnering fame by beating hot-foot racer and car builder Alexander Winton in a race in 1901. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of him; history rarely remembers the guy who finishes in second place.
When the 1903 Model A rolled around, it sold for $850 new, or about $21,000 in today’s dollars. But remember, that was before credit cards and financing a car. You had to be pretty well off to buy a Model A, despite the fact that it was among the cheaper cars on the market, competing with the Curved Dash Oldsmobile.
There aren’t many Model As left, but Bill Ford–Henry’s great grandson–found the oldest one in existence, the third car ever made, and decided to buy it on November 30 for the automaker of his namesake. It will be on display on July 27 and 28 at the Market Faire festival in Dearborn, Michigan. But if you’re not in town around then, Ford will have it displayed at a year full of festivities.
Built during the early part of what has become known as the Brass Era to vintage car collectors, its significance is great. After getting off the ground again with the Model A–he had previously had two other car companies before founding Ford–Ford amassed nearly $20,000 in debt. Selling two cars, he was able to keep just enough money in the bank—$223.65—to stay afloat until production picked up.
The rest, as they say, is history.
From building just a few hundred vehicles annually to making millions of cars and trucks a year, Ford is still among the largest automakers out there, perhaps ceding the top spot in the 1920s and ’30s when Henry’s reluctance to add colors and variety had gotten the better of him. Black lacquer on the Model T dried the quickest, and it was cheap. But across town, Alfred P. Sloan at General Motors was giving customers colors and options. He was tweaking cars every year–planned obsolescence–while Ford was being run by sleazebag Harry Bennett and his cronies, as Ford wasn’t able to run the company anymore and was too proud to admit it. And then there was the Great Depression. GM took control of the auto industry.
And that was that.
The history of Ford is checkered with triumph and failure, perseverance and doubt. Ford has thoughtfully created the site www.henryford150.com that gives an honest look at what Henry Ford faced and his company accomplished while he was alive, albeit from a 10,000-foot view. It makes for hours of reading, and we highly encourage you to take some time and check it out.