Henry Ford Invented the Automobile
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Henry Ford invented the automobile.

Don’t believe that!

Henry Ford’s name is synonymous with the automobile, certainly in the United States, and he is usually credited with its invention, and is often credited for developing the internal combustion engine and assembly line, as well. But, all of these things were around long before Ford.

Early versions of the “assembly line” have existed for hundreds of years. For example, in the early 12th century, Italian military ships were assembled in Venetian canals, with different stages of construction being performed as the ship passed each shop along the route.

In the 17th century, Christiaan Huygens used gunpowder combustion in a chamber to drive water pumps for the Versailles palace gardens in France, a crude version of the modern internal combustion engine. In the late 1700s and through the 1800s, numerous refinements to the concept were introduced. In 1860, an engine with cylinders, pistons and a flywheel was already being mass produced.

Finally, Karl Benz is generally acknowledged as the investor of the modern automobile. His three-wheeled “Motorwagen” was first built in 1885 and a total of 25 were sold. In 1893, Benz introduced a more-familiar, four-wheeled vehicle.

What Ford DID accomplish was to improve manufacturing techniques and make cars affordable to middle-class citizens for the first time.

Henry Ford developed his early ideas while working for Thomas Edison’s Edison Illuminating Company. He resigned in 1899 to form the Detroit Automobile Company. The cars produced were of lower quality and higher cost than Ford envisioned, and the firm closed less than two years later.

After developing a successful racing car prototype, Ford launched the Henry Ford Company and went to work designing an inexpensive automobile for the everyday American. The Model T was introduced in 1908 at a price of $825. The price would eventually drop to $260, or only $3,500 in today’s dollars. The Model T was the first car mass produced on a moving assembly line, and the first with interchangeable parts. By 1914, the assembly process had become so efficient that a car could be produced in about 90 minutes. It was an enormous commercial success. More than 15 million Model T’s were eventually sold, a record that would stand until beaten by the Volkswagen Beetle in 1972.

Bonus Fact: The greatest bottleneck in Ford’s assembly line was paint, specifically drying time. In the early years of the Model T production, only black was offered as a color option, since a specific type of paint known as Japan Black was the only one that dried quickly enough.


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