Ford Motor Company: From the Model T to the Mustang

The Ford Motor Company was officially founded on June 4, 1896 in Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford and his company proved successful right away, mainly on the strength of his affordable and reliable Model T. After perfecting the assembly line, his cars became even more affordable. Eventually, other American car makers caught up with Ford, but the company managed to become popular once again. In this video, takes a look at the history of the Ford Motor Company, from its beginnings with the Quadricycle and the Model T, to its successes with the Thunderbird and Mustang.

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History of the Ford Motor Company

This is one of the world’s largest family-controlled businesses. Learn more about the history of the Ford Motor Company.

Henry Ford and the Quadricycle

As an engineer, Henry Ford was interested in mechanics, and by June 4th 1896, he was already experimenting with an early form of motor vehicle that he called the Quadricycle.

Early Days

He then launched the Detroit Automobile company in 1899, and this became the Henry Ford Company by 1901. However, Ford ended up leaving the next year, and the company went on to reform as Cadillac. It didn’t take long for Henry Ford to start his next company: On June 13th, 1903 the Ford Motor Company of Dearborn, Michigan was incorporated.

The Model T and the Assembly Line

Ford was profitable right away. However, it was 1908’s Model T that proved immensely popular and affordable at $850. The Model T became the first mass-produced automobile. Production went from a few cars per day at the outset to over 170 thousand produced in 1912. By the next year, the company had perfected the assembly line and this served to increase productivity even further. In 1920, over one million Ford cars were produced.


Initially, output was slower due to high employee turnover. It was then that Henry Ford effectively invented the eight hour work day, and doubled the salaries of his employees. Productivity and sales increased, and other companies followed suit. Ford’s social theories about manufacturing and its social effects were later named Fordism. Due to the success of Fordism and the rising efficiency of Ford’s production, the already-low price of the Model T continued to drop until it reached $290 in the 1920s.

Expansion and Lincoln Luxury

By this time, Ford had expanded overseas and was producing cars all over the world. In 1922 the company acquired the Lincoln Motor Company to cater to the luxury market.

Falling Behind Other Automakers

However, by the end of the 1920s, Ford was no longer considered innovative by the consumer, and was falling behind other automakers like GM and Chrysler. Meanwhile, other automakers were selling more expensive cars, but they were also offering financing options to make them accessible. While Ford opposed this by saying it would hurt the economy in the long-term, he eventually began offering monthly payment options in 1927. That year he also retired the popular Model T.

The Great Depression

As the country suffered through the Great Depression, so did Ford. The company was forced to fire workers, and this led to a high unemployment rate in Detroit, and resentment toward the company. Once the Depression ended, the Mercury division of the company was founded to supply mid-priced cars in 1938.

World War II

World War II followed, and Ford manufactured equipment for both the Allies and the Axis. Henry Ford and the company were then accused of Nazi sympathy, and by the end of the war the company was losing $9 million a month.

Death of Henry Ford

Soon after, Henry Ford died at the age of 83 on April 7th, 1947. However, the company didn’t slow down: by 1948 they had introduced the successful F-Series of pickup trucks.

Thunderbird, Falcon and Mustang

In 1955, Ford introduced the symbolic Thunderbird model. Though the company disappointed in 1958 with their Edsel line of cars, their success continued into the 1960s with models like the Falcon and the iconic Mustang.

The Ford Pinto

However, one of the biggest failures in the Ford catalog was 1971’s Pinto. Design flaws caused the car to be prone to exploding in a collision, and the model is credited with causing a number of deaths.

Popular Models of the 1980s

Despite the terrible press the company received, Ford bounced back by the 1980s and released a number of popular models. The Lincoln Town Car first appeared in 1981, and replaced the Continental. Under the Ford name, the Escort was introduced that same year and became one of the company’s most successful models. Another triumph was the Ford Taurus. Starting as a 1986 model, this sedan was the best-selling car in the United States for four years. Also introduced as an ’86 was the Ford Aerostar minivan, which was Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year for 1990.

Today and Tomorrow

Throughout the years, Ford has acquired and sold various other car companies, including Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo Cars. Like many U.S. automakers, they have struggled in recent years. However, with innovative efforts like their SYNC technology, Ford is back on track as a pillar of the American auto industry.

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