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Henry Ford’s Own Story

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Henry Ford’s Own Story
Chapter V
GETTING THE MACHINE IDEA

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Return to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter IV - AN EXACTING ROUTINE

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Chapter V - GETTING THE MACHINE IDEA

WHEN Henry had been with the James Flower Company nine months his wages were increased. He received three dollars a week.

He was not greatly impressed. He had not been working for the money; he wanted to learn more about machines. As far as he was concerned, the advantages of the iron- works were nearly exhausted. He had had in turn nearly every job in the place, which had been a good education for him, but the methods which had allowed it annoyed him more every day. He be gan to think the foreman rather a stupid fellow, with slipshod, inefficient ideas.

As a matter of fact, the shop was a very good one for those days. It turned out good machines, and did it with no more waste than was cus tomary. Efficiency experts, waste-motion experi ments, mass production in a word, the machine idea applied to human beings was unheard of then.

Henry knew there was something wrong. He did not like to work there any longer. Two weeks after the additional fifty cents had been added to his pay envelope he left the James Flower Company. He had got a job with the Drydock Engine works, manufacturers of marine machinery. His pay was two dollars and a half a week.

To the few men who knew him he probably seemed a discontented boy who did not know when he was well off. If any of them took the trouble to advise him, they probably said he would do better to stay with a good thing while he had it than to change around aimlessly.

He was far from being a boy who needed that advice. Without knowing it, he had found the one thing he was to follow all his life not ma chines merely, but the machine idea. He went to work for the drydock company because he liked its organization.

By this time he was a little more than 17 years old ; an active, wiry young man, his muscles hard and his hands calloused from work. After nearly a year of complete absorption in mechanical prob lems, his natural liking for human companion ship began to assert itself. At the drydock works he found a group of young men like himself, hard-working, fun-loving young mechanics. In a few weeks he was popular with them.

They were a clean, energetic lot, clear-think ing and ambitious, as most mechanics are. After the day s work was finished they rushed through the wide doors into the street, with a whoop of delight in the outdoor air, jostling each other, playing practical jokes, enjoying a little rough horseplay among themselves. In the evenings they wandered about the streets in couples, arms carelessly thrown over each other s shoulders, commenting on things they saw. They learned every inch of the water front; tried each other out in wrestling and boxing.

Eager young fellows, grasping at life with both hands, wanting all of it, and wanting it right then naturally enough they smoked, drank, experimented with love-making, turned night into day in a joyous carouse now and then. But before long Henry Ford was a leader among them, as he had been among the boys in the Greenfield school, and again he diverted the en ergy of his followers into his own channels.

Pursuits that had interested them seemed to him a waste of time and strength. He did not smoke his tentative attempt with hay-cigarettes in his boyhood had discouraged that perma nently he did not drink, and girls seemed to him unutterably stupid.

"I have never tasted liquor in my life," he says. "I'd as soon think of taking any other poison."

Undoubtedly his opinion is right, but one is in clined to doubt the accuracy of his memory. In those early days in Detroit he must have experi mented at least once with the effects of liquor on the human system ; probably once would have been sufficient. Besides, about that time he developed an interest so strong that it not only absorbed his own attention, but carried that of his friends along with it.

He bought a watch. It had taken him only a few months to master his task in the drydock works so thoroughly that his wages were raised. Later they were raised again. Then he was get ting five dollars a week, more than enough to pay his expenses, without night work. He left the jeweler s shop, but he brought with him a watch, the first he had ever owned.

Immediately he took it to pieces. When its scattered parts lay on a table before him he looked at them and marveled. He had paid three dollars for the watch, and he could not figure out any reason why it should have cost so much.

"It ran," he says. "It had some kind of a dark composition case, and it weighed a good deal, and it went along all right never lost or gained more than a certain amount in any given day.

"But there wasn t anything about that watch that should have cost three dollars. Nothing but a lot of plain parts, made out of cheap metal. I could have made one like it for one dollar, or even less. But it cost me three. The only way I could figure it out was that there was a lot of waste somewhere."

Then he remembered the methods of produc tion at the James Flower Company. He reasoned that probably that watch factory had turned out only a few hundred of that design, and then tried something else alarm clocks, perhaps. The parts had been made by the dozen, some of them had probably been filed down by hand, to make them fit.

Then he got the great idea. A factory a gigantic factory, running with the precision of a machine, turning out watches by the thousands and tens of thousands watches all exactly alike, every part cut by an exact die.

He talked it over with the boys at the drydock works. He was enthusiastic. He showed them that a watch could be made for less than half a dollar by his plan. He juggled figures of thou sands of dollars as though they were pennies. The size of the sums did not stagger him, be cause money was never concrete to him it was merely rows of figures but to the young fel lows who listened his talk was dazzling.

They joined enthusiastically in the scheme. Then their evenings became merely so much time to spend up in Ford s room, figuring estimates and discussing plans.

The watch could be made for thirty-seven cents, provided machinery turned it out by tens of thousands. Henry Ford visualized the fac tory a factory devoted to one thing, the making of ONE watch specialized, concentrated, with no waste energy. Those eager young men planned the whole thing from furnaces to assembling rooms.

They figured the cost of material by the hundred tons, estimated the exact proportions each metal required ; they planned an output of 2,000 watches daily as the point at which cost of production would be cheapest. They would sell the watch for fifty cents, and guarantee it for one year. Two thousand watches at a profit of thirteen cents each - $260 daily profit! They were dazzled.

"We needn t stop there we can increase that output when we get started," Henry Ford de clared. "Organization will do it. Lack of or ganization keeps prices up, for its cost must be charged in on the selling price; and high prices keep sales down. We will work it the other way; low prices, increased sales, increased out put, lower prices. It works in a circle. Listen to this-" He held them, listening, while he talked and figured, eliminating waste here and cutting expenses there, until the landlady came up and knocked at the door, asking if they meant to stay up all night.

It took time to get his ideas translated into concrete, exact figures. He worked over them for nearly a year, holding the enthusiasm of his friends at fever heat all that time. Finally he made drawings fdr the machines he planned and cut dies for making the different parts of the watch.

His plan was complete a gigantic machine, taking in bars of steel at one end, and turning out completed watches at the other hundreds of thousands of cheap watches, all alike the Ford watch !

"I tell you there's a fortune in it a fortune!" the young fellows in the scheme exclaimed to each other.

"All we need now is the capital," Ford de cided at last.

He was turning his mind to the problem of getting it, when he received a letter from his sister Margaret. His father had been injured in an accident ; his older brother was ill. Couldn t he come home for a while ? They needed him.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Source:  Wikisource


Go to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter VI - BACK TO THE FARM




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