Henry Ford’s Own Story
WHEN Henry Ford became manager of the mechanical department the workmen in the Edi son plants were working twelve-hour shifts as a matter of course. In those days the theory of practically all employers was that men, like the rest of their equipment, should be worked to the limit of their strength.
"We had about forty men on the regular list and four or five substitutes who were kept busy filling in for the regular men who were sick or tired out," he said. "I hadn t been in charge long before it struck me there was something wrong. If our machines had broken down as often as our men did anybody would have known we weren t handling them right.
"No good engineer will run a machine at the limit of its power and speed for very long. It hurts the machine. It isn t sentimentalism to take care of the machine; it s plain common sense and efficiency. It isn t sentimentalism to look out for the interests of the men.
"The sooner people get over the idea that there s a difference between ideals of brotherhood and practical common sense the sooner we ll do away with waste and friction of all kinds and have a world that s run right. The only trouble now is that people haven t the courage to put their ideals to work. They say, Oh, of course, the oretically we believe in them but they aren t practical ! What s the use of believing in anything that isn t practical? If it s any good at all it s practical. The whole progress of the world has been made by men who went to work and used their impractical theories.
"Well, I figured over the situation quite a while and I found out that by putting the substitutes on the regular list and shifting the men around a little I could give them all an eight-hour day without increasing the pay roll. I did it.
"Yes, there was a howl from the stockholders when they heard about it. Nobody had ever tried it before ; they thought I was going to turn every thing upside down and ruin the business. But the work was going along better than before. The men felt more like work, and they pitched in to show they appreciated being treated right. We had fewer breakdowns after that; everything went better.
"After the thing was done it was easy enough to prove that it paid, and the stockholders quieted down after one or two complaints.
"As a matter of fact, I don t believe in any hours for work. A man ought to work as long as he wants to, and he ought to enjoy his work so much that he wants to work as long as he can.
It s only monotonous, grinding work that needs an eight-hour day. When a man is creating some thing, working to get results, twelve or fourteen hours a day doesn t hurt him."
Ford put this theory into practice as apparently he had done with all his theories. He himself worked more than fourteen hours a day.
From 6 to 6 he worked in the Edison plant, for his eight-hour regime did not apply to him self. Then he hastened home to the little house on Edison avenue, ate supper and hurried out to his improvised workshop in the old shed. He turned on the big electric lights and there in the glare lay materials for his self-propelling gasoline engine his real work, which at last he could be gin!
Until late at night the neighbors heard the sound of his tools and saw the glare of light through the cracks.
"The Smiths are giving a party to-night I suppose we can t go?" Mrs. Ford said one even ing, wistfully. "Oh, well when the gasoline en gine is finished how long do you think it s going to take?"
"I don t know I m working on the cylinder now. I ll have to have a larger bore to get the speed and then there ll be the transmission." Ford stopped speaking and was lost in the prob lems. He finished supper abstractedly and pushed back his chair.
"Oh, about the party. Too bad. I hope you don t mind much. When I get the gasoline en gine finished," he said apologetically, and hurried out to work on it. In a few minutes he was ab sorbed with the cylinder.
He had found that day a piece of pipe, thrown into the, scrap heap at the Edison plant, and it had struck him at once that it would do for his cylinder, and that using it would save him the time and work of making one. He brought it home, cut it to the right length and set it in the first Ford engine.
Meantime, in the house Mrs. Ford cleared away the supper dishes, took out her sewing and settled down with a sigh. The neighbors were going by to the Smiths party. She could hear them laughing and calling to each other on the sidewalk outside. In the shed her husband was filing something ; the rasp of the file on the metal sounded plainly.
After all, she thought, she might as well give up the idea of parties. She couldn t give one her self ; she knew Henry would refuse to leave his hateful engine even for one evening. She was very homesick for Greenfield.
The months went by. Ford worked all day at the Edison plant, half the night in his own shop. The men he met in his work had taken to looking at him half in amusement, half in good- humored contempt. He was a "crank," they said. Some of the younger ones would laugh and tap their foreheads when he had gone past them.
One night he came home and found Mrs. Ford crying. The neighbors were saying that he was crazy, she sobbed. She d told Mrs. Lessing just exactly what she thought of her, too, and she d never speak to her again! But, oh, wouldn t he ever get that horrid engine finished so they could live like other people ?
It all hurt. No man was ever friendlier, or enjoyed more the feeling of comradeship with other men than Ford. But it was a choice be tween that and his automobile. He went on with his routine of work, fourteen or sixteen hours of it every day, and he drew more into himself, be came more reserved with every month that passed.
If any man ever followed Emerson s doctrine of self-reliance, giving up friends and family in his devotion to his own work, that man was Henry Ford in those days.
There was nothing dramatic about it just an obscure machinist with an idea, willing to give up social pleasures, restful domestic evenings, the good opinion of his neighbors, and work hard in an old shed behind his common little house. Only an ordinary man turning his back on everything most of us want, for an "impractical" theory. That was all.
He continued to work for two years. He built the engine slowly, thinking out every step in ad vance, drawing every casting before he made it, struggling for months over the problem of the electrical wiring and spark. Sometimes he worked all night.
"Sick? No, I never was sick," he says. "It isn t overworking that breaks men down; it s overplaying and overeating. I never ate too much, and I felt all right, no matter how long I worked. Of course, sometimes I was pretty tired."
One day he called his wife out to the shed. The little engine, set up on blocks, was humming away, its flywheel a blur in the air. The high speed revolutions that made the automobile pos sible were an accomplished fact.
"Oh, Henry! It s done! You ve finished it!" she said happily.
"No, that's just the beginning. Now I ve got to figure out the transmission, the steering gear and a-a lot of things," he replied.
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