I invented the modern age: The rise of Henry Ford

I’d read about Edison and Nikola Tesla, so the only really prominent person left during that time that I’d not read was Henry Ford. Edison and Ford were close, with Ford having been mentioned prominently in Edison’s book so I was interested in understanding the full picture.

His most notable attributes:

Notable notes

[His wife Clara] came to trust his mechanical judgement so completely that Ford happily began to refer to her as “the Believer”.

He was thirst years old, far from young to be gambling his and his family’s future on a raucous novelty he’d improvised in time stolen from a respectable and promising job. Clara knew that was what he was going to do.

This was at a time when he had already developed a prototype of a working car, with some help from others.

Hiram Maxim and Henry Ford had spent 1984 engaged in nearly identical tasks. Maxim had made mistake that Ford avoided, mostly in the latter’s approach to his work. Ford had figured out how to control his enginer before trying to take a ride with it. “I draw out a plan and work out every detail in the plan before starting to build,” he said, “for otherwise one will waste a great deal of time in makeshifts as the work goes on and the finished article will not have coherence. It will not be rightly proportioned. Many inventors fail because they do not distinguish between planning and experimenting.

Ford was a fine machinist, but he had a rarer skill than that, the one his sister noticed so early, which was his ability to draw work out of friends and keep them happy while they did it.

What they — Ford, Wills, Huff, Barthel — were trying to make that spring of 1901 had nothing to do with the “little car” that, if ever produced, might sell to a public that was growing more confident in the future of the automobile. In fact, it was that car’s antithesis.

Going back to “startup mode”, after having received tons of funding earlier, seems to have done them well. They went from over-funded to barely alive.

Both [Ford & Wills] liked to discover whether things would work by building them.

Something they share with Edison, Dyson and many others — the “build it”, not “study it” type

When Alexander Malcomson sold a close acquiantance a Model A at a discount (a practice forbidden by Couzens), the founder of the company found himself so flayingly berated that he made up the difference to the company out of his own pocket.

This is a practice that Elon Musk has adopted — seems like he might’ve read this book and learned a few things from Couzens himself.

Ford himself could not have managed a small grocery store, and Couzens could not have assembled a child’s kiddle car. Yet together they built an orgnaaization that astounded the world

The Model A that want to customers in early 1904 looked identical to its predecessor sent six months earlier, but it was a different car. It had, under teh steady and heeded hectoring of salesmen and customers and Wills and Ford and Couzens, been entirely reworked

Feedback = continuous improvement

If there was a dirty job and [Ford] had a good pair of trousers on, he wouldn’t hesitate a minute in those days to tackle any job

For himself said, “A manufacturer is not through with his customer when a sale is completed. He has then only started with his customer. If the machine does not give service, then it is better for the manufacturer if he never had the introduction, for he will have the worst of all advertisements — a dissatisfied customer”

This is great thinking — rather than spend on Marketing (Ford never did in the early days), they would instead invest in a great customer service experience — something that’s far more effective at keeping existing customers, and drawing new ones.

Within a decade the requirements for a Ford dealer had been codified, and were strictly enforced: twenty thousand dollars’ worth of spare parts on hand; the facilites and willingness to repair any Ford car no matter where it had been purchased; at least one immaculate new model there at all times to show potential buyers; and the strong suggestion that if a disabled Ford had to be taken in to the shop, the towing should take place after dark so as not to draw attention to the car’s plight


In choosing Sorenson, Ford again ratified his affection for hard-handed, easily infuriated colleagues. Sorensen’s temper was every bit the equal of that possessed by Couzens and the Dodge brothers. So was his ability.

Hire for skill at the (expense?) of attitude. Temper isn’t necessarily bad.. since it does signal a disregard for status quo.

Will told him that the company needed its own metallurgy laboratory, and they should hire a professional to establish it. Ford didn’t like professionals. “No, make an expert of Wandersee,” he told Wills, so a man who had been hired to sweep the factory floors went off for three months of tutelage at the United Steel Laboratory, and by late 1907 he had a laboratory of this own on Piquette Avenue and was ordering vanadium steel for the new car.

Disdain for “know-how” … Ford clearly prefers learning ability over experience.

Henry Ford, who never joined any trade association, nonetheless shared his patents with the industry all his life.

Another Musk-ian attribute. This can’t be a coincidence. They obviously had many shared values, and it shows.

“Nothing is lost save honor.” People were no longer interseted in details of the race, but they remembered the rich harvest of publicity that it had borught in. They remembered the Model T.

This attitude is clearly dubious, but seems to have worked on several occasions. Ford cheats in a race by helping the Model T racers (even replacing an entire engine) and later won the race (along with all the ensuing publicity). It was later revealed that they cheated, but by then very few people cared. They’d already won to the public.

[On jokes about the Ford car] Ford wasn’t [the one who wrote the jokes] but he always made a show of buying them and passing them about. Ford saw every joke as an advertisement, free as teh air and living sometimes for years.

He began to go around Couzens on business matters, overruling him in minor ways without letting him know it was going to happen.

The beginning of the decline of the Ford empire.

By the midteens Ford has just one sales strategy, and that was to keep lowering the price of the car. Do that, he said, and the marketing would take care of itself.

This complete inversion of monopoly capitalism (if you are the sole source of a universally demanded good, you should raise the price) baffled observers throughout the car’s career.

What isn’t mentioned is that this kept the competition at bay. Newcomers just couldn’t compete on price or features. Sounds alot like our friend Jeff Bezos’s strategy with Amazon.

Leave Martin alone, Couzens said. “If we talk of anything for more than forty-eight hours we never do it”

Ford, who had come to understand the advantages of advertising as well as anyone, once told a colleague that this final argument persuaded him [$5 or nothing; A straight $5 wage will be the greatest advertisement any automobile concern ever had]

The power of persuasion (something anyone can pick up, by the way)

The minister spent most of the night before the expedition trying to prevail upon [Ford] to abandon it. It was no use. His reply to me was, “It is right, is it not, to try to stop war?” To this I could only answer “Yes.” “Well,” he would go on, “You have told me that what is right cannot fail.” And the answer to that, that right things attempted the wrong way had no assurance of success, had no effect. He was following what he calls a “hunch” and when he gets a “hunch” ge generally goes through with it, be it right or wrong

Fascinating, values-driven tenacity on display by Ford!

He [Ford] held fast to the idea that an automobile was basic transportation. Alfred Sloan [of Chrysler] understood that it had grown up to become an object of desire as well

This is what lead to the continued decline of Ford sales. Ford had stopped adapting or changing the Model T (since it had become so optimized that it was near perfect in production efficiency). However, people wanted personal cars — they wanted variety, something that the optimized process had no allowances for (nor did it’s creator)