Motoring History: Ford 999 Ices A Record

Granted, the record didn’t last for long, but on this day in 1904 Henry Ford set a land speed record on the frozen surface of Lake St. Clair in Michigan.  After founding the Detroit Automobile Company in August of 1899, only to have it go under by January 1901, Henry Ford still loved cars and racing.  It was time to re-invent himself. In October of 1901 he thought his best chance to restore himself financially was to race and win against the best race car driver in America at the time, Alexander Winton.  Winton’s cars were more advanced and Henry wasn’t favored to win, but win he did.  In the annals of Ford Motor Company history it is referred to as  “The Race That Changed Everything”.  You can read an article from last year here. The following year Henry worked with bicyclist Tom Cooper to create two racers, similar in build, one painted red and the other yellow.  What they came up with was a huge engine with an exposed chassis and no body work covering it.  There was also no suspension or differential mechanisms.  Steering was handled with a pivoting metal bar with hand grips. NOTE: Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine.  This article will be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. Check out the latest issue here:  www.digginghistorymag.com or try a subscription...

Motoring History Monday: America’s First Coast-to-Coast Automobile Trip

In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend when many Americans “hit the road” to officially begin summer, today’s article is about the first successful coast-to-coast American road trip. On May 19, 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson was in San Francisco on business. His primary residence was in Vermont where he had been a physician.  Following a bout with tuberculosis he spent time in California and in May of 1903, having given up the practice of medicine three years earlier, was returning from Alaska were he had overseen some gold mine investments. While at the University Club he overheard a group of men talking about the new horseless carriage – in their opinion it would never be able to make a cross-country trip.  Horatio thought otherwise and boastfully wagered $50 claiming he could make the trip in less than three months.  The wager must have seemed impetuous since Horatio did not own an automobile, and likely had very little, if any, experience driving one. NOTE: Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine.  This article is featured in the June 2018 edition available at the link below (or search the archives). Check out the latest issue here:  www.digginghistorymag.com or try a subscription...

Motoring History: Henry Ford (Part Three)

Henry Ford, with only an eighth grade education, always valued hard work.  He did, however, make sure that his only child Edsel received a good education at a prestigious Detroit all-boys school.  As a young boy, Edsel had followed his father around the plant, much to the delight of Henry – to see his son in coveralls and getting his hands dirty was what he expected. All along he was being groomed to run the company someday.  However, after Edsel graduated he preferred to spend time with the Detroit well-to-do crowd, marrying into one of the most prominent families in Detroit.  Eleanor Clay’s uncle was the founder of the Hudson’s Department Store.  The differences in Henry and Edsel were striking – Henry was a highly disciplined individual who neither drank nor smoked and Edsel had a taste for the high life. After Henry announced his plans to build a new plant and install his son as the new CEO of Ford Motor Company (this after ridding himself of investors and the Fords now owning all the controlling shares of the company), he still continued to run the show despite stepping down from leadership.  Edsel was left to handle the day-to-day sales and production of their flagship Model-T. Edsel came up with the idea that the administration building needed to be enlarged due to overcrowding.  When Henry saw the hole that had been dug for the foundation, he insisted the new building was unnecessary.  Edsel acquiesced and offered to fill the hole.  Henry, however, told him to leave it just as it was.  That way Edsel would have to see...

Motoring History: Henry Ford – Maker of Men (Part Two)

Henry Ford and his car company hit a home run with the Model T – and he knew it  (see Part One of this series).  On January 1, 1910 he opened his new factory in Highland Park with the intention of producing one thousand Model T’s a day.  His whole business model centered around making an inexpensive, affordable product for the masses.  Machine parts could be made quickly but assembling cars was another story.  Again, Henry Ford began to tinker. One member of his team proposed an idea based on a conveyor system used in meat-packing plants.  As the animal carcass moved along the conveyor throughout the plant, meat cutters cut pieces from the animal.  They thought a sort of reverse conveyor process would work – put the machine on a conveyor and move it past people to place things on it.  To test the theory his team tried it out in the flywheel magneto department.  Instead of one person building one coil at a time, individual tasks were broken down – each person along the conveyor had a specific task to perform.  Previously it had taken twenty minutes to assemble and with the new system it would drop to just over thirteen minutes. It worked for magnetos, so why not transmissions, axles, engines, you name it?  When they put the entire project of assembling a car through the conveyor system, productivity soared.  Previously it had taken twelve hours and thirteen minutes to assemble one car – afterwards the time required plummeted to one hour and thirty-three minutes – a vast improvement.  Ford hadn’t invented the assembly line but...

Motoring History: Henry Ford (Part I)

Henry Ford was a lot of things: industrialist, self-made man, wealthy and successful, maker of men (as he liked to say).  His business philosophy became known as “Fordism” – mass produce inexpensive goods and pay high wages.  It seemed he had an opinion on just about everything in the world.  After he became successful, he printed his own newspaper espousing those (often controversial) views and opinions. Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 to parents William and Mary (Litogot) Ford in Wayne County, Michigan not far from Detroit.  His father was born in Cork County, Ireland and his mother was the daughter of Belgian immigrants.  Henry was their eldest and four children followed him.  William, a farmer, expected his children would contribute by working on the family farm.  But, Henry was different – he was a tinkerer. Rather than forcing him to perform chores he despised, his parents instead set up a work bench in the kitchen.  He repaired watches and studied every piece of machinery he encountered.  His ideas centered around making machinery that would make farm work easier.  After his mother died in 1876, farm life became even more tedious and tiresome. NOTE: Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine.  This article will be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. Check out the latest issue here:  www.digginghistorymag.com or try a subscription...

Motoring History: The Race That Changed Everything

In the history of the Ford Motor Company, they call it the “race that changed everything.”  Henry Ford had founded the Detroit Automobile Company on August 5, 1899 and in January of 1901 the company was dissolved.  Henry Ford had already reinvented himself when he left home at age 16 and headed to Detroit to make his mark on the world.  In 1901 he would have to begin to reinvent himself once again. On October 10, 1901 the Detroit Driving Club was holding a twenty-five lap racing event at the Grosse Point Race Track.  At that time, Alexander Winton had the best-selling gas-fueled passenger cars in America – he was also the best race driver.  But Winton wasn’t really interested in this particular race, that is until he struck a deal with race officials who allowed him to pick out the trophy (which, of course, he presumed to win).  There was also a cash prize of one thousand dollars. NOTE: Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine.  This article will be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. Check out the latest issue here:  www.digginghistorymag.com or try a subscription...