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What Influence Did Henry Ford Have On 1920s America?

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Simon Addison

What Influence Did Henry Ford Have On 1920s America?

Henry Ford was born in Dearborn, Michigan on July 30th, 1863. His family were farmers, but from a young age Ford was driven by ideas of the American Dream and industrialisation, and so left school at 16 and moved to Detroit to become a machinist’s apprentice. During his time as a mechanical engineer he became interested in the idea of automobiles, and by 1893, after much experimentation, he completed his first motorcar. In 1903, Ford founded his own company, the Ford Motor Company at Highland Park in Detroit (which would later become known as “motor city”).

By 1908, Ford was producing 100 cars a day by basic mass-production methods used in many industries. Ford had teams of 12 men, each attaching a part to a car in order to make a finished model. Ford had released a new model of car, the Model T, but believed his current production methods were inefficient, and wanted a new system to go along with the new car. Even by 1913, when Ford was producing 500 cars a day, each car took 121/2 hours to make. He had to hire workers who were semi-skilled, or at least trained in many areas of car production, and so was forced to pay them higher wages than he would have liked. He also thought that too much time was wasted with workers moving around to do different jobs. In 1913, Ford visited the factory of Swift and Co.

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Ford showed cunning not only in understanding the most efficient means of production, but also in understanding what people would want from a car, and in taking control of his industry. Model Ts used standardised parts, meaning if a car should break, the owner could simply order a new part and continue using the car. Ford made a great deal of money simply from the sale of spare parts. Ford let his workers buy cars at reduced prices, and set up credit plans for people who could not afford cars. He also expanded his business, setting up factories in Asia, Australia, Canada, South Africa and South America to cater for foreign demand. On top of this, he bought and set up companies in the industries that provided the raw materials for his cars; including steel works and glass factories.

Henry Ford’s achievements brought success and prosperity to the whole of America, and the influence of both his products and his ideas were huge upon 1920s America. By making cheap, affordable, reliable automobiles, Ford brought cars to the common people who would never have been able to afford them before. This meant that normal people could make short-distance journeys easily and conveniently. As a result, people could drive to work or the city centre without living nearby. People chose to escape the rush of inner-city living, and began to live on the outskirts of cities, within driving distance. Suburbs quickly sprang up and expanded.

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The success of Ford, and entrepreneurs like him, made only him rich. While Ford increased workers’ wages, they were still horribly disproportionate to the huge profits the big companies were raking in. This made the rich/poor divide wider, with many workers living in horrible conditions. Combined with this was the simple fact that Ford’s huge production rate on served to over-saturate his market. Everyone who could afford a car soon had one, and those who could not would take out loans or credit plans in order to buy one. This increased debt, and when the market saturation eventually brought industry to a stand-still, many people were in serious problems. This can be seen as one of the largest contributing factors to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Henry Ford’s influence on the industrial state of affairs and the nature of life for common city workers in 1920s America is huge. Many people at the time recognised his influence with slogans like “When Ford’s sneezes Detroit catches a cold”. The problem was, Ford’s soon did sneeze, and it was not just Detroit, but the whole of America that caught the cold. A lack of foresight from the American people threw their country into a depression, and while this may have limited the influences of Henry Ford’s products to be temporary only, it is his methods that live on. The ideas of assembly lines and mass standardised production are still used today by almost every company in every industry in the world.0

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