DETROIT, April 7--Henry Ford, noted automotive pioneer, died at 11:40 tonight at the age of 83. He had retired a little more than a year and a half ago from active direction of the great industrial empire he founded in 1903.
When he retired Mr. Ford was in excellent health, but turned over the management of the vast empire to his grandson. Henry Ford 2d, because, he said, he wanted to devote more time to personal interests.
Death came to the famed industrialist at his estate in Fairlane, in suburban Dearborn, not far from where he was born in 1863. At the Ford Company news bureau offices it was said that the exact cause of death would not be known until Henry Ford 2d, his grandson, could reach the family home, perhaps within an hour.
Mr. Ford was reported to have been in excellent health when he returned only a week ago from his annual winter visit to the Ford estate in Georgia.Kept Interest in Research
The automobile industry leader dropped completely out of the management of the far-flung Ford Company when he resigned as president late in 1945. He had been able to spend some time each week at the Ford engineering laboratory, where he maintained a private office and workshop, but was rarely seen about the administration building, where affairs of the big company were directed.
There were many reports that the elder Ford had given up his leadership of the Ford interests at the insistence of other members of his family, particularly the widow of his only son, the late Edsel B. Ford. Although never confirmed officially, reports had it that she was dissatisfied with the course of company affairs.
He leaves a widow, the former Clara Bryant, whom he married in 1887, and two grandsons, Henry 2d and Benson.Father of Mass Production
Henry Ford was the founder of modern American industrial mass production methods, built on the assembly line and the belt conveyor system, which no less an authority than Marshal Josef Stalin testified were the indispensable foundation for an Allied military victory in the Second World War.
Mr. Ford had many other distinctions. As the founder and unchallenged master of an industrial empire with assets of more than a billion dollars, he was one of the richest men in the world. He was the apostle of an economic philosophy of high wages and short hours that had immense repercussions on American thinking. He was a patron of American folkways and in later years acquired a reputation as a shrewd, kindly sage. But these were all relatively minor compared with the revolutionary importance of his contribution to modern productive processes.
His career was one of the most astonishing in industrial history. Nearing the age of 40 he was looked upon as a failure by his acquaintances--as a day-dreaming mechanic who preferred to tinker with odd machines than to work steadily at a responsible job. Yet within a dozen years he was internationally famous, and his Model T automobile was effecting changes in the American way of life of profound importance.
He lived to see the Ford Motor Company, which he founded with an initial investment of $28,000 put up by a few friends and neighbors who had faith in him, produce more than 29,000,000 automobiles before the war forced the conversion of its gigantic production facilities to weapons of war. Then he directed its production of more than 8,000 four-motored Liberator bombers, as well as tanks, tank destroyers, jeeps and amphibious jeeps, transport gliders, trucks, engines and much other equipment.
Struck a cruel blow shortly before his eightieth birthday by the death of his only son, Edsel Ford, on May 26, 1943, Mr. Ford unfalteringly returned to the presidency of the Ford Motor Company, which he had yielded to his son twenty-four years previously. He remained at its helm as it reached the peak of its gigantic war production, directing the war-expanded force of 190,000 workers.
Mr. Ford was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm near Dearborn, nine miles west of Detroit. He was the eldest of six children. His mother died when he was 12 years of age. He went to school until he was 15. Throughout his schooldays he worked on the farm after school hours and during vacations.
His mechanical bent first showed itself in an intense interest in the mechanism of watches. When he was 13 he took a watch apart and put it together again so that it would work. He had to do this work secretly at night, after he had finished his chores on the farm, because his father wanted to discourage his mechanical ambitions. His tools were home-made and were limited to a screwdriver and a pair of tweezers, fashioned respectively from a knitting needle and an old watch spring.
In 1879, at the age of 16, he took the step that foreshadowed his remarkable career. He ran away from home. Walking all the way to Detroit, almost penniless, he went to work as an apprentice in a machine shop. He did this in order to learn all he could of the making of machinery. He received $2.50 a week for ten hours a day, six days a week--a far cry from the wages paid in the Ford factories today. As he had to pay $3.50 a week for board and lodging, he took another job, working from 7 to 11 o'clock every night for a jeweler, for $2 more a week.Built a Steam Tractor
Returning to his father's farm to live, he spent his spare time for several years endeavoring to evolve a practical farm tractor of relatively small size and cost. He succeeded in building a steam tractor with a one-cylinder engine, but was unable to devise a boiler light enough to make the tractor practicable. For several years he confined himself to cutting the timber on forty acres his father had given him; operating a sawmill and repairing farm machinery for his neighbors.
Convinced that the steam engine was unsuited to light vehicles, he turned to the internal combustion engine, which he had read about in English scientific periodicals, as a means of locomotion for the "horseless carriage" of which he and other automobile inventors had dreamed. For several years he spent most of his spare time reading about and experimenting with the gasoline engine.
In 1890 he got a job as engineer and machinist with the Detroit Edison Company at $45 a month, and moved to Detroit. He set up a workshop in his backyard and continued his experiments after hours. He completed his first "gasoline buggy" in 1892. It had a two-cylinder engine, which developed about four horsepower, and he drove it 1,000 miles. The first, and for a long time the only automobile in Detroit, it was too heavy to suit Mr. Ford, who sold it in 1896 for $200, to get funds to experiment on a lighter car. Later, when he became successful, he repurchased his first car for $100 as a memento of his early days.Named Chief Engineer
Meanwhile, he had become chief engineer of the electric company at $125 a month, but his superiors had no more use for his gas engine experiments than had his father. They offered to make him general superintendent of the company, but only on condition that he give up gasoline and devote himself entirely to electricity. He had the courage of his convictions, and he quit his job at the age of 36, on Aug. 15, 1899--a most important date, in view of later developments, in the automotive industry.
Mr. Ford had no money, but he persuaded a group of men to organize the Detroit Automobile Company to manufacture his car. The company made and sold a few cars on his original model, but after two years Mr. Ford broke with his associates over a fundamental question of policy. He already had envisioned the mass production of cars which could be sold in large quantities at small profits, while his backers were convinced that the automobile was a luxury, to be produced in small quantities at large profits per unit.Rented One-Story Shed
Built Car for Barney Oldfield Which Won All Its Races
Renting a one-story brick shed in Detroit, Mr. Ford spent the year 1902 experimenting with two- cylinder and four-cylinder motors. By that time the public had become interested in the speed possibilities of the automobile, which was no longer regarded as a freak. To capitalize on this interest, he built two racing cards, the "999" and the "Arrow," each with a four-cylinder engine developing eighty horsepower. The "999," with the celebrated Barney Oldfield at its wheel, won every race in which it was entered.
The resulting publicity helped Mr. Ford to organize the Ford Motor Company, which was capitalized at $100,000, although actually only $28,000 in stock was subscribed. From the beginning Mr. Ford held majority control of this company. In 1919 he and his son, Edsel, became its sole owners, when they bought out the minority stockholders for $70,000,000.
In 1903 the Ford Motor Company sold 1,708 two-cylinder, eight horsepower automobiles. Its operations were soon threatened, however, by a suit for patent infringement brought against it by the Licensed Association of Automobile Manufacturers, who held the rights to a patent obtained by George B. Selden of Rochester, N.Y., in 1895, covering the combination of a gasoline engine and a road locomotive. After protracted litigation, Mr. Ford won the suit when the Supreme Court held that the Selden patent was invalid.
From the beginning of his industrial career, Mr. Ford had in mind the mass production of a car which he could produce and sell at large quantity and low cost, but he was balked for several years by the lack of a steel sufficiently light and strong for his purpose. By chance one day, picking up the pieces of a French racing car that had been wrecked at Palm Beach, he discovered vanadium steel, which had not been manufactured in the United States up to that time.
With this material he began the new era of mass production. He concentrated on a single type of chassis, the celebrated Model T, and specified that "any customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it is black." On Oct. 1, 1908, he began the production of Model T, which sold for $850. The next year he sold 10,600 cars of this model. Cheap and reliable, the car had a tremendous success. In seven years he built and sold 1,000,000 Fords; by 1925 he was producing them at the rate of almost 2,000,000 a year.
He established two cardinal economic policies during this tremendous expansion: the continued cutting of the cost of the product as improved methods of production made it possible, and the payment of higher wages to his employes. By 1926 the cost of the Model T had been cut to $310, although it was vastly superior to the 1908 model. In January, 1914, he established a minimum pay rate of $5 a day for an eight-hour day, thereby creating a national sensation. Up to that time the average wage throughout his works had been $2.40 a nine-hour day.Devised Conveyor Line
Each Workman Performed One Specialized Operation
These policies were made feasible by the revolutionary organization of production devised by Mr. Ford. Under the old factory system, a single workman constructed an entire spring, using several different tools and performing many different operations in the process. Mr. Ford substituted an arrangement under which each worker performed a single specialized operation, which was simplified to the utmost by scientific study.
To make a single leaf of a spring, for instance, eleven workmen stood in line, each using a single tool. A moving conveyor belt carried the steel from which the leaf was made along the line, at waist-high level. The workers never had to stoop or move to get anything, and the speed at which they worked was controlled by the speed of the conveyor rather than the desires of the workmen.
Every part of the automobile had its own conveyor line, carefully integrated to bring the various parts to completion in the proper ratio. In later years Mr. Ford found it wasteful to assemble the cars at the great River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich., which instead was limited to the manufacture of parts. These were shipped to assembly plants scattered throughout the United States and in many foreign countries.Bought Own Mines and Forests
In order to reduce costs and eliminate intermediate profits on raw materials and transportation, Mr. Ford purchased his own coal mines, iron mines and forests, his own railways and his own lake and ocean steamships, all of which he operated on the Ford system of high wages, high production and low cost. Ownership of these collateral industries enabled Mr. Ford to keep down waste in men, time and material.
At the River Rouge plant, for example, iron from the furnace goes directly into the foundries and is poured without reheating. The slag from the furnace is used in a cement plant and all the steel scrap is converted by a combination of electric furnaces and a large rolling mill. In the Ford sawmills the parts are sawed directly from the logs, instead of converting the logs into lumber first. All the wood-working is done at the forest mill, the waste goes to a wood-distillation plant, and there is no waste in shipment.
The phenomenal success of the new system of production made Mr. Ford not only fabulously rich, but internationally famous, within a comparatively few years. His own very positive and often unusual opinions added to his reknown. In the winter of 1915-16 he was convinced by a group of pacifists, of whom Rozika Schwimmer was the best known, that the warring nations in Europe were ready for peace and that a dramatic gesture would be enough to end the war.Chartered Peace Liners
Mr. Ford chartered an ocean liner, the Oskar II, with the avowed purpose of "getting the boys out of the trenches by Christmas," and sailed from New York on Dec. 4, 1915, with a curiously assorted group of companions. The mission was ridiculed and failed to achieve anything. Mr. Ford himself left the party at Christiania, now Oslo, and returned home.
"We learn more from our failures than from our successes," was his comment.
When the United States declared war on Germany in April, 1917, Mr. Ford placed the industrial facilities of his plants at the disposal of the Government, although he had previously refused orders from belligerent countries. During the war he produced large quantities of automobiles, trucks, ambulances, Liberty airplane motors, munitions, whippet tanks and Eagle submarine chasers.
President Wilson persuaded Mr. Ford to become a candidate for United States Senator in 1918, although the manufacturer had never before displayed any particular interest in party politics. Going before the voters in the primaries on both the Democratic and Republican tickets, he received the Democratic nomination, but was defeated in the election by Truman H. Newberry, Republican, whose majority was reduced from 7,567 to 4,000 in a Senate recount. Previously Michigan had normally returned a Republican majority of 100,000 so that the closeness of the 1918 election showed Mr. Ford's personal popularity with the voters.
Mr. Ford retired as active head of the Ford Motor Company in 1918, at the age of 55, turning over the presidency to his son, Edsel, and announcing his intention of devoting himself thereafter to the development of his farm tractor, the Fordson, and to the publication of his weekly journal, The Dearborn Independent.Sued Chicago Tribune
In 1919 Mr. Ford sued The Chicago Tribune for $1,000,000 on the ground of libel, because of an editorial which was headed "Ford Is an Anarchist," and which accused him of having been pro- German during the war. The jury awarded him a verdict of 6 cents, but only after counsel for the defense had subjected him to a pitiless cross-examination which revealed him to be almost without knowledge of subjects outside his own field.
His activities as publisher of The Dearborn Independent involved him in another highly publicized libel suit. The weekly published a series of articles, which were widely criticized as anti-Semitic. Aaron Sapiro, a Chicago lawyer, brought suit for $1,000,000 on the ground that his reputation as an organizer of farmers' cooperative marketing organizations had been damaged by articles which charged that a Jewish conspiracy was seeking to win control of American agriculture.
On the witness stand Mr. Ford disclaimed animosity toward the Jews. "It was brought out that, although a column in the paper was labeled as his, he did not write it nor did he read the publication. The editor wrote articles expounding Mr. Ford's economic and social ideas after consulting with him. Mr. Ford settled the suit without disclosing the terms of settlement and discontinued the paper. He appeased his critics by making a public apology, in which he explained he had discovered the articles were doing harm by the prejudice they created.Weathered 1921 Crisis
Refused Assistance of Bankers And Proved Resourcefulness
The 1921 business depression brought the Ford Motor Company its most severe financial crisis, and served to demonstrate both Mr. Ford's antipathy to bankers, and his resourcefulness. When it became acute the company had obligations of $58,000,000 due between Jan. 1 and April 18, and only $20,000,000 with which to meet them.
Investment bankers were convinced that he would have to go to them "hat in hand," and an officer of one large New York bank journeyed to Detroit to offer Mr. Ford a large loan on the condition that a representative of the bankers be appointed treasurer of the Ford Motor Company with full control over its finances. Mr. Ford silently handed him his hat.
He loaded up Ford dealers throughout the country with all the cars they could possibly handle and compelled them to pay cash, thereby adding nearly $25,000,000 to the funds in hand. Then, by purchasing a railroad of his own, the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton, and by other economies, he cut one-third from the time his raw materials and finished products were in transit. Thereby he was able to decrease by one-third the inventory of goods he needed on hand for uninterrupted production, and to release $28,000,000 from capital funds to ready cash.Raised More than Needed
In addition he realized nearly $8,000,000 from the sale of Liberty bonds, nearly $4,000,000 from the sale of by-products and $3,000,000 in collections from Ford agents in foreign countries.
On April 1, consequently, he had more than $87,000,000 in cash, or $27,000,000 more than he needed to wipe out all the indebtedness. Furthermore, by rigid economies of labor and materials hitherto thought impossible, he cut the overhead cost on each car from $146 to $93.
The crisis over, Mr. Ford severed all connections with the banks, except as a depositor. In fact, he became a competitor of the banks, frequently loaning several millions on call in the New York money market. He made a practice of carrying tremendous amounts on deposit in banks throughout the United States and in other countries. Bankers reported that he invariably drove a hard bargain in placing these funds. He often exacted a special rate of interest when his balance was to be above a certain amount for a certain time.
During the calm and increasingly prosperous years of the middle Nineteen Twenties Mr. Ford's business continued to grow, but more and more of his energies were devoted to his outside interests. He attempted in vain to interest the younger generation in old-fashioned dances and fiddlers. In 1923 he purchased the Wayside Inn at South Sudbury, Mass., which had been the subject of Longfellow's "Tales of a Wayside Inn," and restored it.
Mr. Ford startled the country late in 1926 by announcing the permanent adoption of the five-day week for his factories, after trying it out for some time. He declared that the five-day week would open the way to greater prosperity than that which the country then enjoyed and which he attributed to the eight-hour day and high wages, because they gave people time and money to consume the goods they produced. Without the five-day week, he said, the country would not be able to absorb the results of mass production and remain prosperous.Developed Model A
Met Chevrolet Competition by Turning Out New Car
Late that same year Mr. Ford met his greatest industrial crisis. In 1924 the Ford company had manufactured about two-thirds of all the automobiles produced in this country, but by 1926 the Chevrolet car, manufactured by the General Motors Corporation, had become a serious competitor. Its production mounted from 25,000 in January, 1926, to 77,000 in November, while Ford sales dropped.
Mr. Ford closed his plants late in 1926 while he experimented with a six-cylinder model. He finally abandoned the Model T the next year, substituting the Model A, which became almost as well known. To produce the new model Mr. Ford had to make over almost his entire system of production, retooling his plants and retraining his workers, a feat of industrial renovation which many experts had contended would prove impossible.
The new model proved popular with the buying public, and the Ford Motor Company continued to expand. In 1928 Mr. Ford organized the British Ford Company, and subsequently began operations in other European countries. In Germany the German Ford Company was organized with the German dye trust as one of its principal stockholders.Aided Soviet Industrialization
Mr. Ford had long regarded Soviet Russia as a potential market of great importance. By agreeing to aid in the construction of an automobile factory at Nizhni-Novgorod, and by providing technological assistance in the development of the automobile industry in the Soviet Union, Mr. Ford sold $30,000,000 worth of products to Russia, and, incidentally, gave added impetus to the industrialization of that country, which was to prove of such importance in later years.
When the stock market collapse of October, 1929, precipitated the great depression, Mr. Ford was one of the business and industrial leaders who were summoned to the White House by President Hoover. Unlike some industrialists who favored deflation of wages, Mr. Ford argued that the maintenance of purchasing power was of paramount importance.
Although the Ford Motor Company lost as much as $68,000,000 in a single depression year, Mr. Ford maintained his wage policy until the autumn of 1932, when it announced a readjustment from "the highest executive down to the ordinary laborer," including a new minimum wage scale of $4 a day, $1 less than that which he had put into effect eighteen years before. As the depression waned, however, he reverted to his high-wage policy and in 1935 established a minimum of $6 a day.
Mr. Ford was a central figure in the banking crisis which led to the closing of the Detroit banks in February, 1933, which in turn precipitated the chain of events that resulted in the national bank holiday when President Roosevelt was inaugurated the next month. When the collapse came the Ford Motor Company had about $32,500,000 on deposit in various banks of the Guardian Detroit Union group, and Edsel Ford personally and the Ford Motor Company had made loans of about $12,000,000 in cash and securities to try to stave off the closing.
How much the Ford interests lost because of the closing was never publicly revealed, but Edsel Ford subsequently helped to organize and capitalize a new national bank, the Manufacturers National Bank of Detroit, which took over most of the assets and obligations of the Guardian National group. Meanwhile the General Motors Company, Mr. Ford's closest business rival, aided by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, opened another new bank, the National Bank of Detroit.Early Foe of New Deal
Mr. Ford, who had supported Herbert Hoover for re-election in 1932, was regarded as one of the leading foes of the New Deal in the early days of President Roosevelt's Administration, and he refused to sign the automobile code of the National Recovery Administration, which stipulated that employees had a right to organize. In 1936 he supported Gov. Alf M. Landon, stating that the election would "determine if labor and industry in this country can continue under a system of free enterprise."
Despite Mr. Roosevelt's triumphant re-election with the strong support of the Committee for Industrial Organization, then headed by John L. Lewis, Mr. Ford remained outspokenly antagonistic to unions. In an interview on Feb. 19, 1937, he advised all workers to "stay out of unions." At the same time he declared that no group of strikers would ever take over a Ford plant.
The United Automobile Workers, a CIO union, began a vigorous drive to organize the workers in the Ford plants. The opening blow was a sit-down strike in the Ford plant in Kansas City, ended only by the promise of officials there to treat with the union, a step the Ford company had never taken before. Other sporadic strikes occurred in Ford plants in other sections of the country.
Mr. Ford fought back with the argument that his policy of high wages and short hours was satisfactory to the bulk of the workers in his plants. He charged that a group of international financiers had gained control of the unions and were utilizing their power to exploit labor and management alike.His Trouble With Union
UAW Won 70% Votes After NLRB Ordered Election
On May 26, 1937, a group of UAW organizers, including Richard T. Frankensteen and Walter Reuther, were distributing organizing literature outside the gate of the Ford plant at River Rouge, when they were set upon and badly beaten. The union charged that the beatings were administered by Ford company police. The Ford Motor Company denied this.
After lengthy hearings the National Labor Relations Board found the Ford Motor Company guilty of unfair labor practices. The Ford company fought the issue through the courts to the United States Supreme Court, which, in effect, upheld the finding by refusing to review it. In April, 1941, the UAW called a strike in the Ford plants and the NLRB held an election under the Wagner Act to determine the collective bargaining spokesman for the employes.
When the votes were counted in June, 1941, the UAW was found to have won about 70 per cent of them. With characteristic vigor, Mr. Ford, long looked upon as perhaps the strongest foe of unionism, did a complete about face. He signed a contract with the union which gave them virtually everything for which they had asked, including a union shop and a dues check-off system.
In the early days of the second World War, Mr. Ford opposed our entry into it and, true to his pacifist convictions, refused to manufacture airplane motors for Great Britain. He compelled the cancellation of a contract made by his son, Edsel, calling for the production of 6,000 Rolls- Royce engines for Great Britain, and 3,000 of the same type for the United States.
To support his contention that the United States was in no danger Mr. Ford, in May, 1940, stated that if it should become necessary the Ford Motor Company could "under our own supervision, and without meddling by Government agencies, swing into the production of a thousand airplanes of standard design a day." As the pressure for re-armament became greater, Mr. Ford was compelled by public opinion to agree to build planes for the United States.
The net result was the celebrated Willow Run plant for the construction of four-motored bombers. At its construction it was the largest single manufacturing establishment in the world, occupying a building 3,200 feet long and 1,280 feet wide, with 2,547,000 feet of floor space. In addition there were hangars with another 1,200,000 feet of floor space, and an adjacent air field larger than La Guardia Field in this city.Produced 8,000 B-24's
Plant at Willow Run Turned Out One Bomber an Hour
Ground was broken for the plant on April 18, 1941, and the first of the thirty-ton B-24-E bombers came off its assembly line a little more than a year later, in May, 1942. For a time the plant was under severe criticism on the ground that it was not producing at the rate that had been anticipated, but this was eventually stilled when the gigantic factory began turning out bombers at the rate of one an hour, twenty-four hours a day.
By the spring of 1945, when the War Department announced that the production of Liberator bombers would be discontinued, Willow Run had produced more than 8,000 of them. In May, 1945, a spokesman for the company revealed that it had no plans for the post-war utilization of the gigantic factory, and that it planned to turn it back to the Defense Plant Corporation, the Government agency which had put up the $100,000,000 it cost.
When Mr. Ford resumed the active management of the company, after the unexpected death of his son, Edsel, he began a series of changes in its high officials. In March, 1944, Charles E. Sorenson, who had been considered for years as its greatest production expert, announced his retirement from the company. Not long after that Mr. Ford's personal secretary, Ernest G. Liebold, was dismissed, after having been one of the company's top executives for many years.
The Ford company asked for and obtained the release of Henry Ford 2d, son of Edsel Ford, from the Navy, in which he had served for two and a half years and had risen to the rank of lieutenant, on the ground that he was needed in the executive end of the business. Mr. Ford let it be known that he was grooming his grandson and namesake, then 26 years old, for the eventual leadership of the business.
From time to time Mr. Ford gave interviews in which he emphasized his favorite beliefs: the folly of war, the need for world federation, the decentralization of industry, the advantages of hard work, utilitarian education, abstemiousness and simple pleasures. He was opposed to the use of tobacco and liquor, and he hated idling.
In a characteristic interview in September, 1944, he made known his adherence to his old doctrine of high wages for his employes. Declaring his intention of raising the wages of his workers as soon as the Government would allow him to do so, Mr. Ford said:
"As long as I live I want to pay the highest wages in the automobile industry. If the men in our plants will give a full day's work for a full day's pay, there is no reason why we can't always do it. Every man should make enough money to own a home, a piece of land and a car."
Mr. Ford was an ardent collector of Americana. In 1928 he established, and endowed with $5,000,000 a museum at Dearborn to commemorate the inventions of his old friend, Thomas A. Edison. The Menlo Park Laboratory, in which Mr. Edison perfected the electric light, was completely restored in the museum.
Mr. Ford also built Greenfield Village, a reproduction of the community in which Mrs. Ford, who was Clara Bryant before their marriage in 1887, was born. There he brought the original log cabin in which McGuffey, author of the celebrated reader, was born; the court house in which Abraham Lincoln first practiced law, and the home of Stephen Foster's parents, as well as momentos of his own youth.
One of his lifelong interests was in the training of youth to earn a livelihood, and he established various vocational schools for the purpose. He also made it a policy to employ a fixed proportion of blind persons and other handicapped individuals in his plants, and took a keen interest in the rehabilitation of wounded war veterans. At its convention in September, 1944, the American Legion awarded to him its Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts in behalf of disabled veterans of both world wars.