Today in History

Today in History: July 30

Henry Ford

Old Zeke Perkins sold his hogs the other day,
The gosh-darned fool threw his money right away;
Rode into town, sittin' on a board,
Came home ridin' in a brand-new Ford!

"A Ford Song,"
Quartet or Chorus for Men's Voices,
A. Flivver, composer,
1918.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Henry Ford Leaving the White House After Calling on the President
Henry Ford leaving the White House after calling on the president,
National Photo Company Collection,
1927.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Automobile manufacturer Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863, on his family's farm in what is present-day Dearborn, Michigan. From the time that he was a young boy, Ford enjoyed tinkering with machines. Farm work and a job in a Detroit machine shop afforded him ample opportunities to experiment. He worked successively as an apprentice machinist, a part-time employee for the Westinghouse Engine Company, and an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company. By then, he was earning enough money to experiment on building an internal combustion engine.

By 1896, Ford had constructed his first horseless carriage, a gasoline-powered motor car that he named the Quadricycle because it ran on four bicycle tires. He sold that vehicle, which was built on a steel frame and had a seat but no body, in order to finance work on an improved model.

Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903, proclaiming, "I will build a car for the great multitude." In October 1908, he did so, offering the Model T for $850. In the Model T's nineteen years of production, its price dipped as low as $260—without extras. More than 15 million cars were sold in the United States alone. The Model T heralds the beginning of the Motor Age; the car evolved from luxury item for the well-to-do to essential transportation for the ordinary man.

Assembly Line
Assembly,
Possibly made for Ford Motor Company,
May 7, 1923.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Durin' war time I got 'scripted and they sent me to Detroit to work in John Henry Ford's shops. I was a moulder. I had to stay up there three long years, and Lawd! was I glad to get home.

"Jim McDowell,"
Tryon, North Carolina,
Adyleen G. Merrick, interviewer,
April 6-17, 1939.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Automobile Parade
Automobile Parade,
New York, New York,
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1900.
Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

This film shows what may be the first annual automobile parade. Held on November 4, 1899, in downtown Manhattan, the parade demonstrated at least ten different makes and models, including models with electric and steam-powered machines. Just three years earlier, in 1896, Henry Ford, Charles Brady King, Alexander Winton, and Ransom Eli Olds had each introduced gasoline cars. In 1900, the first National Auto Show was held at Madison Square Garden. Favorite models were the electrics and the steamers. In 1901, newly discovered Texas oil fields lowered gasoline prices. That same year, mass production techniques were introduced into car manufacturing. These two factors would prove to be key in the rapid growth of the American automobile industry.

Ford revolutionized manufacturing—combining precision manufacturing, standardized and interchangeable parts, division of labor, and by 1913, a continuous moving assembly line. By 1914, his Highland Park, Michigan, plant, using innovative production techniques, turned out a complete chassis every 93 minutes—a stunning improvement over the earlier production time of 728 minutes. Using a constantly moving assembly line, subdivision of labor, and careful coordination of operations, the company realized huge gains in productivity.

In 1914, Ford announced his plan to profit share with the workers and began paying his employees five dollars for an eight-hour day, nearly doubling the wages offered by other manufacturers. And, he reduced the workday from nine to eight hours in order to convert the factory to a three-shift workday. Ford's mass-production techniques eventually allowed for the manufacture of a Model T every twenty-four seconds. His innovations made him an international celebrity.

Mrs. Gagne
Mrs. Gagne beside a Model T, 1920
Robert Runyon, photographer.
The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection

Joy Ride
Stopping on a joy ride to repair a tire,
North Dakota,
circa 1910-1919.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photographs Collections

Youngsters and Their Model T
Negro youngsters and their Model 'T',
near Pacolet, South Carolina,
Jack Delano, photographer,
March 1941.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945

A Model T Tale

Jane said that Richard used to go out in an old model T Ford roadster and when he would return he would have the rumble seat filled with live alligators, and various animals that he had captured in the Everglades.

"Jane Clayton,"
Miami, Florida,
Walter A. DeLamater, interviewer,
January 15, 1939.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Ford's affordable Model T irrevocably altered American society. As more Americans owned cars, urbanization patterns changed. The United States saw the growth of suburbia, the creation of a national highway system, and a population entranced with the possibility of going anywhere anytime. Ford witnessed many of these changes during his lifetime, all the while personally longing for the agrarian lifestyle of his youth.

In 1927, Ford decided on a plan for his museum. The Henry Ford houses the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village (external link). The complex was dedicated in 1929 and opened to the public in 1933. The Henry Ford Museum contains an important collection of Americana. Greenfield Village is an open-air outdoor village museum that influenced the historic preservation movement. Ford died on April 7, 1947.

The 1932 Olympics

Opening Day LA Olympics
General view of Los Angeles Olympic Stadium, July 30, 1932, opening day of the Xth Olympiad,
July 30, 1932.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

On July 30, 1932, United States Vice President Charles Curtis declared, "I proclaim open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles, celebrating the tenth Olympiad of the modern era." A crowd of 100,000 spectators watched as some 1,332 athletes, representing 37 nations, paraded into the stadium. Vice President Curtis pressed a silver button to light the Olympic torch, the Olympic flag was raised, and 2,000 pigeons were released.

Among the United States athletes on the field were Mildred (Babe) Didrikson, Ralph Harold Metcalfe, Edward (Eddie) Thomas Tolan, Helene Madison, and Benjamin (Ben) B. Eastman. Eighteen-year-old track competitor Babe Didrikson won two gold medals and one silver medal. Jim Thorpe, who had won gold in the 1912 games, watched from the presidential box. He was unable to purchase regular tickets because of the personal financial ruin that befell him during the Great Depression.

President Herbert Hoover was unable to attend the Olympics partly due to his preoccupation with ending of the Bonus Army's Washington, D.C., encampment. In this pre-television era, radio station KHJ provided a service for those who could not attend the Olympics by painting "a word picture of the…events" in its nightly 10 p.m. broadcasts.

The Olympic Village was first instituted at the 1932 Olympics to counteract the effects of the Great Depression and to provide an affordable and convenient place for athletes and officials to eat and be housed. The Los Angeles Times noted that the De Soto Six Sedan from the Fisher Body Company, a part of General Motors, was named the official car of the Olympic Village.

a panoramic group portrait of Olympic athletes
All nation's rowing teams,
1932.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991