Henry Ford built his first experimental car in a workshop behind his home in Detroit in 1896. After formation of the Ford Motor Company, the first Ford car was assembled at the Mack Avenue plant in July 1903. Five years later, in 1908, the highly successful Model T was introduced. Demand for this car was so great that Ford developed new mass production methods in order to manufacture it in sufficient quantities. In 1911 he established the industry’s first U.S. branch assembly plant (in Kansas City, Missouri) and opened the company’s first overseas production plant (in Manchester, England); in 1913 he introduced the world’s first moving assembly line for cars; and in 1914, to further improve labour productivity, he introduced the $5 daily wage for an eight-hour day (replacing $2.34 for a nine-hour day).
The company’s first international sales branch opened in Paris in 1908. By mid-1914 there were more than 500,000 Model Ts on the roads of the world; by 1923 the company was producing more than half of America’s automobiles; and, by the end of the 1920s, Ford had more than 20 overseas assembly plants in Europe, Latin America, Canada, Asia, South Africa, and Australia. The Ford had become the world’s most familiar make of car. In 1927 the last Model T and the first new Model A were produced, followed in 1932 by the first Ford V-8. In 1922 Ford had acquired the Lincoln Motor Company (founded 1917), which would produce Ford’s luxury Lincolns and Continentals. In 1938 Ford introduced the first Mercury, a car in the medium-priced range.
As early as 1906 Henry Ford had acquired 58.5 percent of the company’s stock; and, when the other stockholders balked at the idea of building the giant (and expensive) River Rouge plant in Dearborn, he bought them out; Edsel Ford (1893–1943) became president (1919). On Edsel’s death in 1943, Henry Ford returned to the presidency, but in 1945 he turned it over to his grandson, Henry Ford II, who reorganized the company’s tangled system of financial management and reinvigorated its corporate culture by hiring talented younger managers. The failed introduction of the Edsel (model years 1958–60) occurred amid these successes. Henry Ford II continued to guide the company as chief executive officer (1945–70) and chairman of the board (1960–80)
In the 1950s and ’60s the Ford Motor Company began limited diversification, but by the 1990s it had refocused attention on its automotive concerns and financial services. In 1989–90 Ford acquired Jaguar, a British manufacturer of luxury cars. Aston Martin became a wholly owned subsidiary in 1993. Later acquisitions included the rental car company Hertz Corporation in 1994, the automobile division of Volvo in 1999, and the Land Rover brand of sport utility vehicles in 2000. Ford also purchased a significant share of the Mazda Motor Corporation. However, as Ford struggled in the early 21st century, it began selling a number of its brands. In 2007 the company sold Aston Martin, and the following year it sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors Ltd. of India.
In December 2008 Pres. George W. Bush announced an emergency financial rescue plan to aid the “Big Three” automakers—Chrysler LLC, General Motors Corporation, and Ford—to prevent the collapse of the country’s struggling auto industry. The plan made immediately available $13.4 billion in government loans from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a $700 billion fund approved by Congress to aid the financial industry following the subprime mortgage crisis. The loans would allow the auto companies to continue operating through March 2009, when they were required to demonstrate “financial viability” or return the money. An additional stipulation required the companies to undergo restructuring. The money was initially made available to General Motors and Chrysler; Ford purportedly possessed adequate funds to continue operations and, thus, did not immediately require government relief.
Able to avoid bankruptcy—for which both General Motors and Chrysler filed—Ford experienced increased sales and market share in 2009. The growth was partially due to the federal government’s “cash-for-clunkers” plan, which gave consumers up to $4,500 toward trade-ins of older cars for new fuel-efficient models. In addition, Ford adopted various cost-cutting measures and focused on stronger brands. In 2010 the automaker sold Volvo to the Chinese company Zhejiang Geely Holding. Several months later Ford announced that it would discontinue its Mercury line. However, as sales became sluggish, the automaker looked to expand its products. In 2016 Ford Smart Mobility was created to develop car-sharing ventures and self-driving vehicles, among other initiatives. The following year the automaker announced that it was increasing its line of electric cars. However, in 2018 Ford announced that it was phasing out all of its passenger cars, except the Mustang and Ford Focus Active. Instead, the company was going to focus on pickups, SUVs, and crossover vehicles.