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$5 a Day – How Henry Ford Kick-Started the American Middle Class

Higher wages helped create a market for his Model T.

by on Jan.06, 2014

Ford's big wage hike in January 1914 was a source of headlines across the country.

Looking back in history there are plenty of events that helped shape our collective modern life, such as the inventions of the light bulb and telephone. But perhaps no single moment was more pivotal than a day exactly 100 year ago when Henry Ford announced he would double the pay for 25,000 of his employees.

Not only did Ford boost wages to $5 a day but he cut the time his employees spent toiling on the grueling assembly line from nine to eight hours.

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He was hailed by workers – and inundated by 10,000 job applicants who raced to his Model T plant in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park. The industrialist also was derided by many of his manufacturing colleagues, some declaring him a socialist, others warning that the added costs could bankrupt the Ford Motor Co.

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The Assembly Line Celebrates its Centennial

The machine that built the machine that changed the world.

by on Oct.07, 2013

Henry Ford first tied cars together by rope, yanking them along the line, but within a year was running an assembly line much like those we see today.

It’s little more than a crumbling ruin now, a decrepit collection of brick buildings in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Motown, but the old Highland Park Assembly Plant was once the site of an industrial revolution, one rivaling the invention of the steam engine in terms of its impact not only on Detroit or the U.S. but, indeed, the entire world.

Historians have long argued about exactly what date that revolution actually occurred, but next Monday is the day that Ford Motor Co. plans to mark the occasion that founder Henry Ford’s first moving assembly plant began rolling.

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“The assembly line made almost everything we have today possible,” says Matt Anderson, curator of the automotive collection at the independent Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. While it might have first been used to mass produce Ford’s Model T, today, he adds, “It affects a lot more than just the automobile.”

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All in the Family: The Ford’s Get Back World’s Oldest Ford

Third car off the line returns home after 109 years.

by on Dec.17, 2012

Henry Ford's great-grandson Ford Chairman Bill Ford with a 1903 Ford Model A.

While the Model T is perhaps the best-known product ever built by the Ford Motor Co. – and voted the “Car of the Century” by a group of automotive media and experts from around the world, it was actually the Model A that put the company in gear.

And a 1903 Model A Rear Entry Tonneau recently returned home after a circuitous, 109-year journey. Purchased at auction last October but only being displayed by the maker, it’s the oldest known surviving Ford vehicle.

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“The timing was perfect to bring this key part of Ford heritage back to the family as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s birth and his vision to improve people’s lives by making cars affordable for the average family,” said Bill Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford and the family firm’s current chairman. “His vision to build cars that are reasonably priced, reliable and efficient still resonates and defines our vision today as well.”

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The Factory that Built the American Dream

Henry Ford’s Highland Park Assembly Plant 100 Years Later.

by on Jan.04, 2010

A machine that changed the world. Henry Ford and the Model T.

On New Year’s Day of 1910, Henry Ford started producing Model T’s at what was then the world’s largest auto factory – the Highland Park Ford Plant. It was an airy complex that would change the world with his new ideas – the moving assembly line, and more than doubling his workers’ pay to the unheard of sum of $5.00 a day.

The assembly line made mass production possible and the unexpected result of boosting his workers’ paychecks meant they could buy his cars and everything else under the sun. Other companies had to compete for the same workers and his employee’s twofold pay increase drove wages up around the country, which stimulated demand.

This true “trickle down” phenomenon gave birth to the modern American Dream of home ownership, plentiful high paying jobs, decent schools and a pathway to citizenship for those willing to do a hard day’s work. There are still lessons to be learned.

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“Mass production and the $5.00 day gave the country an enormous boost; it simply made consumers out of almost everyone, in terms of automobiles. The automobile industry was so important to the economy that as it went, the economy seemed to go,” said David Lewis, professor of Business History at the University of Michigan.

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