Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm at Dearborn, Michigan. According to his book My Life and Work, it was life on the farm that drove him into devising ways and means of better transportation.
"My toys were all tools"
Henry's earliest recollection is that there was too much work on the farm where he grew up; "There was too much hard labour on our own and all other farms of the time. Even when very young I suspected that much might somehow be done in a better way." While growing up, tools were Henry's toys, and every fragment of machinery was a treasure to the curious kid.
The road engine that started it all
Henry describes meeting a road engine as the biggest event in his early years. He was twelve years old at the time, and he and his family were driving to town. The road engine was the first vehicle other than a horse that the young kid had ever seen. Intended for driving threshing machines and sawmills, it was simply a portable engine and boiler on wheels with a water tank and coal cart trailing behind. He had seen plenty of these engines hauled around by horses, but this one had a chain that made a connection between the engine and the rear wheels of the wagon. "The engine was placed over the boiler and one man standing on the platform behind the boiler shoveled coal, managed the throttle, and did the steering. I had been made by Nichols, Shepard & Company of Battle Creek." Henry was off the wagon talking to the engineer before his father realized what the kid was up to. "The engineer was very glad to explain the whole affair. He was proud of it," Henry recalled in his book. "He showed me how the chain was disconnected from the propelling wheel and a belt put on to drive other machinery. He told me that the engine made two hundred revolutions a minute and that the chain pinion could be shifted to let the wagon stop while the engine was running." According to Henry, "It was that engine which took me into automotive transportation. I tried to make models of it, and some years later I did make one that ran very well, but from the time I saw that road engine as a boy of twelve right forward to today, my greatest interest has been in making a machine that would travel the roads."
"Machines are to a mechanic what books are to a writer"
Henry's second-biggest event was getting a watch, which happened the same year. He used to take broken watches and try to put them together again. "When I was thirteen I managed for the first time to put a watch together so that it would keep time." By the time Henry was fifteen, he could almost do anything in watch repairing, "although my tools were of the crudest." According to Henry, "Machines are to a mechanic what books are to a writer." He believed that it was not possible to learn from books how everything is made and that a real mechanic ought to know how nearly everything is made. "He gets ideas from them, and if he has any brains he will apply those ideas."
Machinist apprentice and watch repairing
Henry didn't show much interest in farming, and he knew early on that he wanted to have something to do with machinery. When he left school at seventeen he became an apprentice in the machine shop of the Drydock Engine Works. He was qualified to be a machinist long before his three-year term had expired. He worked nights repairing in a jewelry shop. "I thought that I could build a serviceable watch for around thirty cents and nearly started in the business." Henry figured out that watches were not universal necessities, so he abandoned the watch business before it started.
- My Life and Work by Henry ford
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