The Ford Family: A Permanent Mark in Business History

1 minutes reading time
Published 19 Jul 2023
Reviewed by: Kasper Karlsson
Updated 22 Mar 2024

The Ford family, with their name synonymous with the automobile industry, has not only shaped the course of American history but also continues to make waves in various sectors globally. Their mark stretches from the invention of the assembly line by Henry Ford to the present-day status as one of the largest and most well-known family-owned businesses in the world.

Key Insights

  • Born in 1863 in Michigan, Henry Ford was the eldest of six siblings and developed a strong interest in mechanics from a young age, building his first steam engine at 15 and setting up his own workshop by age 12.

  • Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, which went bankrupt, leading to the successful founding of the Ford Motor Company in 1903.

  • The Ford family has maintained significant control over the Ford Motor Company, with a special class of stock ensuring 40% voting power. Today, descendants like William Clay Ford Jr., Henry Ford's great-grandson, continue to play a crucial role in the company.

  • The Ford family has a rich history of philanthropy, exemplified by the Ford Foundation, established by Edsel Ford in 1936. With an endowment over $12 billion, the foundation has significantly impacted various societal sectors, including education, civil rights, arts, and culture.

From a Small Workshop to a Global Empire: The Life of Henry Ford

Henry Ford, who would later establish the Ford Motor Company, was born on July 30, 1863, in the small town called Springwells Township in Michigan. He was the eldest among six siblings with three brothers and two sisters. From a young age, Henry showed a keen interest in mechanics, setting up his own small workshop by the time he was 12. He consequently built his first steam engine at 15.

His journey into professional mechanical work began with an apprenticeship at the James Flower & Brothers Shops. By 1891, at the age of 28, he started working at the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit, where he rose to the position of chief engineer in only two years. Here, he forged a lifelong friendship with Thomas Edison.

Henry started his journey into automobile creation in 1893 when he built a small one-cylinder gasoline model. The first car he built, named the Quadricycle, was completed in June 1896. Henry ventured into the automobile business after resigning from the Edison Illuminating Company in 1899 by founding the Detroit Automobile Company, which unfortunately went bankrupt in about a year and a half. Approximately four years later at the age of 40, he founded the Ford Motor Company with backing from 12 investors.

Henry, who initially owned 25.5% of the company, took over as President and controlling owner in 1906. The Ford family would later acquire full ownership of the company in 1919. After Henry’s only child Edsel's death in 1943, who at the time of her passing served as President at the company, he returned only to recommend his grandson, Henry Ford II, for the position. Henry passed away roughly two years later from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1947 at his residence in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Ford Family Legacy

Although the company has gone public since its inception, the Ford family still retains significant control over the company. The family maintains a minority ownership but holds a special class of stock that gives them 40 percent voting power. This structure ensures they maintain a strategic role in steering the company's direction, keeping them in the driver's seat of the organization's future.

The family legacy is carried on by several descendants involved in the business today, such as William Clay Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He is currently the executive chairman of the board and the largest individual shareholder with 23% ownership as of 2022, having increased his stake several times during the last decade.

Despite the increasing complexity of the business world, the Ford family has kept control of the company while keeping its founding values alive. Today, as of July 2023 and more than a century after its inception, Ford Motor Company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange as Ford Motor with a market capitalization of ~$60 billion, which makes it one of the largest automotive and family-owned businesses in the world.

Partnering up With Google

Google and Ford entered into a landmark six-year partnership in 2021, aiming to transform and modernize aspects of Ford's business through innovative technology and strategic collaboration. The partnership brings together two industry giants, each a leader in their respective fields of technology and automotive manufacturing.

At the heart of this collaboration lies the integration of Google's Android operating system into Ford's vehicles, set to start from 2023. This integration is expected to enhance the in-car experience by providing a seamless interface for infotainment, offering access to Google's suite of apps including Google Maps, Google Assistant, and Google Play right from the vehicle's dashboard.

The Ford Family’s Philanthropic Endeavors

The Ford family has a long-standing tradition of philanthropy, deeply ingrained in their legacy. They have significantly contributed to societal development through various philanthropic initiatives, most notably the Ford Foundation.

Established in 1936 by Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's only child, the Ford Foundation stands as one of the world's most resourceful and influential philanthropic organizations. With an endowment of over $12 billion as of 2021, the foundation has been a major force for social change globally.

The Ford Foundation has historically funded a wide range of initiatives such as supporting higher education through countless scholarships. It has provided aid for public broadcasting, played a significant role in the civil rights movement, and funded arts and culture to preserve and celebrate heritage and diversity.

Thus, the Ford family has through their philanthropic endeavors significantly influenced various societal sectors, fostering education, arts, reducing poverty, and driving social change, thereby extending their legacy beyond the automobile industry.

In Conclusion

From Henry Ford's humble beginnings in a small Michigan workshop, the Ford name has become a permanent part of the worldwide car industry's history. Despite facing setbacks in the early years, Henry Ford's resilience led to the establishment of the Ford Motor Company, an entity that has remained relevant and influential for over a century. With a market capitalization of approximately $60 billion as of July 2023, Ford Motor stands as a glowing testament to this enduring family legacy and serves as a beacon of American industry and entrepreneurial spirit.

Learn more about Ford and the automotive industry

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