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The Engineer

He returned home in 1882 but did little farming. Instead he operated and serviced portable steam engines used by farmers, occasionally worked in factories in Detroit, and cut and sold timber from 40 acres of his father’s land. By now Ford was demonstrating another characteristic—a preference for working on his own rather than for somebody else. In 1888 Ford married Clara Bryant and in 1891 they moved to Detroit where Henry had taken a job as night engineer for the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. Ford did not know a great deal about electricity. He saw the job in part as an opportunity to learn.

Henry was an apt pupil, and by 1896 had risen to chief engineer of the Illuminating Company. But he had other interests. He became one of scores of people working in barns and small shops across the country trying to build horseless carriages. Aided by a team of friends, his experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of his first self-propelled vehicle, the Quadricycle. It had four wire wheels that looked like heavy bicycle wheels, was steered with a tiller like a boat, and had only two forward speeds with no reverse.

A second car followed in 1898. Ford now demonstrated one of the keys to his future success—the ability to articulate a vision and convince other people to sign on and help him achieve that vision. He persuaded a group of businessmen to back him in the biggest risk of his life—a company to make and sell horseless carriages. But Ford knew nothing about running a business, and learning by trial-and-error always involves failure. The new company failed, as did a second. To revive his fortunes Ford took bigger risks, building and even driving racing cars. The success of these cars attracted additional financial backers, and on June 16, 1903 Henry incorporated his third automotive venture, Ford Motor Company.


Henry Ford Driving His
Quadricycle in Detroit,
Michigan, 1896

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