Henry Ford’s father, William Ford, was born in Co Cork and was one of many to emigrate from Ireland due to poverty and hunger (Án Gorta Mór). Ford visited Ireland in 1912, 65 years after his dad had emigrated and again in 1917 when he established the Ford plant in Cork city.
Ford was a mass of contradictions. He was a visionary, yet also a reactionary in many ways. Of the “Model T” Ford said, “I will build a motor car for the multitude. It shall be large enough for the family, but small enough for the unskilled individual to operate more easily and care for and it shall be light in weight that it may be economical in maintenance. It shall be so low in price that the man of moderate means may own one and enjoy with his family the blessings of happy hours spent in God’s great open spaces.”
He introduced the automated assembly line which helped his “Model T” vision come through and then followed it in 1914 offering the unthinkable wage of $5 per day, doubling the previous rate in a successful effort to dramatically reduce labour turnover.
The visionary Ford was slow to respond to changing consumer trends. “You can have any car you want as long as it is black”, is a wonderful line, but not a wonderful marketing strategy. The loss of market share to newcomer General Motors forced Ford to shut down the River Rouge assembly line in 1927 to “re-tool” for a new car – the “Model A”. Ford has never regained leadership in the car market.