Ford: more than just cars
Henry Ford with a 1921 Model T
Ford's Rouge Complex in 1935
Fordson production in 1945
1978 Ford Falcon Cobra (XC series)
2001 Ford F-250
28th December, 2010
The Ford Motor Company has a long history of
manufacturing cars and trucks.
But a wide variety of products, from tractors to satellites, have been an important part of the
company's manufacturing portfolio since the first production Model T rolled out down the assembly
line in 1908.
While perfecting the Model T, one of the difficulties Henry Ford faced was procuring components
of consistent quality. His solution was to control the entire manufacturing process from raw
materials to final assembly.
The Rouge Industrial Complex in Michigan was an example of this process – vertical integration.
Raw materials entered at one end of the complex and completed cars drove away at the other end.
At various times, Ford engaged in timbering in northern Michigan, coal mining in Kentucky and
West Virginia, and iron ore mining in Minnesota, Michigan, Ontario and Brazil.
The Rouge, throughout its history, featured plants that manufactured a variety of components –
not just car bodies and engines, but steel, timber, plastics, paper and glass.
High-Tech Glass Making
Dismayed by the inconsistent quality of window glass from outside suppliers, Ford had his
engineers start on glassmaking experiments at Highland Park (Michigan) in 1919. Ford was the first
company to import the advanced continuous pour method of glass production from Europe.
Glass production for both cars and buildings were later added to additional plants. In 1964, Ford
was again on the forefront of glassmaking technology when they adopted the float-glass method of
The glass business was sold by Automotive Component Holdings in 2008.
Always a Farmer
Henry Ford may have left the farm, but he never lost respect for the farmer.
Ford wanted to provide them with a tractor that was as universal as the Model T. He experimented
with tractor designs as early as 1906.
In 1918, however, the revolutionary Fordson appeared. Considerably lighter and more affordable
than any tractor on the market, it was a hit.
In 1939, Ford made a handshake agreement with Harry Ferguson, who had designed an innovative
three-point hydraulic hitch. Then the Ford-Ferguson tractor came along, produced from 1939 to
Ford Takes Flight
Entrepreneur William B. Stout founded Stout Metal Airplane Company in 1922.
He quickly interested Henry and Edsel Ford in his plans, so much so, that in 1924, they built
Ford Airport on the site that is now Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds.
Ford inaugurated an air freight service, with a flight from Dearborn to Chicago, on 23rd April,
A quest to develop a more powerful airplane led to the making of the Ford Tri-Motor. Some 200
Tri-Motors were built between 1925 and 1933.
Ford even built the world's first airport hotel — the Dearborn Inn.
Ford acquired Philco in 1961, which manufactured televisions, radios for cars and home, record
players, washer/dryers, refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners for the home.
The consumer products division and Philco name were sold in 1974.
Ford has a long history of military and government service.
The first product of the Rouge Complex was not a car but a submarine-chasing Eagle boat, launched
10th July, 1918.
Ford contributed other materials to World War I, including the Model T chassis for ambulances,
tractors, aircraft engines – even steel helmets.
World War II saw all of American industry turn toward the war effort and Ford threw its resources
into a wide variety of manufacturing activities. One of the better-known Ford efforts was the bomber
plant at Willow Run.
Between December 1942 and June 1945, the plant turned out 8,685 B-24 bombers. Peak employment at
the plant was 42,000 workers, many of them women. Other plants manufactured a wide range of military
trucks, amphibious vehicles, tanks, gliders, generators, anti-aircraft detectors, tents and much
Race to Space
Ford played a crucial part in the space race through its Aeronutronic Division, later named the
Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation.
Among its notable achievements was acting as the prime contractor for NASA's Mission Control
Centre, which opened in Houston in 1964.
Ford Aerospace designed and built Courier 1B, the world's first active repeater communications
satellite, launched by the US Army in 1960.
Other communications and weather satellites followed, enough that Ford Aerospace could claim 60
satellites in orbit as of 1989.
Ford was also involved in the development of tactical weapon systems, including Sidewinder and
Ford Aerospace was sold to Loral Corporation in 1990.
The Charcoal King
Another example of Ford’s love of efficiency and thriftiness can be seen in the making of what
became Kingsford charcoal.
The Kingsford chemical plant opened in Michigan’s upper peninsula in 1924, using scrap wood from
Ford’s nearby sawmill and parts plant to make charcoal briquettes.
When Ford closed the sawmill and parts plant in 1951, the chemical plant was sold to a group of
local businesspeople and the brand carried on.
One of Ford's less successful ventures was the Brazilian rubber plantations Fordlandia and
Belterra. In 1928, Ford attempted to establish a consistent source of rubber in the western
A series of Ford managers made a midwestern village in the jungles of Brazil. While the workers
appreciated the high wages and heath care, the hours and food were deemed less popular.
Fordlandia, and later Belterra, suffered from difficult environmental conditions and poor
rubbery yields. The company abandoned the project in 1945, after spending more than $US20
Although Ford Motor Company may be best known for manufacturing cars and trucks, it has a rich
history in other industrial endeavours, some of which are still around today.