By Gerry Breen
Exactly a hundred years ago, in 1917, Henry Ford registered his company, Henry Ford & Sons, in Cork, where he established a Ford factory that at one stage became the biggest producer of tractors in the world.
Henry Ford was one of the most important figures in the story of the automobile. It has been said that this son of an Irish emigrant put the world on wheels and, in doing so, ensured that his name would become one of the most recognisable in the world.
A burning ambition to make cars drove Henry Ford to become one of the legendary industrial giants of the 20th century and one of the richest men in the world.
His father, William, had emigrated to America from Ballinascarty, Co. Cork, in 1847 and Henry was born in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1863. He is often depicted as a poor farm boy whose inventive genius transformed him into an instant success.
That’s not the way it happened. First of all, his family wasn’t poor. They weren’t rich either, but they enjoyed a modest prosperity on their farm and they were an important family in their community.
The young Henry was passionately interested in engines and he worked hard to master mechanical objects. He was in his thirties before he had completed the two-cylinder car he had been working on in a shed behind his home.
It took three years before he succeeded in finding the backers he needed to form the Detroit Automobile Co. Sadly, the venture was not a success.
There were many other setbacks before Henry managed to put together a third company in 1903 to manufacture a new car he had been working on and which was to be known as the Model A. In fact, bankruptcy was staring him in the face when his luck changed dramatically.