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Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company Founder And Aviation Pioneer

DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 17, 2002 -Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, was born July 30, 1863, in Springwells Township, Mich.

Henry Ford showed an early interest in mechanics. By the time he was 12, he was spending most of his spare time in a small machine shop he had equipped. There, at age 15, he constructed his first steam engine.

Mr. Ford's career as a builder of automobiles dated from 1893 when his interest in internal combustion engines led him to construct a small one-cylinder gasoline model. The first Ford engine sputtered its way to life on a table in the kitchen of the Ford home in Detroit. A later version of that engine powered his first automobile in 1896.

Mr. Ford founded Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903 - just months before the Wright brothers completed the first powered flight.

Henry Ford is best known as a mass-manufacturer of automobiles. However, it was Mr. Ford who put the nation on wheels, giving the "motor car" idea practicability when he developed the means to mass-produce and sell it at a price within the means of the average worker.

Henry Ford did much the same thing with aviation. Like the early automobiles, the early airplanes found little public acceptance. It was Henry Ford who pioneered the successful adaptation of the basic concept of the airplane and brought aviation and its advantages within the reach of the average citizen. It was his efforts in developing suitable aircraft to serve the public, then building public confidence in their reliability, safety and necessity that put the nation on wings.

Henry Ford's first involvement in aviation came in 1909, just six years after the Wright brothers' first powered flight, when he helped his son Edsel and friends build a primitive monoplane powered by a Ford Model T engine.

In 1923, Edsel Ford invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Company, which built the "Air Pullman," the world's first all-metal, single-engine high cantilever wing monoplane. From this start, with additional help from Ford Motor Company, the all-metal Stout 2-AT "Air Transport" plane was developed. With it, Ford in 1925 initiated Ford Air Transport Service - the world's first regularly scheduled commercial airline devoted to the business needs of a single company.

In January 1925, Henry Ford dedicated Ford Airport at Dearborn, Mich. It was the first modern airport, boasting the first concrete runway, hangars, dirigible mooring mast, weather station, radio shack for communicating with pilots and terminal facilities for passengers. It also included a restaurant and hotel facilities, plus limousine service to downtown Detroit.

To promote public confidence in commercial aircraft, Ford sponsored a series of "Reliability Tours" that began at Ford Airport and involved numerous aircraft flying several thousand miles with stops at various cities. These tours attracted thousands of spectators and generated public interest in private and commercial aircraft.

In 1925, Henry Ford formed the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company. As a result, the sale of Ford-built all-metal single-engine monoplanes began to the young struggling airmail, express and passenger airlines. This same year, the first experimental Ford Tri-Motor was built. In 1926 the first Wright "Whirlwind" engine equipped Ford 4-AT Tri-Motor came onto the market. It represented a tremendous technological advance over existing aircraft and it enabled Ford's new Airplane Manufacturing Division to become the world's largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft. Airlines quickly abandoned their primitive aircraft capable of only carrying airmail and one or two passengers and flocked to buy the Ford Tri-Motor. They were soon used to establish the first transcontinental air service.

Ford's involvement in aviation also played an important role during times of war. During World War I, Ford Motor Company mass-produced the American-designed "Liberty" aircraft engine and developed engines for the Kettering "Bug," America's first guided missile. After the war Henry Ford became interested in dirigibles and formed the Airplane Development Division, which pioneered in the development of the world's first metal-clad airship. During World War II, Henry Ford turned his energy toward building thousands of Pratt & Whitney "Double Wasp" aircraft engines and B-24 "Liberator" bombers.

Mr. Ford married Clara J. Bryant on April 11, 1888. They had one son, Edsel Bryant Ford, born Nov. 6, 1893. Henry Ford died April 7, 1947. He was 83.

Ford Motor Company continues its ties to aviation today through its presenting sponsorship of EAA's Countdown to Kitty Hawk, a centennial celebration of the Wright brothers' first powered flight - an innovation that forever changed our world. Led by EAA, presented by Ford Motor Company and supported by Microsoft Flight Simulator and Eclipse Aviation, this yearlong series of inspirational events honors the innovation and determination it takes to make world-changing dreams a reality. Countdown to Kitty Hawk features an interactive touring pavilion and the world's most-accurate 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction that will exclusively re-enact the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 2003 - exactly 100 years later. For more information, go to

Adapted from the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in which Henry Ford was enshrined in 1984 for his contributions to the development of the aviation industry.


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