Today in History: July 30
Old Zeke Perkins sold his hogs the other day,
The gosh-darned fool threw his money right away;
Rode into town, sittin' on a board,
Came home ridin' in a brand-new Ford!
Henry Ford leaving the White House after calling on the president,
National Photo Company Collection,
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929
Automobile manufacturer Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863, on his family's farm in what is present-day Dearborn, Michigan. From the time that he was a young boy, Ford enjoyed tinkering with machines. Farm work and a job in a Detroit machine shop afforded him ample opportunities to experiment. He worked successively as an apprentice machinist, a part-time employee for the Westinghouse Engine Company, and an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company. By then, he was earning enough money to experiment on building an internal combustion engine.
By 1896, Ford had constructed his first horseless carriage, a gasoline-powered motor car that he named the Quadricycle because it ran on four bicycle tires. He sold that vehicle, which was built on a steel frame and had a seat but no body, in order to finance work on an improved model.
Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903, proclaiming, "I will build a car for the great multitude." In October 1908, he did so, offering the Model T for $850. In the Model T's nineteen years of production, its price dipped as low as $260—without extras. More than 15 million cars were sold in the United States alone. The Model T heralds the beginning of the Motor Age; the car evolved from luxury item for the well-to-do to essential transportation for the ordinary man.
Possibly made for Ford Motor Company,
May 7, 1923.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
Durin' war time I got 'scripted and they sent me to Detroit to work in John Henry Ford's shops. I was a moulder. I had to stay up there three long years, and Lawd! was I glad to get home.
Tryon, North Carolina,
Adyleen G. Merrick, interviewer,
April 6-17, 1939.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
New York, New York,
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1900.
Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies
This film shows what may be the first annual automobile parade. Held on November 4, 1899, in downtown Manhattan, the parade demonstrated at least ten different makes and models, including models with electric and steam-powered machines. Just three years earlier, in 1896, Henry Ford, Charles Brady King, Alexander Winton, and Ransom Eli Olds had each introduced gasoline cars. In 1900, the first National Auto Show was held at Madison Square Garden. Favorite models were the electrics and the steamers. In 1901, newly discovered Texas oil fields lowered gasoline prices. That same year, mass production techniques were introduced into car manufacturing. These two factors would prove to be key in the rapid growth of the American automobile industry.
Ford revolutionized manufacturing—combining precision manufacturing, standardized and interchangeable parts, division of labor, and by 1913, a continuous moving assembly line. By 1914, his Highland Park, Michigan, plant, using innovative production techniques, turned out a complete chassis every 93 minutes—a stunning improvement over the earlier production time of 728 minutes. Using a constantly moving assembly line, subdivision of labor, and careful coordination of operations, the company realized huge gains in productivity.
In 1914, Ford announced his plan to profit share with the workers and began paying his employees five dollars for an eight-hour day, nearly doubling the wages offered by other manufacturers. And, he reduced the workday from nine to eight hours in order to convert the factory to a three-shift workday. Ford's mass-production techniques eventually allowed for the manufacture of a Model T every twenty-four seconds. His innovations made him an international celebrity.
Mrs. Gagne beside a Model T, 1920
Robert Runyon, photographer.
The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection
Negro youngsters and their Model 'T',
near Pacolet, South Carolina,
Jack Delano, photographer,
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945
A Model T Tale
Jane said that Richard used to go out in an old model T Ford roadster and when he would return he would have the rumble seat filled with live alligators, and various animals that he had captured in the Everglades.
Walter A. DeLamater, interviewer,
January 15, 1939.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
Ford's affordable Model T irrevocably altered American society. As more Americans owned cars, urbanization patterns changed. The United States saw the growth of suburbia, the creation of a national highway system, and a population entranced with the possibility of going anywhere anytime. Ford witnessed many of these changes during his lifetime, all the while personally longing for the agrarian lifestyle of his youth.
In 1927, Ford decided on a plan for his museum. The Henry Ford houses the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village (external link). The complex was dedicated in 1929 and opened to the public in 1933. The Henry Ford Museum contains an important collection of Americana. Greenfield Village is an open-air outdoor village museum that influenced the historic preservation movement. Ford died on April 7, 1947.
- Search on automobile in the collection Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 to find songs inspired by the invention of the automobile such as "In My Merry Oldsmobile," (1905), "When I Go Automobiling" (1907)—from Wilbur Mack’s Song Hits, and "He'd Have To Get Under, Get Out and Get Under To Fix Up His Automobile" (1913).
- Read the article, "Mass Production by Henry Ford" from the 1926 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, available in the collection Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929.
- Ford's Model T reached individuals from all walks of life. Search the following American Memory photograph collections to see images of Americans with their Model T's:
- The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photograph Collections
- American from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945
- Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982
- The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
- Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929
- American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 contains several references to Ford's automobiles. Search on Henry Ford or Model T.
- Search the collection Built in America: Historic American Buildings/Historic American and Engineering Record, 1933-Present on Henry Ford for many photographs and information on a Ford Assembly Plant and the Henry Ford Bridge, both located in Long Beach, California. The collection also has images of and data pages for the Winton Motor Carriage Company in Cleveland, Ohio.
- Search the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) for many other images of Henry Ford, as well as that of the Model T and other automobiles. The collection also includes an image of a replica of the shop in which Henry Ford began his first automobile.
- Search on Henry Ford, automobile, highway, assembly line, or Greenfield Village in the American Memory collections for more topical photos and texts.
- Read the Today in History features on the first automobile race and the Loewy futuristic sports car.
On July 30, 1932, United States Vice President Charles Curtis declared, "I proclaim open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles, celebrating the tenth Olympiad of the modern era." A crowd of 100,000 spectators watched as some 1,332 athletes, representing 37 nations, paraded into the stadium. Vice President Curtis pressed a silver button to light the Olympic torch, the Olympic flag was raised, and 2,000 pigeons were released.
Among the United States athletes on the field were Mildred (Babe) Didrikson, Ralph Harold Metcalfe, Edward (Eddie) Thomas Tolan, Helene Madison, and Benjamin (Ben) B. Eastman. Eighteen-year-old track competitor Babe Didrikson won two gold medals and one silver medal. Jim Thorpe, who had won gold in the 1912 games, watched from the presidential box. He was unable to purchase regular tickets because of the personal financial ruin that befell him during the Great Depression.
President Herbert Hoover was unable to attend the Olympics partly due to his preoccupation with ending of the Bonus Army's Washington, D.C., encampment. In this pre-television era, radio station KHJ provided a service for those who could not attend the Olympics by painting "a word picture of the…events" in its nightly 10 p.m. broadcasts.
The Olympic Village was first instituted at the 1932 Olympics to counteract the effects of the Great Depression and to provide an affordable and convenient place for athletes and officials to eat and be housed. The Los Angeles Times noted that the De Soto Six Sedan from the Fisher Body Company, a part of General Motors, was named the official car of the Olympic Village.
- For additional panoramic photographs of the 1932 Olympics and of other sporting events, search the collection Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 using terms such as Los Angeles Olympics, sports, swimming, or rowing. Search the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) on Olympics or Olympic games to see photographs and posters of the Olympics through the years.
- Search the Today in History Archive on names of athletes or athletic events to find more features on sports. Examples include pages on the World Series, Jim Thorpe, Althea Gibson, Kathy Whitworth, and Jackie Robinson.
- Search on radio in Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959 to see photos of a variety of early radio models.
- Visit United States Olympic Committee Online (external link), the official site of the U.S. Olympic Coordinating Committee and the official Web site of the Olympic Movement (external link).