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2006-07-09 13:27


  Growing up on a remote Michigan farm. Henry Ford knew little of all this — but he soon showed signs that he belonged to a new generation of Americans interested more in the industrial future than in the agricultural past.  Like most pioneer farmers, his father, William, hoped that his eldest son would join him on the farm,enable it to expand, and eventually take it over. But Henry proved a disappointment. He hated farm work and did everything he could to avoid it . It was not that he was lazy. Far from it. Give him a mechanical job to do, from mending the hinges of a gate to sharpening tools, and he would set to work eagerly. It was the daily life of the farm, with its repetitive tasks, that frustrated him. “What a waste it is,” he was to write years later, remembering his work in the fields, “for a human being to spend hours and days behind a slowly moving team of houses.

  Henry was excited by the possibilities for the future that were being opened up by developments in technology that could free farmers like his father from wasteful and boring toil. But these developments, in Henry's boyhood, had touched farming hardly at all and farmers went on doing things in the way they had always done. Low profits, the uncertainties of the weather, and farmers' instinctive resistance to change prevented all but the richest and most far-sighted farmers from taking advantage of the new age of machines.

  So Henry turned his attention elsewhere. When he was twelve he became almost obsessively interested in clocks and watches. Like most children before and since, he became fascinated by peering into the workings of a timepiece and watching the movement of ratchets and wheels, springs and pendulums. Soon he was repairing clocks and watches for friends, working at a bench he built in his bedroom.

  In 1876, Henry suffered a grievous blow. Mary died in childbirth. There was now no reason for him to stay on the farm, and he resolved to get away as soon as he could. Three years later, he took a job as a mechanic in Detroit. By this time steam engines had joined clocks and watches as objects of Henry's fascination.

  According to an account given by Henry himself, he first saw a steam-driven road locomotive one day in 1877 when he and his father, in their horse-drawn farm wagon, met one on the road. The locomotive driver stopped to let the wagon pass, and Henry jumped down and went to him with a barrage of technical questions about the engine's performance. From then on, for a while, Henry became infatuated with steam engines. Making and installing them was the business of the Detroit workshop that he joined at the age of sixteen.

  A chance meeting with an old co-worker led to a job for Henry as an engineer at the Edison Detroit Electricity Company, the leading force in another new industry. Power stations were being built and cables being laid in all of the United States' major cities; the age of electricity had dawned. But although Henry quickly learned the ropes of his new job— so quickly that within four years he was chief engineer at the Detroit power plant — his interest in fuel engines had come to dominate his life. At first in the kitchen of his and Clara's home, and later in a shed at the back of their house, he spent his spare time in the evenings trying to build an engine to his own design.

  Meanwhile, Henry's domestic responsibilities had increased. In November 1893, Clara gave birth to their first and only child, Edsel.

  Henry learned the hard way what a slow, painstaking business it was to build an engine by hand from scratch. Every piece of every component had to be fashioned individually, checked and rechecked, and tested. Every problem had to be worried over and solved by the builder. To ease the burden, Henry joined forces with another mechanic, Jim Bishop, Even so, it was two years before they had succeeded in building a working car. It was an ungainly-looking vehicle, mounted on bicycle wheels and driven by a rubber belt that connected the engine to the rear wheels. Henry called it the “Quadricycle”。









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