He grew up on a prosperous family farm in Dearborn, Michigan, and in 1879 he left home for the nearby city of Detroit to work as an apprentice machinist. Upon his marriage to Clara Bryant in 1888 Ford supported himself by running a sawmill.
In 1891 Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, and after his promotion to Chief Engineer in 1893 he had enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines. These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of his own self-propelled vehicle nameded the Quadricycle.
Ford Motor Company was incorporated in 1903. The company produced just a few cars a day at the Ford factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit. Groups of two or three men worked on each car from components made to order by other companies.
In 1908, Ford brought out the Model T design. Ford was forced to move to a larger factory to keep up with the demand for the Model T, and by 1913 had developed all of the basic techniques of assembly line production. By 1918 half of all cars in America were Model Ts.
Ford lost market share during the 1920s due to the rise of consumer credit. Ford's goal was to produce an inexpensive automobile that any worker could afford. To keep his prices low, he offered few features. Ford was famous for saying his customers could get a Ford car in any color they liked -- so long as it was black.
General Motors and other competitors began offering automobiles in more colors, with more features and luxuries. They also extended credit so consumers could buy these more expensive automobiles. Ford resisted following suit, insisting that such credit would hurt the consumer and the economy. But, Ford finally gave in and imitated his competitors.
Ford was a noted anti-intellectual ("History is bunk," he once said.) He was also quite an anti-semite, whicn gives some credence to rumors that his company cooperated with the Third Reich, in some ways, during World War Two.
But Ford created one of the greatest American corporations, brought cars to millions of people and, through the Ford Foundation, helped millions of others.