It wasn’t that he hated farm life, it just wasn’t the life Henry Ford really wanted. The work was backbreaking most of the time. And boring. Nothing new ever happened.
It was the same thing year after year, season after season.
The only thing that made the farm a thing he loved, was his mother. She was his caretaker, his cheerleader, his teacher when he wasn’t at school, and his friend even when he was young.
Henry couldn’t do any hands-on fixing on the farm when he was little. So he found ways to tinker with anything he could get his hands on.
He would take things apart and rebuild them.
Take them apart. Rebuild them.
“AS HE WAS GETTING READY TO LEAVE CHILDHOOD AND ENTER HIS TEENAGE YEARS, HIS MOTHER DIED. IT WAS MORE DEVASTATING TO HIM THAN A DROUGHT TO THE CROPS THEY GREW.”
Henry became dark, depressed.
He closed himself off because he didn’t want to have to pretend he was fine.
Around that same time, Henry’s father gave him a pocket watch. And as was the case with all the other “things” he came across on the farm, Henry took that watch apart and put it back together.
And he kept doing it. And then he started fixing friend’s watches. And then the neighbors watches.
By the time he turned 15, Henry had a reputation as a watch repairman and an insatiable desire to figure out how things worked.
Soon, instead of focusing on the loss of his mother, Henry immersed himself in the mechanics of the timepieces he would repair.
Eventually, it wasn’t enough anymore. The farm wasn’t enough.
He couldn’t stay any longer.
“I never had any particular love for the farm. It was the mother on the farm I loved,” Henry once said.
And so, when he turned 16, Henry Ford made the decision to leave his Dearborn, Michigan home.
He walked nine miles to Detroit. Penniless. And homeless. He went to the city to find something more suited to his mechanical brain.
Henry found a job as a mechanic’s apprentice.
He caught on quickly — the way a music prodigy catches on to playing piano.
He barely had to be taught. He just knew where things should go and how they worked.
Three years later, he moved back to Dearborn. Back to the farm.
But not a farmer.
He got a job as an engineer for the power company. He married. Had a son.
On top of working full time to make sure the town had electricity 24 hours a day, Henry spent countless hours in the barn behind his house working on a project all his own.
His hours weren’t consistent because he was on call at all times for the power company — but that didn’t matter to him.
And it didn’t matter if he lost sleep. He only worked for the power company for money.
Money to take care of his wife and son. Money to continue to fund the dream he had in his head.
So day after day and night after night, Henry Ford would go to work when they needed him, come home, kiss his wife on the cheek, pat his son on the head, spend a little time with them, and go to the barn to create.
And create he did.
First, he wanted to create a gasoline-powered engine. He did that.
Next, he wanted to create a gasoline-powered vehicle. So he did that too.
He invented the “Quadricycle.”
It was a horseless carriage. He didn’t reinvent the wheel with it. Henry just had an idea and wanted to see it come to life.
He also had an idea in his head to make a vehicle that was even better than the horseless carriages of the day. Better, because it was simpler.
Most of the people who had vehicles were wealthy. The vehicles were more of a status symbol than a useful tool to make lives easier.
What if the Quadricycle could be priced low enough for anyone to afford buying one?
That is what Henry Ford ultimately wanted to create. That was his dream. That was his purpose for now.
So he sold his Quadricycle to fund his next vehicle creation. And then he sold that one to finance the next one. He did this a few times until he had people who wanted to back his creations lining up.
Then, in a bold move, he moved his family off the farm and back to Detroit where business was booming.
In 1899, Henry and some of his financial backers formed the Detroit Motor Company, which was later called Henry Ford Company and even later (after he left) was renamed the Cadillac Motor Car Company.
Henry didn’t want to just keep making cars. He wanted to perfect the one he was working on.
He wanted to make a family car. A farmer’s car. A car that could be driven through the fields. A car that could pull the weight of farm equipment. A car that could haul around the family.
An all-around vehicle.
He also wanted it to be lightweight. And affordable.
So when his investors were pressuring him to make something new and fancy and make it quickly — Henry decided to leave the company that he had started.
He had fulfilled his purpose for now at his first big venture. It was time for him to find a new purpose. And a new place to fulfill it.
So he started another company, The Ford Motor Company. And he started it with money from private citizens who believed in what he was doing.
He ran into obstacle after obstacle. Former investors tried to sabotage him. State-run organizations didn’t want to give him a license to manufacture.
But he just kept pushing. Because he knew that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing.
He believed everything was going to work out. Henry Ford believed he was going to change the world.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Things just started falling into place. He had the mental breakthroughs he was trying to get. He figured out how to make a lighter car. He figured out how to make a more affordable car. And then, he figured out how to mass produce that car by using an assembly line.
He did not come up with the idea of assembly line production. He just perfected it and then used it to mass produce cars.
Instead of the people moving around in the shop, he made the cars move on a conveyor belt. He put them on the line and then hired lots of people to do just one job. They would then do that one single job hundreds of times a day on hundreds of vehicles.
He also did something different with the people he hired to put together this amazing vehicle he was creating. He gave them realistic hours with a wage they could live on.
He fostered a community of people who wanted to work with him and for him. He didn’t pay the bare minimum and expect the maximum hours to be worked like his competitors.
He knew that his workers were human. They had families. He was making a car for families. He was making a car for real life. He wanted his workers to have a real life.
He also wanted his workers to be able to afford to buy the vehicle they spent every day building.
Everything came together and the Model T Ford was built.
It became a staple in homes across America. Henry Ford gave us mass production on a whole new level. He gave us V8 engines. And, ultimately, he gave us traffic jams. All of which have been perfected over the years .
Henry Ford did change the world. And his company is still in business today. Now his great-grandson William Clay Ford, Jr serves as the executive chairman of the board of the Ford Motor Company — continuing to fulfill the purpose that Henry Ford started over a hundred years ago.
Everything you do is leading you to your purpose.
Maybe your purpose for now won’t be evident until a hundred years from now, but if you never find your purpose, you won’t be able to say that for sure.
As we come closer to the end of the month and closer to the end of our hyper-focused discussion on purpose, remember the lesson of Henry Ford. He took his love of tinkering and his belief in what “the American Dream” should look like and he changed the world forever.
What are your plans to change the world forever? Or are you just planning on changing your world for now? Either one is fine.
Join me over in my Facebook group where we are elbow-deep in purpose for the rest of this month and share with us how you’ve found your purpose (or how you are finding it).