History of Ford Motor Company, Part 3

Ford is America’s sole main automaker not run by the government—a distinction made possible by decades of good, if not always consistent, business management after the loss of its founder and his son, Edsel, who died in his prime at the age of 49.

But the great company was cast by its self-made founder, Henry Ford, and his impact on American history is amazing; Mr. Ford brought the automobile to the mass market, helped create America’s middle class and the Michigan capitalist proved—with high wages and generous employee benefits—that profits and labor are compatible, even mutually advantageous. Ford cars made great advancements, including safety glass, the Jeep, and the V-8 engine.

Its first all-new line of cars after World War 2 was unveiled in 1949 and, by 1954, Ford under Henry Ford II had moved up a notch to the number two market position, beating Chrysler. Ford introduced the legendary Thunderbird a year later. Other iconic models followed throughout the 1950s: the Continental Mark II, the Edsel, and the Galaxie, though the Edsel, named after the late Edsel Ford, infamously ceased production in 1959.

The 1960s ushered in a slew of new vehicles—the Econoline, the Mustang, the Bronco—and Ford of Europe in 1967. In the 1970s, Ford was attacked by an environmentalist and activist named Ralph Nader, who launched a crusade against Ford’s troubled sub-compact, the 1971 Pinto, which was discontinued. Ford kept producing cars and, in 1972, proposed a Renaissance Center on Detroit, Michigan’s waterfront. By the end of the decade, Ford’s Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car were in production and Ford rolled its 150 millionth vehicle off the assembly line.

Henry Ford II died in 1987. Then, along came the 1988 Lincoln Continental, and Ford purchases, mergers and acquisitions of rental car business Hertz, Jaguar, and Aston Martin—in addition to the 25 percent stake Ford had bought in what would become Mazda. By the late 1980s, Ford's global earnings were $5.3 billion, according to National Public Radio (NPR), the highest of any automotive company to date.

Ford’s family legacy continued, with Edsel Ford II, William Clay Ford Jr. and William Clay Ford serving on Ford Motor Company’s board of directors and their leadership seemed to be taking Ford to market domination of the next product in demand: the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). Ford manufactured the Explorer in 1990. It became the nation's bestselling SUV.

[Sources: Mike Davis, Ward’s AutoWorld (2003), National Public Radio, Ford Motor Company]

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