This Day In History: Henry Ford Leaves Edison To Start Automotive Company

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On August 15, 1899, a chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company’s main plant. That may not seem like a big deal, but that engineer would go on to become one of the men who revolutionized the automotive industry. That engineer was Henry Ford.


(Welcome to Today in History, the series where we dive into important historical events that have had a significant impact on the automotive or racing world. If you have something you’d like to see that falls on an upcoming weekend, let me know at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com.)

Ford left his family’s Dearborn, Michigan farm at age 16 to pursue a career in mechanics. He returned to his family farm after a while before being recruited as a mechanic for portable steam engines. He built a wagon powered by a steam engine when he was young, then started designing and building combustion engines because he thought it was safer and more effective than electricity.

Ironic, considering he was working as a chief engineer at Edison Illuminating Company. With a high-ranking position, Ford had the time to experiment with engine and quadricycle building — an initial form of the motor car. Even Thomas Edison himself endorsed Ford’s side projects.

But they were just that. Side projects. So, once he found financial backing from a lumber baron, Ford was able to found the Detroit Automobile Company and resign from his position at Edison.

There was stiff competition at the time; there were plenty of small automobile companies, but no brand really held any significant stake in the market or in the consumers’ hearts. It was an era of invention and innovation, and it took not just a mechanical genius but also a business whiz to balance the books at the end of the day to keep the company afloat. And that’s just what Ford did.

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