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Henry Ford

Henry Ford

1863-1947

Henry Ford was born in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan on July 30, 1863. Though his life's work began with the mass production of automobiles, he was also a pioneer in the field of aviation.

Ford's interest in aviation began in 1909 when he helped his son build a monoplane. Though it flew briefly, it was destroyed in a crash and Ford's interest in aviation waned. However, during the war Ford mass produced "Liberty" aircraft engines, then, in 1923, he invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Company. The Stout all-metal "Air-Transport" was perfected, and, pleased with the design, Ford purchased several and used them to establish the world's first regularly-scheduled airline devoted to the business needs of a single company. Called the Ford Air Transportation Service, it carried Ford auto parts and company mail between Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo.

Also, to promote confidence in aviation, Ford sponsored an annual Ford Reliability Tour that involved non-military aircraft flying a scheduled route with stops at numerous cities.

In 1925 Ford acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company and made it an operating division. With the introduction of the Ford Tri-Motor in 1926, and Ford Airplane Manufacturing Division became the world's largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft. He built the Ford Airport at Dearborn in 1926. It was the world's first truly complete and modern airport. In addition, Ford developed a midget "Flivver" airplane that promised to bring the personal aircraft within the means of the average person.

Though the Depression temporarily forced Ford to discontinue his aviation activities, during WWII, the Ford Motor Company mass-produced Pratt and Whitney "Double Wasp" aircraft engines and Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" bombers.

Ford was enshrined on September 15, 1990 for his dominant role in the advancements of the aircraft industry in Michigan.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program