Henry Ford's Ideal Worker

Henry Ford's Ideal Worker

Working for Ford-1915

In previous blogs, I discussed very briefly the worker program introduced by Henry Ford that enabled his company to produce millions of quality automobiles. I want to give a broader view of the average Ford employee of the period. In 1915, while many regions of the country had one foot in the rural economy and the other barely set into the industrial age, economic conditions were harsh and many lived a poverty level existence.

As the industrial age blossomed in the Northern United States, thousands of workers literally fled the south to find work, security and stability by employment with huge manufacturing companies. The Ford Motor Company was a primary destination.

Ford hired these refugees who were in many cases uneducated and lacking in the skills necessary to perform technical work. Also, the average Southern farm worker was not accustomed to the iron discipline and strict regimen Henry Ford exercised over his employees. They experienced difficulty in adapting and were either fired or quit in hopes of finding a better job. Indeed, many departments of the company hired 300 workers per year to staff 100 positions.

Ford introduced a revolutionary worker program to solve the turnover problem. He his employees $5 per day—double their usual wage—and dividing the workday into eight hour shifts, which dramatically cut the number of hours employees had been working. Additionally, employees got Sunday off, absolutely unheard of up until this point.

Another benefit to employees was that the higher wage put a $300 Ford Model T within their reach, making the dream of owning an automobile a reality.

Every day, hundreds of men lined up outside the employment office of the Ford plant in anticipation of one Ford employee quitting, getting fired or dying; anything to create just one opening they could fill.

The Ford plant became a Mecca for hungry workers and over time Ford ended up with the very best of them.

However, in addition to the discipline and strict regimen, Ford demanded a tremendous amount of diligence and hard work from his employees. The assembly line moved quickly and employees had to adjust to getting their jobs done as the pace increased as automobile grew exponentially. Mistakes caused through inability to keep up with the assembly line or mistakes in judgment resulted in quick dismissal. After all, there was no shortage of workers literally fighting each other to get on the Ford payroll.

Ford was a self righteous man who believed others should be shaped into his own mold. Therefore, he organized classes after work—particularly for recent immigrants to the U.S.—that were designed to instill his idea of American qualities into them. At these classes, anti-Semitism was preached, as well as Henry’s political views and other ideas regarding society’s behavior.

These classes were not conducted simply as an exercise; employees were expected to follow the teachings expressed at them at work and at home. Language, customs and conduct were monitored and deviation from Henry’s ideal mold was dealt with by dismissal from the company.