I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford

I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford

Posted by jack_miller | Published a year ago

With 107 ratings

By: Richard F. Snow

Purchased At: $29.95

From the acclaimed popular historian Richard Snow, who “writes with verve and a keen eye” (The New York Times Book Review), comes a fresh and entertaining account of Henry Ford and his invention of the Model T—the ugly, cranky, invincible machine that defined twentieth-century America.

Every century or so, our republic has been remade by a new technology: 170 years ago the railroad changed Americans’ conception of space and time; in our era, the microprocessor revolutionized how humans communicate. But in the early twentieth century the agent of creative destruction was the gasoline engine, as put to work by an unknown and relentlessly industrious young man named Henry Ford. Born the same year as the battle of Gettysburg, Ford died two years after the atomic bombs fell, and his life personified the tremendous technological changes achieved in that span.

Growing up as a Michigan farm boy with a bone-deep loathing of farming, Ford intuitively saw the advantages of internal combustion. Resourceful and fearless, he built his first gasoline engine out of scavenged industrial scraps. It was the size of a sewing machine. From there, scene by scene, Richard Snow vividly shows Ford using his innate mechanical abilities, hard work, and radical imagination as he transformed American industry.

In many ways, of course, Ford’s story is well known; in many more ways, it is not. Richard Snow masterfully weaves together a fascinating narrative of Ford’s rise to fame through his greatest invention, the Model T. When Ford first unveiled this car, it took twelve and a half hours to build one. A little more than a decade later, it took exactly one minute. In making his car so quickly and so cheaply that his own workers could easily afford it, Ford created the cycle of consumerism that we still inhabit. Our country changed in a mere decade, and Ford became a national hero. But then he soured, and the benevolent side of his character went into an ever-deepening eclipse, even as the America he had remade evolved beyond all imagining into a global power capable of producing on a vast scale not only cars, but airplanes, ships, machinery, and an infinity of household devices.

A highly pleasurable read, filled with scenes and incidents from Ford’s life, particularly during the intense phase of his secretive competition with other early car manufacturers, I Invented the Modern Age shows Richard Snow at the height of his powers as a popular historian and reclaims from history Henry Ford, the remarkable man who, indeed, invented the modern world as we know it.
This wonderful book pulls Henry Ford into the present by presenting us with his deep revealing shadow. Richard Snow has chosen to create a picture of Ford that starts in his early life and leads ineluctably to the development of the Model T, which Snow describes convincingly as having invented the modern age. This isn't a new idea of course but what this book does is not only evoke a vivid picture of genius at its peak but it provides the essence of what we gained and lost through Ford's bizarre twists of character. We gained, of course, mass production and the automobile as a transformative force. And with Ford doubling the working man's salary, we also gained a middle class. (The book goes on to report on the brutality Ford later used against his workers, but that early support of the worker was an almost heartbreaking reminder of what is now being lost --US manufacturing and the working middle class.) And we probably also lost the possiblity of a global organization right after WWI. The book doesn't shy away from Ford's very weird and destructive anti-Semitism, his ruthless treatment of men who had been indispensible in his rise, nor his damaging and tragic relationship with his son. However, throughout this brilliant book I was periodically reminded of two other men, Steve Jobs and Robert Moses, who were also initially motivated by the desire to change lives for good. All three achieved monstrous changes in the fabric of society by building tangible stuff and overcoming extreme obstacles to do so. In the process, however, all three also underwent crippling psychological changes that made them, somehow, monstrous. To make this point, the important biographers of Jobs and Moses wrote very long books. Snow elegantly and kindly reveals this in far fewer pages. And it reads like a novel. (I hope some smart producer notices that the Selden patent case by itself has enough drama and character to fill a mini-series.) Snow even manages to make machinery thrilling, and this for a reader who doesn't know the difference between a monkey wrench and a monkey. I recommend buying it on the Kindle because at the end you can expand the picture of Henry Ford's face and place your finger on each side of it. You'll know what I mean when you buy this book.

- salvatore_jimenez

Henry Ford is the man who made the automobile available to the common person. When his shareholders craved higher profits Ford instead doubled the pay of his workers and cut the price of the flagship Model T. In his own words, "For every dollar I reduce our price, I gain one thousand new customers." As with all historic figures, also due to human nature, Henry Ford has his own character flaws. But he changed the world. Before Fords mass produced car there were no paved roads as we know today. Small town families were rarely if ever able to leave there city let alone their state. He gave birth to the 8 hour work day, replacing the common 12+hr standard. A well written book that is worth every penny.

- jefferson_sanders

Thoroughly enjoyed this very readable (slightly contrarian) story of Henry Ford. Snow does present Ford in a different light, showing him to be at times a detached genius at machines and of marketing them. At other times, Ford appears to be very much engaged. I remain puzzled over Ford's stance on the Jewish religion, and the same as his being a pacifist, yet profiting from his manufacturing ships & planes.

If you have ever visited the Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village, the book is a must in helping you understand what (and why) of your experience.

- mavis_garcia

I gave this book out as a client gift last year. Richard Snow artfully places us in a time before cars, highways, or the spark plug. Snow makes history readable as he spools out events that were unprecedented, formed history and often completely ballsy: between the three power options available (steam, electric, combustion engine) Henry Ford chooses the combustion engine. He knows he needs a spark, so he gets a job at the new Edison power plant in Detroit. Ford shows up at work long enough to punch in, then goes back home to work on his automobile. He and fellow Edison engineers invent the spark plug. Edison comes to visit his new plant in Detroit and meets Ford at the company dinner. They become lifelong friends. Automobiles had already been invented, but they were the speedy tool of the rich (imagine the first $80,000 Teslas). When Ford tells his bankers that he wants to sell to the average American family, they refuse. He quits. The bankers turn that company into Cadillac. When Ford has trouble hiring and keeping engineers to work in his plant, he triples their wages. This angers his competitors, but creates the American Middle Class. For the first time, workers can actually afford the cars they create. Companies like Dodge, Chevrolet, GM, Oldsmobile and more all first worked for Ford. In this sense, he not only invented the automobile manufacturing processes--he invented Detroit.I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford

- kaiya_collins

If you like history,the automobile and manufacturing you will enjoy this book.It is a great history about the Path Henry took to invent a car, build it and get it into mass production.He made mistakes along the way and also took some big risks on big ideas. The part I found most interesting is that his son was actually better qualified to run the business but never allowed to spread his wings. Henry was not the best father and in many respects, not a good man to work for if you had your own ideas.

- maximus_jimenez

Quite a good read -- a good somewhat anecdotal history of the early days of Ford failures and successes. Tells of Ford's partners and investors traditionally not well known. For instance, there is a James Couzens' expressway in Detroit. I never knew he was Ford's bookkeeper, operations manager and general tight fisted financial guy in the early days. Ford threw overboard many of the executives who helped him build the company. Interesting how the Dodge brothers were instrumental in manufacturing chassis and parts for early cars until Ford began to vertically integrate ultimately making his own steel, glass, plastics and even an attempt at tires until he teamed up with Firestone who became a life long friend

- alaia_scott

a must have book if you are a ford fan.exellent read about the man who gave us the best cars on the roads today.gives a more understanding knowledge of not only the car maker but the man himself.

- jake_mitchell

Mediocre book with some confusion and highly edited parts regarding "sensitive" events... It should have been a fascinating book since Ford was almost as amazing as Tesla, however political correctness killed it.

- quinton_mitchell

A must read for all C-Suite executives

- sergio_turner

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