The availability of the automobile for the masses has been credited with spawning the suburban lifestyle and creating millions of related jobs, ranging from highway construction to parts manufacturing. Ford's innovations also contributed to important developments in agriculture, aviation and healthcare. The resulting wealth that was created, not to mention the effects on people's everyday lives, is probably incalculable.
That is why Industrial Paint & Powder begins with the Ford Motor Co. as it takes a far-too-brief look at companies celebrating their 100th birthdays this year. This month we look at the accomplishments of Ford and Red Spot Paint & Varnish Co.
Birth of an icon
Henry Ford, the first of six children born to Irish immigrant farmers, was born in 1863. Between working on the farm and going on trips to the city, the young Henry was exposed to what would become his life's passion: mechanics and machinery, which he took apart and tinkered with whenever he could.
In 1891, Ford took a position as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Co. and quickly climbed the ranks. Greater financial security along with more freedom to explore his own experiments came with his promotion to chief engineer in 1893, the same year his only child, Edsel, was born.
Ford called his first vehicle a "Quadricycle," which was a far cry from what he produced a few years later. He took it for its first spin in 1896; that is, after he tore down the wall of the shed he'd built it in to get it out.
The Quadricycle attracted enough financial backing for Ford to leave his job at Edison Illuminating and help found the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. The company faltered, and in 1901 Ford left to pursue his own work again. Later that year, the Henry Ford Co. was born, though Ford only stayed a few months before he left to devote more time to refining his vehicles.
Ford spent much of the next year or so working on his racing cars and winning some high-profile races, which attracted financial backing. In June 1903, Ford Motor Co. was founded. Within a few months, the first Ford, the Model A, was being sold in Detroit. At the beginning, Ford was just one of 15 car manufacturers in Michigan and 88 in the U.S.
What set Ford apart was his belief that with the right techniques, cars could be made affordable for the general public--and that they would want them. This belief drove his business decisions and his innovations, including his 1914 introduction of a moving conveyor belt at the Highland Park plant, which dramatically increased production. Ford also pushed for more gas stations and campaigned for better roads.
The Model T
When Ford started selling the Model T in 1908, the price was $850 (equivalent to about $16,7000 today)--a bargain compared to other cars on the market, but still out of reach for many. But over the course of the next 19 years that the car was produced, Ford continued to lower its price.
In 1922, the price of the car dipped below $300. During this time, millions of people became car owners, forever altering families' lives. By that same year, Ford had captured nearly 57% of worldwide automobile production.
"They can have any color they want, as long as it's black," was among Ford's most well-known quotes regarding the Model T. Although he did make a statement to that effect, it's not true that the Model T was only available in black for its entire run. From 1908 to 1914, the Model T was offered in several colors, including a bright red. Starting in 1914 however, the introduction of the moving assembly line limited color choices since the speed of the new production process required a paint that would dry quickly enough to keep pace with the line. At that time, only a particular black enamel met the necessary standards. The black-only policy continued until 1925, when pressure from consumers and the competition led the company to begin offering colors again.
An interesting fact to ponder about production in the early years is this: In the year before the mass production line, Ford's 13,000 employees produced about 300,000 cars. In that same year, 299 other automakers, with a combined total of 66,350 employees, altogether produced only about 280,000 cars.
In July 1915, Henry Ford purchased several acres of rural property a few miles southeast of Dearborn, MI. It was an almost desolate place, but Ford saw the potential for realizing a vision he'd long held of a "perfect" industrial complex, one where raw materials could be processed, parts manufactured and products assembled, all in one place.
Construction at the new site began in 1917. Named for the body of water on which it was located, the facility was originally called the Rouge River Plant. The waterway--something the Highland Park plant lacked--was vitally important because it provided an inexpensive way to control the transportation of raw materials. But Ford's critics thought it strange that he should choose a spot on this smaller, less-navigable river rather than the much bigger Detroit River a few miles away.
But the river was conveniently close to existing highways and railroad lines. Ford also knew that with a little work the modest Rouge River could be enlarged. And the river was strategically located halfway between key raw materials sources--iron ore deposits to the north in Michigan and Minnesota, and coal mines to the south in Kentucky and West Virginia.
The initial plans called for building blast furnaces (for processing iron) and a tractor plant. But the first structure completed, in 1917, was used to build 60 Eagle Boats for the U.S. Navy for World War I. After the war, the Eagle plant was remodeled for vehicle production; however, it began producing Fordson tractors before it produced passenger cars. In 1918, the Rouge's blast furnaces went up, as well as the boat slip and large storage bins for materials. Coal-processing coke ovens were in place by 1919.
By the early 1920s, the foundation was laid for the Rouge's steel complex, including open-hearth furnaces and blooming and rolling mills. Operations to produce quality steel went into effect in 1926, saving the company substantial money by producing the sheet steel for its car bodies.
The steel complex was very successful. By 1980, it was selling more than 70% of its steel product. It was turned into a wholly owned subsidiary, Rouge Steel, in 1981, and sold in 1989.
Also in the early 1920s, the company acquired raw-material sources, such as coal and iron mines, and transportation resources, such as ships for river transport and the Detroit-Toledo-Ironton railroad. In 1927, the final assembly line was moved from Highland Park to the Rouge so that complete vehicles could be assembled.
By the late 1920s, the Rouge complex had grown to more than 150 acres and more than 90 structures, with more than 90 miles of railroad tracks and 27 miles of conveyor belts. The plant consumed enough electricity to power the homes in a city of 1 million people and employed more than 100,000 workers. It was the largest industrial complex in the world.
At the height of its activity in the 1920s, the foundry was the largest in the world and was producing almost all of the iron, brass, steel and bronze castings used at every Ford Motor Co. plant. Ford's obsession with efficiency produced environmental benefits at the mammoth complex. As examples, the ore dust produced by the blast furnaces was captured and melted down for processing instead of flying out the chimneys. Likewise, gases from the coke ovens were trapped and reused as additional sources of power. These innovations inspired similar changes throughout the steel industry.
Ford began producing tires in 1937 and did so until the company, at the urging of the federal government, sent its tire equipment to Russia during World War II to help with the war effort. In 1942, shortly after the country entered into the war, Ford ceased auto production and dedicated its facilities to wartime production. The Rouge's main contributions were tank parts, aircraft engines and bomber parts, as well as military trucks and amphibious vehicles.
Following the war, the Rouge plant continued its steady output and turned out some of Ford's most famous cars. The luxury Lincolns were built for the 1945 model year, followed by wood-paneled station wagons and the 1954 two-seat Thunderbird. After the introduction of the Mercury in the late 1930s, that division made frequent appearances at the Rouge, notably the Cougar (1966-73) and Capri (1978-85). But the most famous car to come out of the Rouge, where it is still produced, is the Mustang, which first appeared for the 1964 model year.
The Rouge of the Future
In 1999, Bill Ford Jr., then Ford Motor Co.'s chairman, proposed overhauling the entire Rouge complex. He wanted "to transform a 20th century icon into a model of 21st century sustainable manufacturing," he said at the time. "It is not environmental philanthropy; it's sound business, which for the first time balances the business needs of auto manufacturing with ecological and social concerns in the redesign of a brownfield site." Construction began in November 2000.
The new assembly plant will feature world-class flexibility, with assembly lines capable of handling three different vehicle platforms and nine models. Finished-vehicle storage space will be reduced by 50%. About 90% of the vehicles will be shipped the same day.
Other plant features include:
The world's largest "living roof," a rooftop planted with low-growing vegetation to help soak up runoff storm water, shade the building and absorb carbon dioxide.
Porous parking lot surfaces will absorb water, and extra runoff will be routed to ditches and retention ponds for storage and filtering before it flows back to the Rouge River.
The new paint shop employs special waterborne primer and basecoat systems that minimize VOC emissions.
Environmentally friendly energy sources are being explored, such as fuel cell and solar panels. Ford is investigating the possibility of using fumes from the paint facility to power the fuel cells.
Efforts are being made to maximize the amount of returnable packaging to reduce trash and help achieve the ultimate goal of a total waste management system that includes transportation, disposal, recycling, reclamation and reuse for all solid, industrial and hazardous waste.
From corner hardware store to global leader
At the same time that Henry Ford and the Wright brothers were getting started on legend building, one of Ford's future suppliers was starting up in Evansville, IN. Harry Doakes Bourland was working as a hardware salesman in Kentucky when he and his family moved across the Ohio River to start the Evansville Paint & Varnish Co.
The company's history is one of "ups and downs and ups," says Charley Storms, Red Spot's CEO. "In fact, its course has changed as many times as that of the Ohio River" that flows past Evansville. It has evolved from a local hardware store into today's position as the number one manufacturer of coatings for the plastics used on automobile interiors and exteriors, sports equipment and many other consumer goods, the company says.
The company built its first factory in 1905 and began making paint for houses and farms, wagons and carriages in 1906. Bourland named the line of paint after the riverboat "Red Spot," which docked at the wharf in Evansville.
By 1910, Red Spot was selling paint to other stores along the Ohio River. The company's first salesmen traveled by train and riverboat to hardware and drug stores in Indiana and Kentucky.
The decade 1911 to 1920 is probably best known for World War I, but it is also remembered as the time when alkyd-based paints, which were more durable and more colorfast, were introduced. The age of plastics had also dawned with Bakelite. It was the first plastic to be thermoset, and by 1910 it was found in telephone sets, billiard balls and gramophone records.
In 1914, the company expanded its line of products to include farm paints and house paints of all kinds. The 1918 catalog listed more than 150 products, and most were available in different colors and container sizes. Paint cans ranged from half-pints to 10 gallons, and paint was also put up in 400- and 500-pound barrels.
In 1919, the company opened up branches in Cairo, IL, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers come together, and Marion, IL. Several more branches followed in 1921. The following year, the company changed its name to Red Spot Paint & Varnish Co.
The 1930s would see an unprecedented number of innovations and discoveries. A B.F. Goodrich chemist discovered polyvinyl chloride, a flexible plastic substrate that could be used as a substitute for rubber. Polystyrene was developed commercially by I.G. Farbenindustrie in Germany. Also new were dishwashers, Alka-Seltzer, plastic tooth brushes, frozen foods, canned beer, Nylon, ball-point pens, audio recording tape and 7-Up. The jet age began in 1939 with the first flight of the Heinkle 178, which was powered by a gas turbine engine.
"Yes, we can"
The use of plastics was rising significantly, but no one had figured out how to make paint stick to plastic, limiting its range of color and appeal to consumers. Meanwhile, Red Spot had expanded into the hardware business, carrying everything from lawn mowers to draperies, the glass business and toys, which were popular through the 1950s.
But the big change for Red Spot occurred in 1937 when a visitor from Hoosier Lamp and Stamping Co. asked Milton Thorson, who would go on to become vice president of sales, if Red Spot could make paint for methacrylate, butyrate or polystyrene. "Yes, we can," was Thorson's answer. He had never heard of those forms of plastic. But he was sure somebody at Red Spot could make paint stick to plastic.
Fortunately, he was right. Freeman Klenck, a German chemist who loved the smell of lacquer thinner, went to work solving the riddle of how to make paint stick to plastic, and within days had it figured out.
The use of paint on plastics, plus the procedure for applying a thin layer of metal to plastic, called vacuum metalizing, would eventually move Red Spot away from house paint. The future at Red Spot would link vacuum metalizing and coatings for plastics.
Hoosier Lamp & Stamping, working with Red Spot, developed a technique they called "See Deep." A thin layer of aluminum was placed on the back side of a clear acrylic plastic, giving it the appearance of bright metal. Color could be added to the second surface, giving automobile stylists a whole new medium of design.
Uncle Sam calls
World War II brought big opportunities to many companies, including Red Spot, which beat out all of the major paint makers to win a contract to paint ammunition boxes. Klenck was the reason. The Army wanted a paint that was salt spray resistant. The company had been working with a new resin for painting plastics that Klenck figured would be salt spray resistant. He was right, and Red Spot won a contract to supply 5,280 gallons a day of olive drab paint.
In 1960, industrial sales of paint exceeded the sales of house paint for the first time. The 1960s also saw an expansion in the auto industry. But of equal significance were the offshore alignments being forged in Asia and the U.K.
Recession, inflation and rising gas prices at the pump in the 1970s meant opportunity for Red Spot. Automotive companies instituted programs to make cars lighter by substituting plastic for many steel parts and zinc die castings. Plastic could also be molded into almost any shape, giving designers more freedom. Red Spot's previous research into plastics gave it a jump start in the race to be first with a new generation of plastic coatings for cars.
In the 1980s, Ford and General Electric Plastics invented a new plastic, Xenoy, for use on crash-resistant bumpers for the new Taurus and Sable models. Xenoy was a hard plastic that would bend but not break. It needed a coating that would not diminish the plastic's characteristics.
Ford evaluated 735 formulations from 28 paint companies before choosing Red Spot. The plastic changed many times until the coating and the plastic were matched to meet the requirements. Impact resistance and gasoline resistance were the prime qualifiers for the bumper, which had to withstand a 5 mph impact at 0°F.
In recent years, the company has increasingly focused on UV coatings for automotive lighting fixtures and global alliances in Europe, Asia and South America. The lighting market is Red Spot's most global.
In terms of new construction, no previous decade could match the building boom Red Spot went through in the 1990s. In 1992, a new UV Application Center was built on the Evansville campus. In 1994, the company opened the Dr. L.B. Storms Research and Development Center, the largest facility in the world dedicated to the development of paint for plastics. The Analyti-cal Sciences Laboratory opened in 1996, followed in 1998 by the Applications Center, where customers could test paint formulations on their parts under real-world, in-plant conditions.
For Red Spot, where one of every five employees is involved in R&D, research had been the ticket for more than 90 years, and research, the company had decided, would be the key to its future.
SIDEBAR 1:Did you hear the one about the Model T? It left the assembly plant without an engine but ran for a month anyway--on its reputation.
Did You Hear the One About...?
That's one of the many jokes that circulated about Ford Motor Co., its cars and especially the Model T during the car's heyday. The Model T was not just a product; it was a cultural icon.
The car's nickname, "Tin Lizzie," grew out of the joking belief that the lightweight little car was made entirely of tin, leading to such additional jokes as: The Ford Motor Co. planned to produce cars without doors, but it would provide buyers with can openers.
People joked about its small size, its bumpy ride, its low price (and corresponding low social position), among other things. Interestingly, the height of Ford joke popularity coincided with some of the company's best-selling years, 1914 to 1920. But there were also positive jokes, including what was said to be Henry Ford's favorite: A man wanted his Model T to be buried with him because it had gotten him out of every hole he'd gotten into.
Pop-culture memorabilia, such as postcards, published and recorded versions of the jokes. Between 1915 and 1920, several books of Ford jokes were published.
The Model T even inspired serious concert music. In 1924, American composer Frederick Converse wrote an orchestral fantasia, tracing a Model T's travels across the country.
SIDEBAR 2:Ford Motor Co.'s business prospects soared when the Ford Airport in Dearborn, MI, was formally dedicated in 1925. Edsel Ford had convinced his father to build the airport, as well as an adjacent 20,000-square-foot aircraft factory--the first of its kind in the world. Edsel Ford also had invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Co., which later became a division of Ford.
Ford Also a Pioneer in Aviation
In the same year, Ford helped jumpstart commercial aviation by forming the first airfreight company--the Ford Air Transportation Service. It served various Ford facilities and received the first civilian airmail contract from the U.S. Postal Service.
In 1926, Ford introduced the TriMotor aircraft. Until then, most commercial planes were sided with canvas and had only single, in-line engines. The Ford "Tin Goose" was made of corrugated sheet metal and had three air-cooled radial engines, allowing it to keep flying even if one engine failed. The plane set new speed and comfort standards and helped convince the public that flying was safe.
In the early days of navigation, pilots navigated only by map and compass and often had difficulty identifying the towns over which they were flying. To help solve the problem and promote an awareness of the need for more local airfields, Edsel Ford asked all Ford dealers to paint the name of their towns on the roofs of their dealerships along with an arrow pointing north. These aids assisted private, military, airmail and commercial pilots for many years until radio navigation beacons (another Ford development) became common.