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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Henry Ford's First Jobs

Henry Ford left his father's Dearborn Farm as a teenager in 1879 and set out on foot to Detroit. His distaste for manual farming and increased curiosity in machinery helped make his case for leaving, much to his father's disapproval!

In Detroit, he moved in with his aunt, Rebecca Flaherty whose home was located on Franklin Street. He soon found work at the Michigan Car Company, and moved to a boarding house near Grand Junction. However after only 6 days on the job he got into trouble for "babbitting a box" but not much more is known as to what the box was or it's purpose.

After his trouble at Michigan Car, he found work at the James Flower & Brothers Machine Shop. It's widely understood the William Ford- Henry's father had put it in a good word for Henry as the elder Ford knew one of the Flower brothers. This facility was located at Bush & Woodbridge Streets in downtown Detroit.

At this job he earned $2.50 a week in wages, but his lodgings at 452 Baker Street cost $3.50 a week so he found evening work at the McGill Jewelry Store just a few doors down from his boarding house. Here at 444 Baker St. he repaired & oiled watches, a skill he taught himself back on the Dearborn Farm. This job paid $2.00 a week so he not only covered his living expenses, but had a few coins left over to buy engineering magazines & other trade publications.

In 1880 he left the Flower Brothers shop and went over to the Detroit Dry Dock Company, one of Detroit's largest shipbuilding firms. Even though he took a cut in wages, Ford felt it would be more beneficial to work in a larger shop for the experience. Years later in his first book "My Life & Work" he pontificated on his days the Detroit Dry Dock company, stating ti was at this shop that he got his first serious education on being a machinist.

Here Henry Ford ran into one of the most influential people of his early days- Frank Kirby. Ford admired Kirby not only for his skill & intellect, but the fact that Kirby being a big wig with the company took time to show young Henry how to do certain tasks, and make the job easier. Ford was enamored with Kirby so much so, in the 1920s when the Engineering Laboratory was built, amongst the names chiseled in on the limestone, aside from Edison, Burbank, etc were 5 letters "KIRBY".

Now that we know some of Henry's early working career, let's take a look at how these facilities have fared.

Flower Brothers Machine Shop- This site is now the location of the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit.

McGill Jewelry & Watch Shop-Reported to be demolished years ago. There is a building in Greenfield Village that was thought to be the McGill shop, but turns out it is not. Historical Ken has  a nice entry on his Greenfield Village Blog- Historical Ken's Blog Here.

Detroit Dry Dock- Some of the buildings are still in existence albeit in bad shape. There are tentative plans to re-use this building, but only time will tell!
Detroit 1701's Detroit Dry Dock Page

Wikipedia Entry on Detroit Dry Dock

Ford The Times, The Man , The Company by Allen Nevins
Young Henry Ford by Sidney Olson
Author's Research