Word of the day search: how an American automaker convinced the British to buy its cars


Portrait of Henry Ford from 1919. The American is at the origin of the invention of the first gasoline automobile.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / United States Library of Congress

The history of the automobile is inextricably linked to the American engineer Henry Ford.

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During the day, Ford worked as a chief engineer for another famous inventor, Thomas Edison, at the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit, USA. But at night, Ford had a project he hoped would one day see the light of day: he created the first gasoline engine.

According to History.com, on Christmas Eve 1893, he successfully tested his engine with the help of his wife Clara, after convincing her to take a break from the Christmas kitchen. The engine ran for exactly 30 seconds, but Ford wasn’t disappointed: he knew he was on the right track.

Barely three years later, Ford developed the Quadricycle, a self-propelled vehicle and its first attempt at a full-fledged automobile. And after two unsuccessful business ventures, he opened the Ford Motor Company in June 1903. Ford went on to produce eight car models, all of which had different aspects that came together in his last, successful Model T, released in 1908. It was the first affordable automobile, sold for $ 850, and Ford intended to keep lowering prices as production increased.

He didn’t have to wait long: between 1913 and 1927, Ford factories produced more than 15 million T models.

Model T

Ford Model T in 1917.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When Ford wanted his cars to be covered in British newspapers, he usually organized publicity stunts. In 1911, a Scottish car dealer who sold the Model T challenged his son, Henry Alexander Jr., to drive one of Ford’s vehicles to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 4 411 feet. If his son failed, he would lose his allowance.

Departing from nearby Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, Alexander Jr. drove the Model T over rocks, snow and bogs on a five-day trip. Using a zigzag driving pattern, he successfully steered the Model T all the way to the top. During his descent, Alexander Jr. was greeted by hundreds of people. Word spread quickly and over 14,000 Model T were sold in the UK soon after.

Rest assured, this was the last time Ford had to resort to publicity stunts to sell its vehicles.

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