DEARBORN - Henry Ford is well known as an inventor, tinkerer and engineer. He also saw the benefits of industrial scientific research, which has been a part of Ford Motor Company since before there was a Ford Motor Company.
As early as 1902, Ford and his associates were developing better materials to use in Ford vehicles. This research led to the development of vanadium steel, an alloy that gave greater strength and durability, but was lighter than other metals in use at that time.
In fact, Ford was so interested in scientific research, his closest confidant and friend was one of the leading scientific minds of the time, Thomas Edison.
Ford surrounded himself with chemists, metallurgists and other scientists from the very beginnings of Ford Motor Company. There were research departments at Highland Park and the Rouge facility that were investigating better materials and manufacturing processes.
Most of the scientists Ford hired were engineers first, as he did not believe that academics would benefit his operations.
Henry Ford swings an axe at soy panels.
He was also intimately involved in all the scientific research that was taking place in his company. Ford always strived to find uses for agricultural crops in his products and in 1916 started Henry Ford & Sons Laboratories at Fairlane.
A major project at these laboratories was the development of denatured alcohol as a replacement to gasoline, which Ford quipped, “There’s simply no two ways about this fuel question. Gasoline is going – alcohol is coming.” He saw that, “The day is not far distant when, for every one of those barrels of gasoline, a barrel of alcohol must be substituted.”
Ford’s research facilities were spread throughout many areas of the company – in plants, standalone buildings, the Engine and Electrical Engineering building (later Powertrain Operations Engine Engineering building), etc. – until the early 1950s, when he opened the Research and Engineering Center.
The Scientific Research Laboratory was headed by Andrew A. Kucher and was located on the second floor of the Dynamometer Building. Kucher stated that the basic premise of the laboratory was, “Propulsion is to the future as materials are to high temperatures, high pressures and high speeds.”
The five areas of focus for the laboratory were higher heat-resistant material, higher-temperature fuels, physics, mechanics and controls. Some of the projects developed out of the scientific laboratory included the “big red” gas turbine heavy truck, the 100-hp free piston turbine tractor and the air levitation demonstration vehicle, the Levacar.
This long tradition of scientific research continues today in the Ford Research and Innovation Center, renamed in 2005 by Bill Ford, who said, “Today, I am renewing the promise of Ford Motor Company to again be first in delivering innovative products to our customers, stylish in design, safer for families, first in technology that uses new fuels and offers new services to consumers.”