“There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for one hundred years.” – Henry Ford
Pioneering automotive engineer Henry Ford held many patents on automotive mechanisms, but is best remembered for helping devise the factory assembly approach to production that revolutionized the auto industry by greatly reducing the time required to assemble a car.
Born in Wayne County, Michigan, Ford showed an early interest in mechanics, constructing his first steam engine at the age of 15. In 1893 he built his first internal combustion engine, a small one-cylinder gasoline model, and in 1896 he built his first automobile.
In June 1903 Ford helped establish Ford Motor Company. He served as president of the company from 1906 to 1919 and from 1943 to 1945.
In addition to earning numerous patents on auto mechanisms, Ford served as a vice president of the Society of Automotive Engineers when it was founded in 1905 to standardize U.S. automotive parts. 1
Shamefully, Ford was an anti-Semitic and Nazi sympathizer. Comparable to Thomas Jefferson having slaves; it is paradoxical that Henry Ford (considered to be one of America’s greatest minds) should also be preoccupied with racism.
Fuel of the Future
When Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was “the fuel of the future” in 1925, he was expressing an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry. “The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust — almost anything,” he said. “There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years.”
Ford recognized the utility of the hemp plant. He constructed a car of resin stiffened hemp fiber, and even ran the car on ethanol made from hemp. Ford knew that hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated.
Ford’s optimistic appraisal of cellulose and crop based ethyl alcohol fuel can be read in several ways. First, it can be seen as an oblique jab at a competitor. General Motors had come to considerable grief that summer of 1925 over another octane boosting fuel called tetra-ethyl lead, and government officials had been quietly in touch with Ford engineers about alternatives to leaded gasoline additives. Secondly, by 1925 the American farms that Ford loved were facing an economic crisis that would later intensify with the depression. Although the causes of the crisis were complex, one possible solution was seen in creating new markets for farm products. With Ford’s financial and political backing, the idea of opening up industrial markets for farmers would be translated into a broad movement for scientific research in agriculture that would be labelled “Farm Chemurgy.” 2