Happy birthday Henry Ford! It’s hard to believe you’re turning 149!

We thought you deserved a little gift, so we commissioned the phenomenal artist Antony Hare to create the awesome illustration you see below. Antony’s work has appeared everywhere, including Esquire, Toronto Life, The New York Times and now the Ford Canada Blog!

To celebrate Henry Ford’s life, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of his lesser-known accomplishments.

It’s common knowledge that he invented the Model T, but here are some amazing facts about Mr. Ford that have almost nothing to do with cars!

Henry Ford Illustration by Antony Hare

Henry held a lot of different jobs. Like most people, Henry Ford worked a number of different jobs long before he founded the Ford Motor Company. At 15, he gained a reputation as a talented watch repairman. He was also a race car driver, competing in a coast-to-coast race in 1909 (he was disqualified for changing the engine), and he even tried to enter one of the first Indianapolis 500 races.

Henry was a farmer. Twice. Ford was born and raised on a farm in Greenfield Township near Detroit, Michigan. It was always assumed that he would take over the family farm, but instead he left for the big city at the age of 16.

It was a well-known fact among those who knew Ford that he hated working on the farm. Strangely though, he returned to farming at the age of 25 after marrying Clara Ala Bryant, so that he could support his family before moving back to Detroit.

Thomas Edison told him to build a car. One of Henry’s first real jobs was as an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, where he quickly became Chief Engineer. In his spare time, he continued to experiment with a new-fangled contraption known as the “gasoline engine.”

In 1896, Ford was introduced to Edison, who reviewed his plans for a horseless carriage. He thought it was a promising idea, and advised Ford to keep working on it. His encouragement led Ford to create a second prototype, leave the Edison company, and well… you know the rest.

Ford Motor Company wasn’t his first car company. In fact, it was his third. His first, the Detroit Automobile Company was dissolved because Ford wasn’t happy with the low quality and high prices of the cars produced.

Shortly after, he formed the Henry Ford Company. Unhappy with the investors’ decision to bring in a consultant named Henry M. Leland, Ford left the company after a few months, in early 1902.

After a year of refining his vehicles, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903 and the first Ford, a Model A was being sold in Detroit a few months later. The rest is history.

Ford never stopped being a scientist. Awarded 161 unique patents, Ford had long been interested in materials science. In particular, he was keen on the development of alternative plastics derived from soybeans. If that sounds familiar, it should. The idea is still alive today in the 2013 Ford Fusion.

Ford was also considered a pioneer in the development of ethanol as a fuel source, engineered wood, and charcoal briquettes composed of scrap wood.

Henry built an entire town. Ford was a big believer in vertical integration. If a car factory needed steel, he’d build a factory to make it. But his ultimate attempt to manufacture everything in-house was Fordlandia, a town he constructed in the middle of the Amazon.

His vision was to create a self-reliant town and rubber tree plantation that could supply his company with rubber for the manufacturing of tires. It didn’t work out. Ford tried again in Belterra, but by 1945, synthetic rubber had become common.

The town still stands empty to this day. Check out photographer Scott Chandler’s photo essays on Fordlandia and Belterra on his website.

He ran for U.S. senate, didn’t spend a dime, and almost won. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson personally wrote to Henry Ford imploring him to run as a Democrat for a Senate seat in Michigan. A well-known pacifist and opposed to the war, Wilson hoped that Ford’s election would help secure support for the fledgling League of Nations.

Ford replied, “If they want to elect me let them do so, but I won’t make a penny’s investment.” Regardless, Ford ran with no money, and lost by only 4,500 votes of the 400,000 cast.

These are just some of the lesser-known, yet no less sensational, facts about a man who lived life like very few do: to its fullest. His drive to learn, create and improve inspired his work and the work of Ford Motor Company for over 100 years.

We’re proud to celebrate him for it. Happy birthday Mr. Ford!