1896 Ford Quadricycle
1896 Ford Quadricycle. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

Henry Ford was born on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan, just west of Detroit, on July 30, 1863, 31 years after his parents arrived in America from Ireland.

By the standards of the day the Fords were prosperous farmers, but young Henry saw agricultural life as boring. He had a strong interest and aptitude for mechanical things, which became apparent from an early age, and it was inevitable that he would eventually leave the farm. It was therefore no surprise that at just 16 he walked the nine miles to Detroit and began serving his machinist’s apprenticeship with the Flower Brothers’ machine shop.

It was a good, well equipped shop producing a variety of iron and brass products such as valves, fire hydrants and steam whistles. Another notable auto pioneer who learned his craft there was David Dunbar Buick.

Henry moved to the Detroit Dry Dock Co. where he completed his apprenticeship in 1882, before the age of 20. Surprisingly, he then succumbed to his father’s urging and returned to the farm where he stayed until he was almost 30. During that period he operated a Westinghouse steam powered threshing machine, becoming so proficient that he was soon the Westinghouse area service representative.

By 1891 the call of the city was again too strong, and Henry and his wife Clara whom he had married in 1888, moved back to Detroit and a job as a mechanic with the Edison Illuminating Co. He was soon promoted to chief engineer, and while at Edison he began building the gasoline engine that powered his first car.

In a small red brick building at the rear of 58 Bagley Avenue in Detroit where he and Clara lived, Henry Ford and his assistant Charles King constructed his first car. King was also working on his own car, an engine-powered wagon, and on March 6, 1896, became the first man to drive a self propelled gasoline-engined vehicle in Detroit.

Henry Ford called his car a quadricycle because it resembled two bicycles held together by a frame. The small two-cylinder gasoline engine that Henry had built was mounted at the rear driving the wheels via a chain. It had a two-passenger seat and steering was by a tiller. The “horn” was a household doorbell mounted on the dashboard.

As the little 227-kg (500 lb) vehicle neared completion and the time approached to test it, Henry became more and more obsessed. In early June, 1896 he worked almost continuously for two days. Finally early in the morning of June 4th it was ready for a test drive.

There was one last surprise; the quadricycle would not go through the door of the little “factory.” Undeterred, Henry picked up an axe and knocked out the doorjamb and enough bricks to allow the machine to pass through.

The test drive was reasonably successful, but with no advance publicity it went unreported. Ford continued to improve the quadricycle, eventually sold it, and began work on a second car which was completed in 1898.

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