Henry Ford Unveils The “Quadricycle” – 6/4/1896

US History |


While working as the chief engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company, Henry Ford had already started working on his pet project. The project’s goal was to create a horseless carriage that would be powered by a gasoline engine. Ford had a flexible working schedule; he was always on call (24/7) to ensure Detroit had electrical service. That gave him the advantage to try out this new project. 

An article that he read in a November 1895 issue of American Machinist magazine had triggered his obsession with gasoline engines. In March 1896, Charles King, another Detroit engineer, further provoked Ford’s desire to build a lighter and faster model that would be powered using gasoline. King had developed his model out of wood. His invention had a four-cylinder engine and was capable of traveling up to five miles per hour.

Ford was a highly organized and motivated individual; features that helped him move forward in his career. He was eager to get the job done, so, he enlisted friends (King included) and other assistants (mostly from Detroit engineering community) to help him achieve his goal. After putting in some work, the group was able to come up with a light metal frame with four bicycle wheels. A two-cylinder gasoline engine with four-horsepower powered their unit. The task was not demanding, but the group had overcome several setbacks.

On June 4, 1896, at around 4:00 am, Henry Ford was ready to test the new invention in a shed behind his home on Bagley Avenue, Detroit. When Ford and his chief assistant, James Bishop, tried wheeling the Quadricycle out of the shed, they discovered that the machine was too wide to pass through the door. There was only one solution: to expand the exit so that the quadricycle could be rolled out. Ford used an ax and smashed the opening to create more space.

The 500-pound Quadricycle had no brakes, no reverse method, lacked a well-developed steering wheel, had only two driving speeds and used a doorbell button as a horn. However, the carriage seemed to have surpassed King’s invention because it was able to attain around 20 miles per hour.

Ford drove the Quadricycle along Grand River Avenue in Detroit while Bishop cycled ahead to alert pedestrians and carriages. Ford was able to drive the ‘new car’ for a considerable distant, confirming that his vision had come to life. The drive test was a success apart from a single breakdown on Washington Boulevard resulting from a weak spring. It then became apparent that Ford was on his way to becoming a great contributor in the American auto industry. 

It is important to note that even though Ford was an engineer, he preferred to accomplish his feats with the help of others. Men like King significantly contributed to the success of Ford. King, together with other engineers, volunteered their time to make Ford’s dream a reality. King provided Ford with a crew of workers who worked tirelessly in the makeshift machine shop that Ford had erected in his garage.

It is also alleged that Ford convinced, Felix Julian, his neighbor to donate part of his shed for the project. Ford decided not to attach an engine to the carriage, but he wanted to construct a four-wheel body unit founded on the principles of bicycle manufacturing. 

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