Henry’s Soybean Car
Back in 2011, Ford announced that some of the seating materials in their new cars and trucks would be made from soybeans. What few people know is that Henry Ford (the 1st) would be quite pleased with this. That's because Ford, having grown up on a farm just outside of Dearborn, was a big supporter of any initiative that benefitted those in agriculture and farming. As matter of fact, Henry designed a car in the early 1940s with an early type of plastic that was made from soybeans. We spoke with Leckner Ford of Marshall, VA and got the whole story. Yes, it's hard to believe, but it's a true story.
Henry Ford, born in 1863, grew up on a farm and was a very talented tinkerer. As a teenager, he fixed and modified most of the machinery on the farm. In 1896, Ford created a "quadricycle" which was a four wheeled bicycle run by a motor. Realizing its potential, he launched his first car manufacturing operation, Ford Motor Company, in 1903. In these early days, Ford pioneered a new type of industrial production technique known as assembly lines. In 1908, Ford released the Model T, which became a huge hit and essentially put America on wheels.
Henry Ford retired in 1919 and was replaced by his son Edsel. In 1922 Ford acquired the Lincoln Motor Company, a luxury car line that had gone bankrupt. In the next few years he brought more curvy shapes to the Model T, which made it an even bigger hit. He also began to issue cars in different colors besides black for the first time. Edsel modernized his cars further in the 1920s with safety glass and hydraulic brakes and in the late 1928s, released his famous Model A cars.
By the Great Depression hit in 1929 and Edsel realized that the public was interested in affordably-priced cars that could still be viewed as impressive. He introduced the Lincoln-Zephryr in 1935, the Mercury in 1938, and the Lincoln Continental in 1939. It was during this decade of extensive innovation that Ford started experimenting soy beans as a material for manufacturing plastic parts and even paint.
The Soybean Car
The "Soybean Car" was a plastic-bodied car unveiled by Henry Ford on August 13, 1941. The car weighed 2000 lbs., almost 1000 lbs. lighter than a steel car. The ingredients of the plastic panels were a special material that included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie.
Why was it built?
There were several reasons why Henry Ford wanted to build this car. First, he was looking for a project that would utilize agricultural products. Second, he claimed that the plastic panels made the car safer than traditional steel cars. Lastly, there was a shortage of metal at the time and Henry hoped his new plastic material could be a substitute. Combine all three of these together and the future of soybean agriculture was looking rosy.
Why weren't Soybean Cars built?
The outbreak of World War II in 1941 suspended all auto production, and therefore Ford's plastic car experiment. By the end of the war, the idea of a plastic car had fallen through the cracks due to energy being directed toward standard production materials, i.e. Steel and iron.
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