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Henry Ford’s First Working Automobile: the Quadricycle

Henry Ford’s interest in internal combustion engines led him to construct a small one-cylinder gasoline model, which sputtered its way to life on his kitchen table. A later version of that engine powered his Quadricycle, which was essentially a frame fitted with four bicycle wheels, completed in June 1896. 

The Quadricycle was not the first working automobile in history, but it was Henry's first—and the first of many Ford vehicles.

Ford’s First Vehicle

Henry Ford built his Quadricycle in a brick shed behind his house. When the car was ready to run, Henry discovered it was too wide to go through the door of the shed. He was so excited to get his car out for a test run that he took an axe and smashed the bricks out of the wall.

At 4 a.m. on June 4, 1896, Henry sat atop his first automobile and took it for a spin. It ran successfully for a few blocks, but stalled from ignition trouble when he reached the area of the downtown hotels, prompting some taunts from the street transients. But Henry was jubilant: After years of hard work, he had built a working automobile.

Thinking Ahead to Mass Production

As the little Quadricycle proved itself on the streets, the wheels in Henry Ford's head started turning as well. He began to envision mass production of such vehicles.

Later that summer, Henry Ford attended a convention in New York City of the Edison Illuminating Company, his employer in Detroit. At that meeting he was introduced to Thomas Edison, the inventor, who encouraged the young engineer to keep working on his vehicle: “That's the thing! Keep at it!" Edison advised.

Henry took Edison’s advice. And as the Quadricycle began to attract public attention, investors were intrigued. With the backing and influence of the mayor of Detroit, Henry Ford incorporated his first automobile company, the Detroit Automobile Company, in 1899. It had a short life, but Henry Ford's career as an automaker had begun.