Innovators
Heritage

Clara Bryant Ford: Henry’s "Great Believer"

Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, was a loyal partner—in innovation, in dancing and in life—and had unflagging faith in his ventures.

In a 1938 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Henry Ford was quoted as saying, "The greatest day of my life was the day I married Mrs. Ford." Clara believed in her husband's ideas and visions and confidently supported his ventures, even when others thought he was taking risks perhaps not befitting a family man. 

The Young Couple

In 1885, when she was 18, Clara Bryant met Henry Ford at a New Year's Eve dance, a short distance from the Ford family homestead. It’s said she liked Henry's serious-mindedness and his unique talents, and he liked her equally serious and appreciative demeanor.

During their courtship, the couple took in steamboat excursions, husked corn by moonlight and did plenty of dancing, an activity that Henry especially enjoyed.

Henry and Clara were married on April 11, 1888, in the parlor of the Bryant home. Henry's father, William Ford, gave the young couple a 40-acre farm he had purchased some years earlier. Henry cleared the land using a circular saw attached to a 12-horsepower engine. He enjoyed the work so much that he cleared the neighbors' land of stumps and trees and earned a tidy supplement to his income from servicing steam engines for a farm equipment company. Ever resourceful, Henry used some of the lumber from the cleared trees to build their first home, which the pair called the "Honeymoon Cottage."

Henry’s Greatest Supporter

As Henry tinkered and experimented with ideas for engines that might ease the burdens of farming and transportation, Clara was always interested in and supportive of his ideas. Throughout their married life, he would always call her his "great believer."

When Henry was offered a job at the Detroit power plant of the Edison Illuminating Company, he decided to take it. The job paid more money than he had been making and it offered him a chance to learn about electricity, which he considered critical for the development of the gasoline engine he hoped to produce. Again, Clara was supportive. In fact, Henry said that she was even more confident about his plans than he was.

Building a Life Together

Throughout their married life, Clara Bryant Ford remained loyal and supportive. In the first few years, as Henry worked feverishly on his automobiles, the couple lived in a total of 10 rental homes. Finally, Henry bought 2,000 acres along the Rouge River in Dearborn. Construction began on that site in 1914. It became Fair Lane, the home where Clara and Henry would live the rest of their lives.

As Henry's company and his fame grew over the years, Clara traveled with him to manufacturing facilities around the world. In Dearborn, Clara and Henry would entertain friends and family at Fair Lane. The Fords also continued to enjoy dancing; Henry saw to it that Fair Lane had a large dance floor and that it was regularly used.

Clara Ford outlived her husband by about three years. She died on September 29, 1950, at the age of 84.