Starting Ireland on the Road to Industry: Henry Ford in Cork.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Henry Ford’s innovations revolutionised personal transport and manufacturing processes in the early twentieth century. Following his accomplishments in the United States, Ford, the son of an immigrant Irishman, conscious of Ireland’s backwardness, was keen to assist with the industrial development of the land of his ancestors. This thesis examines the outcome of that aspiration, the origins and history of Ford production operations in Cork from Henry Ford’s visit in 1912 to the plant’s closure in 1984.
Ford’s Cork factory, though originally designed to manufacture tractors in support of Britain’s war-time food needs, did not commence production until mid-1919, by which time the required tractors had been supplied from the United States. Subsequently, Ford of Cork produced tractors for Britain and Europe until 1922 when market downturns forced the company to convert the plant into a supplier of Model T parts for Ford’s Manchester car factory. In 1929, tractor production was reinstated and Cork became the company’s sole tractor facility, supplying its global requirements. With the final removal of tractor production in 1932, tariffs forced Ford to assemble motor cars for the Irish market. The relative stability provided by this protection ensured that for the following half century Ford remained a major employer in Cork city and of significant importance to the economy of the city and its hinterland.
This thesis investigates the decision-making that led to Ford’s choice of Cork, as well as his continued support for the operation of the plant despite the considerable difficulties and significant financial losses incurred. It examines internal company operations, the effectiveness of local management in controlling production costs and quality against the background of a changing Irish political and economic scene.
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