The late 1800s and early 1900s were characterized by significant developments regarding economic change and innovation. Some of the individuals that made vital contributions during this period are Madam C.J. Walker and Henry Ford. The paper will focus on the innovative contributions of Madam C.J. Walker and Henry Ford between the late 1800s and early 1900s. In specific, the paper will discuss each entrepreneur’s background of successes, motivations, and struggles at business development and innovation, compare their strengths and weaknesses and the impact of these at particular periods and conclude by identifying similar issues and approaches that developed later.
History and Issues
Henry Ford was born to a family that owned a prosperous farm but left home at the age of 16 to work as a machinist in the nearby city of Detroit (History.com editors, 3). While he returned home after three years to work on the farm, he went ahead with his apprentice work where he serviced steam engines in numerous Detroit factories. He married at the age of 25 and began running a sawmill to support his family. In 1891, he went back to Detroit with his wife and he began working at Edison Illuminating Company as an engineer where he rose through the ranks to become a chief engineer (History.com editors, 3). He engaged his irregular time building a gasoline-powered horseless carriage and completed a quadricycle in 1896. With determination to improve on his invention, Ford began building other vehicles where he received backing from numerous investors. Frustrations with Ford’s improvement plans by his partners made him leave the company after which he established his company known as Ford Motor Company. The company assembled its first car, model A within a month. The company continued assembling other cars, a few each day. His dedication to efficiency and reliability led to the assembling of model T. The new model was successful as its demand increased surpassing the supply. It meant that a new strategy was needed to meet the high demand for model T. The strategy was characterized by an introduction of mass production techniques such as using large production plants, moving assembly lines, and standardized and interchangeable parts (History.com editors, 3). The strategy helped to reduce the amount of time to produce these vehicles while also lowering costs.
Madam C.J. Walker began working to survive at the age of seven as she was an orphan. Together with her sister, they worked in Delta and Vicksburg’s cotton fields (Bundles, 1). She got married at the age of 14 to escape her brother-in-law’s abuse. However, her husband died in 1887, two years after the birth of her daughter. She was forced to move to St. Louis to work as a barber where she earned a meager $1.50 a day that she used to educate her daughter. A scalp ailment that she had in the 1890s made her experiment with different products, including those made by a successful black woman known as Annie Malone. She soon joined her sales team and then later began her business, Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower (Bundles, 1). She promoted her product by traveling through the Black-dominated South and Southeast over a one-and-half year period. She opened a college in Pittsburg in 1908 to train hair culturists. She settled in Indianapolis in 1910 where she built a training school, factory, and manicure salon. In Indianapolis, Walker became actively involved in social and political affairs as she made donations to help in building a “colored” YMCA and support NAACP’s anti-lynching movement (Bundles, 1). She ensured that her business agents were organized into local and state clubs that convened regularly. Some of the strategies that helped Madam C.J. Walker through her business journey are faith in herself and God, tenacity and perseverance, honest business dealings, and quality products.
Henry Ford has numerous strengths that helped in making him a successful innovator and businessman. For instance, he had a desire to achieve. It can be seen during his early years when he left the family’s prosperous farm to do apprentice work such as servicing steamships (History.com editors, 3). Also, Ford was innovative. His innovativeness led to the invention of a quadricycle. He was a business genius as he introduced mass-production techniques to increase the manufacture of vehicles and reduce costs. Despite these strengths, Ford was insensitive when it came to human affairs as he fought against the unionization of labor. Ford was influential in the early 1900s as he transformed the industrial world by introducing revolutionary mass-production techniques and the first assembly line for cars in the world.
Just as Ford, Madam C.J. Walker also had strengths that helped in making her a successful businesswoman. For instance, she was a genius in marketing. She made her customers believe that the product was different than others offered (Bundles, 1). Also, she used her customers as marketing agents to help her reach new markets. Also, she knew how to leverage the power of black newspapers in America as she was mentioned in most of them (Gates, 2). Her involvement in social issues helped increase her customer base as she appealed to many people, particularly, African-Americans. One weakness of Walker was the alienation of a specific market for her products, African-American women. She would have become more successful if her products appealed to white women too. Walker was influential during the early 1900s in that she encouraged the African-American community to attain business independence as she set standards for them regarding corporate and community giving. Walker’s approach is more appealing because she used the slight opportunity she used her business position to defend social rights issues while empowering the minority African-American community.
Henry Ford and Madam C.J. Walker set precedence regarding economic change and innovation. Several issues and approaches relating to theirs developed later. For instance, his relentless pursuit of perfection inspired car and mobile phone manufacturers to continue manufacturing products associated with high quality and efficiency. For instance, top car manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz and Toyota continue producing new models of cars associated with high efficiency. Madam C.J. Walker has also inspired many businesses through her focus on humanity through addressing social justice issues. Many companies in the world such as Coca-Cola and Amazon engage in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities aimed at addressing social issues in their operating markets.
- A’Lelia Bundles. Madam C.J. Walker. http://www.madamcjwalker.com/bios/madam-c-j-walker/
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Madam Walker, the First Black American Woman to Be a Self-Made Millionaire. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/100-amazing-facts/madam-walker-the-first-black-american-woman-to-be-a-self-made-millionaire/
- History.com editors. 2009. Henry Ford. https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/henry-ford