10 Henry Ford Facts (That Have Almost Nothing to Do With Cars)

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Getty Images

If Henry Ford were still around for his 154th birthday (July 30), he'd probably be exhausted of people talking about the Model T or his development of the assembly line. So here are some lesser-known facts about one of the most recognizable names in the automobile industry. 

1. When he was a young man, Ford repaired watches for his friends and family—and he made his own tools to do it. He used a filed shingle nail as a screwdriver and a corset stay as tweezers.

2. Ford became Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company's main plant in 1893, and was on-call 24 hours a day to keep Detroit's electricity running. He left the position 6 years later, with Edison's encouragement, to work on his plans for a gasoline automobile.

3. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson convinced Ford to run for a seat on the Senate as a Democrat. Ford obliged, sending a letter to the President saying, “If they want to elect me let them do so, but I won't make a penny's investment." He didn’t spend a cent campaigning and still only lost by 4500 votes.

4. Long before Colonial Williamsburg, Ford tried to turn Sudbury, Massachusetts' Wayside Inn—where Longfellow penned Tales of a Wayside Inn—into a living museum of American history. He purchased the Inn, and 3000 surrounding acres, in 1923, and built eight buildings on it including a working grist mill.

5. In 1926, Henry Ford bought the Redstone School House in Sterling, Massachusetts. Ford claimed the school house was the one mentioned in the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and moved the building to his property in Sudbury.

6. Ford backed up his claims that the school house was the real deal by publishing a book: The Story of Mary and Her Little Lamb and Ford Ideals. Ford converted the building, which was being used for storage, back into a proper school: Classes were taught at the Redstone School House until 1951.

7. During a 1928 interview with the Detroit Times’ George Sylvester Viereck, Ford expanded on his religious thoughts, owing his strokes of brilliance to a “Master Mind”: “Somewhere is a Master Mind sending brain wave messages to us. There is a Great Spirit. I never did anything by my own volition. I was pushed by invisible forces within and without me.”

8 Using wood scraps from his plants, Ford found he could make charcoal briquettes. When Ford’s brother-in-law E.G. Kingsford brokered the site selection for Ford’s charcoal manufacturing plant, Ford named the company Kingsford Charcoal in his honor.

9. During World War I, Ford tried his hand in the aviation business and started the Ford Airplane Company. The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission recognized Ford as a pioneer of aviation in 2002, but the Ford Airplane Division shut down in 1933 due to lackluster sales.

10. In Aldous Huxley's dystopian society of Brave New World, the world dates its years as Annum Fordum, or "Year of Our Ford." Huxley's characters also use Henry's name as "Our Ford" instead of "Our Lord."

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Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.