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I Invented the Modern Age

I Invented the Modern Age

The Rise of Henry Ford

From the acclaimed popular historian Richard Snow, who “writes with verve and a keen eye” (The New York Times Book Review), comes a fresh and entertaining account of Henry Ford and his invention of the Model T—the ugly, cranky, invincible machine that defined twentieth-century America.

Every century or so, our republic has been remade by a new technology: 170 years ago the railroad changed Americans’ conception of space and time; in our era, the microprocessor revolutionized how humans communicate. But in the early twentieth century the agent of creative destruction was the gasoline engine, as put to work by an unknown and relentlessly industrious young man named Henry Ford. Born the same year as the battle of Gettysburg, Ford died two years after the atomic bombs fell, and his life personified the tremendous technological changes achieved in that span.

Growing up as a Michigan farm boy with a bone-deep loathing of farming, Ford intuitively saw the advantages of internal combustion. Resourceful and fearless, he built his first gasoline engine out of scavenged industrial scraps. It was the size of a sewing machine. From there, scene by scene, Richard Snow vividly shows Ford using his innate mechanical abilities, hard work, and radical imagination as he transformed American industry.

In many ways, of course, Ford’s story is well known; in many more ways, it is not. Richard Snow masterfully weaves together a fascinating narrative of Ford’s rise to fame through his greatest invention, the Model T. When Ford first unveiled this car, it took twelve and a half hours to build one. A little more than a decade later, it took exactly one minute. In making his car so quickly and so cheaply that his own workers could easily afford it, Ford created the cycle of consumerism that we still inhabit. Our country changed in a mere decade, and Ford became a national hero. But then he soured, and the benevolent side of his character went into an ever-deepening eclipse, even as the America he had remade evolved beyond all imagining into a global power capable of producing on a vast scale not only cars, but airplanes, ships, machinery, and an infinity of household devices.

A highly pleasurable read, filled with scenes and incidents from Ford’s life, particularly during the intense phase of his secretive competition with other early car manufacturers, I Invented the Modern Age shows Richard Snow at the height of his powers as a popular historian and reclaims from history Henry Ford, the remarkable man who, indeed, invented the modern world as we know it.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 400 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451645583 | 
  • May 2014
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Read an Excerpt

I Invented the Modern Age

CHAPTER 1 A Homecoming
Saving the farm, then saving the entire past; between the steam engine and the Apple; “nobody knew anything about cars”; Fordism.

On a summer day in 1919 a middle-aged man left his Detroit office and drove out to Dearborn, ten miles away, to see the house where he’d been born. It was a farmhouse, long past its best days, and any passersby who noticed him poking around it... see more

About the Author

Richard Snow
Rebecca and William Snow

Richard Snow

Richard Snow was born in New York City and he graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College in 1970. He worked at American Heritage magazine for nearly four decades and was its editor-in-chief for seventeen years. He is the author of several books, among them two novels and a volume of poetry. Snow has served as a consultant for historical motion picture—among them Glory—and has written for documentaries, including the Burns brothers’ Civil War, and Ric Burns’s award-winning PBS film Coney Island, whose screenplay he wrote. Most recently, he served as a consultant on Ken Burns’s World War II series, The War.

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