On this day in 1863, Henry Ford , who helped make a newfangled invention, the horseless carriage, affordable to the masses and became perhaps the greatest innovator in industrial history, was born on a farm near Dearborn, MI. As a young engineer, Ford worked for the Edison Illuminating Co., where his promotion to management in 1896 gave him the time and money to experiment with self-propelled vehicles. His initial design was a 500-pound gasoline-powered car called the Quadricycle, which had four heavy bicycle wheels, a boat tiller for steering, and no reverse gear. It could, however, hit a top speed of 20 miles per hour, which would have made it the perfect vehicle for driving on the Santa Monica Freeway these days. The success of that experimental product led Ford to start the Ford Motor Company in 1903, which several years later unveiled the somewhat more elaborate Model T, which quickly became the first affordable, practical, big-selling automobile in America, and helped lay the foundation for the car-oriented modern American culture. It also made Ford fantastically rich and influential, which enabled him to publish a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, and a series of books espousing the auto mogul’s nutty anti-semitic views. (His son, Henry Ford II, made a point of repudiating all that and becoming a major supporter of Jewish organizations.) But you knew all that. What you probably didn’t know was that in the early 1940s, Ford developed an experimental soybean car
whose body panels were made of plastic produced from soybeans (plus wheat, hemp, flax and ramie as well). Now, there’s an innovation that we wish would have caught on, even if it would make Boca Burgers more expensive. And with that, here are the science stories of the day.