7.12.13 Car-Coal

Ah, summertime in America. Time to hop in the car, go out to the park, and fire up the barbeque grill.

It’s been this way for about 100 years. In the 1920’s, Henry Ford changed the face of industry with the assembly line. By automating the manufacturing process, he was able to turn out automobiles at an astounding rate, and produce cars that were affordable to the average family. But he also created an enormous amount of by-product and waste. Bits of metal, chemicals, leather scraps. And one of the largest components of those early Ford cars was wood, which was used to make dashboards and door panels. Before long, the Ford factory had quite a bit of wood scraps and sawdust piling up.

Rather than throw it out, Ford developed a secondary manufacturing process for creating something of value. The wooden waste-product was trucked up the road and dumped into a hopper at a second factory. It was sorted and sifted, and then ground up to make a sticky pulp. The pulp was put into an oven at 1400 degrees, but without the presence of oxygen, so it would dry but wouldn’t burn. The dried pulp was then mixed with anthracite, a fairly low-quality coal, which would help the wood burn evenly. And then with limestone, which would turn the wood white when it ignited, to indicate how hot it was. The mixture was then bound together with starch, and pressed together into uniform shapes. Finally, the little shapes were heated to 280 degrees for several hours to harden them completely, and packaged in moisture-resistant paper bags.

The result was a completely dependable, completely uniform, man-made coal, which Ford called a charcoal briquet. The product was a huge success, and immediately became the standard medium for grilling. Ford gained a new revenue stream and a monopoly over the backyard barbeque. Today, Ford’s company converts over a million tons of wood scraps into charcoal annually, and after a century in business still maintains an 80 percent market share in barbeque briquets.

And why didn’t you know this? Because Henry Ford took his name off the product. When he had needed a location for his charcoal factory, one of Ford’s relatives had helped him set it up. The resulting site and factory were so successful, it actually became renowned as the most efficient and profitable of Ford’s many production facilities. To show his gratitude, in 1947, Henry Ford had the company renamed in his relative’s honor.

The relative’s name was E.G. Kingsford.

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