December 30, 1940 – C. Harold Wills, Ford Model T designer, passes away

ford and c. harold wills
Henry Ford and C. Harold Wills

Despite many claims to fame, most vehicles are not designed by one particular person. It takes a team to bring such ambitious visions to life. In the case of the Ford Model T, a pack of inventive minds came together to build the car that would put the world on wheels. Among them, Henry Ford, of course, as well as József Galamb. But the man who rightfully receives much of the credit for the design and engineering of the most successful car of the era and beyond is Childe Harold Wills, better known as C. Harold or C.H.

C. Harold Wills and the Model T

1910 Ford Model T

WIlls was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1878 and grew up in Detroit, where is father worked as a toolmaker. At age 17 he began an apprenticeship at his father’s place of work, beginning a career in machining. By 1899 he had become acquainted with Henry Ford who had recently started the Detroit Automobile Company. By the time DAC went belly up and Ford started his second attempt at a car business, the Henry Ford Company, Wills worked for him full time. After that failed and Ford began the Ford Motor Company in 1903, he brought Wills along as chief designer and lead metallurgist, offering him 10 percent of Ford’s personal dividends as part of his salary.

By the time the team began efforts on the Ford Model T the growing design team was still led by Wills. He is credited with many aspects of the revolutionary car, including designing the car’s planetary transmission and its detachable cylinder head. He is also the one who penned the calligraphy of the script “Ford” logo that is still used by the company today.

C. Harold Wills after Ford

1921 Wills Saint Claire roadster. By Valder137 CC BY 2.0

While Wills and Ford were initially friends, with Ford even serving as best man at his wedding, the two eventually grew apart. By 1919 he left the company. With his earnings from Ford he began his own company in Marysville, Michigan. The Wills Sainte Claire Gray Goose debuted in 1921, costing a whopping $3,000. The company lost money every year until the business shut its doors in 1927. He later worked at Ruxton and Chrysler. Following a stroke, he was taken to Henry Ford Hospital where he died on this day in 1940.

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