The Ford Tri-Motor airplane popularized the notion of low-cost, reliable, rugged, and serviceable planes. Before the Ford Tri-Motor, there were countless aircraft, but many were proprietary with difficult-to-service parts that frequently broke down.
Along with 20 other wealthy individuals, Ford and his son Edsel funded a new airplane company by designer William Bushnell Stout. In 1925, Ford bought the company. His engineers worked to improve the design, making the plane inexpensive, study, and reliable. Furthermore, they focused on passenger comfort, a notion taken from the auto business that existing plane manufacturers overlooked until that time.
When finished, the plane had three propellers and held a pilot, co-pilot, flight attendant, and 8-9 passengers. Additionally, by removing the seats the plane could work as a cargo carrier.
The plane was revolutionary in that during a time everybody was trying to produce revolutionary planes, Ford aimed for the ordinary. He eliminated as much as he could. For example, pilots looked out the windows to check gauges on the engines rather than spending more money running wires inside the plane.
The earliest commercial transcontinental air transport relied on Ford’s tri-motor planes. Pan American Airlines, the then largest and best-run airline in the world, strongly preferred the planes.
Ford produced only about 200 planes. Eventually, Boeing picked up the concept of simplicity. They produced the Boing 247, a superior aircraft that also relied on simplicity and standardized parts. Ford eventually lost interest in this specific business and shuttered the company, though the ideas he pioneered remain in use. However, during WWII, Ford factories produced airplanes for the war.