Ford Motor celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, and it’s a great opportunity for a troubled company to get a little warm and fuzzy as it reminds folks of its impact over the past century.

Before the Model T, Bill Ford said in San Francisco earlier this year, people rarely traveled more than 20 miles from their homes. Ford is the company’s chairman and chief executive, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford and even its blue-eyed commercial spokesman.

Ford plans plenty of events and activities surrounding its centennial:

•A 100-city tour. Ford execs will travel across the United States, meeting with car clubs, school groups and dealers to commemorate the June 16, 1903, founding of the company. In 15 of those cities, a mobile tent will be erected. Inside, Ford historical mementos will be on display, as well as a replica of a 1914 Model T and Ford’s new 2004 F-Series pickup.

•Centennial vehicles. Five limited-edition vehicles will be available at Ford dealerships this spring. Each will be “any color so long as it’s black,” just like the original Fords. (Henry Ford insisted on black paint for his first cars since it dried faster than other colors.) Each will come with special badging, a black leather owner’s manual and a special key chain and watch. The five – a Mustang coupe and convertible, a Focus sedan, a Taurus sedan, an Explorer SUV and a F-Series Super Duty Crew Cab – will have limited production runs, either 3,000 or 4,000 units.

•A special celebration. From June 12 to 16, Ford will stage concerts, car shows and celebrity appearances near its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters and elsewhere in the Detroit area. Beyonce Knowles of Destiny’s Child, Toby Keith and Earth, Wind and Fire are some of the headliners. Ford also promises the event will draw thousands of classic Fords, as well as racecars and concept cars.

In his remarks at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, Bill Ford noted that a San Francisco businessman, William Hughson, was the first Ford dealer. He obtained the franchise for the entire West Coast (and Hawaii) even before the company was incorporated. He bought $5,000 worth of Henry Ford’s cars and sold them on the West Coast. Then, after the 1906 earthquake, he lent cars to the Red Cross to help with disaster relief.

At the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, 18 Model Ts were built every day in the world’s smallest automobile assembly line.

A Ford V-8 station wagon was the first car to cross the Bay Bridge in 1935.

Ford also built cars in Northern California, first in San Francisco, and then, starting in 1931, in Richmond. The 27th million Ford was built at the plant, and it was displayed in the Ford Building at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939.

In 1955, with workers carrying their own toolboxes, Ford moved its Northern California plant from Richmond to Milpitas, just north of San Jose. That plant was the size of 32 football fields, employed more than 6,000 at peak production and had three cafeterias.

All manner of Ford cars and trucks, including Mustangs, Falcons, Edsels, Pintos, Escorts and F-Series, and some Mercury models (Comet, Cougar, Montego) were built at Milpitas.

The plant closed in 1983, and, where it stood, the Great Mall of the Bay Area opened in 1994.

In a conversation with Ford archivists, Hughson recalled that he had trouble selling those first Fords.

“I got six cars in that first shipment,” he said. “We sold one or two, but the rest we rented out. They didn’t start selling very well until 1906. Then the people commenced to realize what an advantage a car was over a horse.”

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