The Austin Seven made him famous
Just after World War I, British carmaker Herbert Austin had an idea that he believed would change his company forever: He wanted to build a small, inexpensive car to meet the needs of the family.
But his board at Austin Motor Co. was unwilling to finance the project. Undeterred, Austin spent his own cash to make the Austin Seven a reality.
Unveiled in 1922, the Seven sold for £165, a fraction of the price charged by rival automakers. Sales of the Seven were slow initially, but improvements to the engine and the addition of an electric starter sparked a keen interest in the car.
By 1926, 14,000 Sevens were being produced annually.
The Seven set the standard for the European small car for more than a decade.
The car was built until 1939. That year the company's Longbridge factory was turned into a manufacturer of military equipment, just as it had been during World War I, producing munitions, trucks, armored vehicles and aircraft.
Austin was born in Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire. At the age of 16 he went to Melbourne, Australia, where he worked as an engineer before returning to Birmingham, England, in 1889 to supervise Frederick York Wolseley's sheep shearing equipment factory.
The two also started to make automobiles. The first was a three-wheel model that Austin created in 1895. Austin was named manager of the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co. in 1901.
He left Wolseley Tool and Motor to start his own company a century ago this year. In 1906, Austin Motor produced 120 Endcliffe Phaetons. The price of the 25hp car was £650.
After taking the company public in 1914, Austin aimed to increase car production, but WWI changed those plans. During the war the company tripled in size to 22,000 workers as the factory switched to producing military equipment. Austin was knighted after WWI for his contributions to the war effort.