Ford, did not, however invent charcoal. He just came up with a better way to make it, if by better you mean more cost effective. Charcoal made in this way is made from sawdust, typically left over from the milling of wood. It is then mixed with a binding agent and formed into cute little blocks and fired in a furnace. Most of the binder burns off in the firing, but purists will tell you that some is always left over and that it can add it's own flavor to whatever you are cooking. Some charcoals are now sold as self lighting. Meaning that they have a lighter fluid already added. This can also add it's own flavor to food. To get away from these additives you need to spend some extra money and get charred wood blocks commonly called lump charcoal. These are made, usually from an expensive hard wood, cut into small blocks and then fired to a nice charcoal state.
Charcoal has been made throughout the world for thousands of years. The usual process is to pile long pieces of wood in the shape of a large cone. Bury the wood with dirt, leaving a chimney hole at the top and a few air hole at the bottom. Light the wood from the bottom and let burn for several days. This is a long and slow process, but to yield charcoal and not ash you need to burn the wood very slowly and thoroughly. As you might guess this is an art form. Once the wood is burned to a good charcoal state, cover all the holes and let it cool. If you do it right you should get about 20% of the wood back as charcoal. Sound hard and unrewarding? Well it is, but before coal mining became a industrialized and practical process, it was about all people had to work with.
So what do you do if you don't want to spend a lot on charcoal, but you're not quite up to the task of making your own? First, don't buy self lighting charcoal. Second, light your charcoal in a charcoal chimney or similar device. This uses newspaper instead of lighter fluid and also allows you to light and add charcoal to your fire without adding fluid to the grill. This follows the rule of never, and I mean never, add lighter fluid to already lit coals. Not only can it be dangerous, but it'll give you food that tastes like lighter fluid. Third, always allow your coals to burn to a complete ashy surface before you start cooking. This ensures that any glues and additives are burned off before you start cooking. The draw back on this is that one of the better tips to doing a long smoke with charcoal is to only light about half the charcoal before you start the smoke. Over time the hot coals will start the unlit coals burning and stretch out your smoking time. To get around this, invest in a coal bucket or some other heavy metal container. Once you start losing heat you can dump out the burning coals and start a fresh batch while you keep the food warm in the oven. Or you can just get the solid wood stuff.