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Henry Ford, c. 1919
|Born||July 30, 1863|
Greenfield Township, Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||April 7, 1947 (aged 83)|
Fair Lane, Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.
|Net worth||$188.1 billion, based on information from Forbes – February 2008.|
|Spouse||Clara Jane Bryant|
|Parents||William Ford and Mary Ford|
Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was a prominent American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique ofmass production. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry. As owner of the Ford Motor Company, he became one of the richest and best-known people in the world. He is credited with "Fordism", that is, mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with high wages for workers. Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations, including a franchise system that put a dealership in every city in North America, and in major cities on six continents. Ford left most of his vast wealth to the Ford Foundation but arranged for his family to control the company permanently.
He was known worldwide especially in the 1920s for a system of Fordism that seemed to promise modernity, high wages and cheap consumer goods, but his antisemitism in the 1920s has been a source of controversy.
Ford was born July 30, 1863, on a farm in Greenfield Township (near Detroit, Michigan). His father, William Ford (1826–1905), was born inCounty Cork, Ireland, of a family originally from western England, who were among migrants to Ireland as the English created plantations. His mother, Mary Litogot Ford (1839–1876), was born in Michigan; she was the youngest child of Belgianimmigrants; her parents died when Mary was a child and she was adopted by neighbors, the O'Herns. Henry Ford's siblings include Margaret Ford (1867–1938); Jane Ford (c. 1868–1945); William Ford (1871–1917) and Robert Ford (1873–1934).
His father gave him a pocket watch in his early teens. At 15, Ford dismantled and reassembled the timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times, gaining the reputation of a watch repairman. At twenty, Ford walked four miles to their Episcopal church every Sunday.
Ford was devastated when his mother died in 1876. His father expected him to eventually take over the family farm, but he despised farm work. He told his father, "I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved."
In 1879, he left home to work as an apprentice machinist in the city of Detroit, first with James F. Flower & Bros., and later with the Detroit Dry Dock Co. In 1882, he returned to Dearborn to work on the family farm, where he became adept at operating the Westinghouse portablesteam engine. He was later hired by Westinghouse company to service their steam engines. During this period Ford also studied bookkeeping at Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business College in Detroit.
Marriage and family
Ford married Clara Ala Bryant (c. 1865–1950) in the year 1888 and supported himself by farming and running a sawmill. They had a single child: Edsel Ford (1893–1943).
In 1891, Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company. After his promotion to Chief Engineer in 1893, he had enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on gasoline engines. These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of a self-propelled vehicle which he named the Ford Quadricycle. He test-drove it on June 4. After various test-drives, Ford brainstormed ways to improve the Quadricycle.
Also in 1896, Ford attended a meeting of Edison executives, where he was introduced to Thomas Edison. Edison approved of Ford's automobile experimentation; encouraged by him, Ford designed and built a second vehicle, completing it in 1898. Backed by the capital of Detroit lumber baron William H. Murphy, Ford resigned from Edison and founded the Detroit Automobile Company on August 5, 1899. However, the automobiles produced were of a lower quality and higher price than Ford liked. Ultimately, the company was not successful and was dissolved in January 1901.
With the help of C. Harold Wills, Ford designed, built, and successfully raced a 26-horsepower automobile in October 1901. With this success, Murphy and other stockholders in the Detroit Automobile Company formed the Henry Ford Company on November 30, 1901, with Ford as chief engineer. However, Murphy brought in Henry M. Leland as a consultant and, as a result, Ford left the company bearing his name in 1902. With Ford gone, Murphy renamed the company the Cadillac Automobile Company.
Teaming up with former racing cyclist Tom Cooper, Ford also produced the 80+ horsepower racer "999" which Barney Oldfield was to drive to victory in a race in October 1902. Ford received the backing of an old acquaintance, Alexander Y. Malcomson, a Detroit-area coal dealer.They formed a partnership, "Ford & Malcomson, Ltd." to manufacture automobiles. Ford went to work designing an inexpensive automobile, and the duo leased a factory and contracted with a machine shop owned by John and Horace E. Dodge to supply over $160,000 in parts.Sales were slow, and a crisis arose when the Dodge brothers demanded payment for their first shipment.
Ford Motor Company
In response, Malcomson brought in another group of investors and convinced the Dodge Brothers to accept a portion of the new company. Ford & Malcomson was reincorporated as the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903, with $28,000 capital. The original investors included Ford and Malcomson, the Dodge brothers, Malcomson's uncle John S. Gray, Horace Rackham, and James Couzens. In a newly designed car, Ford gave an exhibition on the ice of Lake St. Clair, driving 1 mile (1.6 km) in 39.4 seconds, setting a new land speed record at 91.3 miles per hour (147.0 km/h). Convinced by this success, the race driver Barney Oldfield, who named this new Ford model "999" in honor of a racing locomotive of the day, took the car around the country, making the Ford brand known throughout the United States. Ford also was one of the early backers of the Indianapolis 500.
The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908. It had the steering wheel on the left, which every other company soon copied. The entire engine and transmission were enclosed; the four cylinders were cast in a solid block; the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. The car was very simple to drive, and easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 ($20,100 in current dollar terms) (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s, a majority of American drivers had learned to drive on the Model T.
Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford's network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to encourage exploring the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100% gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production. Although Ford is often credited with the idea, contemporary sources indicate that the concept and its development came from employees Clarence Avery, Peter E. Martin,Charles E. Sorensen, and C. Harold Wills. (See Piquette Plant)
Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000. (Using the consumer price index, this price was equivalent to $7,020 in 2008 dollars.)
By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T's. However, it was a monolithic block; as Ford wrote in his autobiography, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black". Until the development of the assembly line, which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model T's were available in other colors, including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Ford, and production continued as late as 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This record stood for the next 45 years. This record was achieved in just 19 years from the introduction of the first Model T (1908).
President Woodrow Wilson asked Ford to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan in 1918. Although the nation was at war, Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations.
Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel Ford in December 1918. Henry, however, retained final decision authority and sometimes reversed his son. Henry started another company, Henry Ford and Son, and made a show of taking himself and his best employees to the new company; the goal was to scare the remaining holdout stockholders of the Ford Motor Company to sell their stakes to him before they lost most of their value. (He was determined to have full control over strategic decisions.) The ruse worked, and Henry and Edsel purchased all remaining stock from the other investors, thus giving the family sole ownership of the company.
By the mid-1920s, sales of the Model T began to decline due to rising competition. Other auto makers offered payment plans through which consumers could buy their cars, which usually included more modern mechanical features and styling not available with the Model T. Despite urgings from Edsel, Henry steadfastly refused to incorporate new features into the Model T or to form a customer credit plan.
Model A and Ford's later career
By 1926, flagging sales of the Model T finally convinced Henry to make a new model. He pursued the project with a great deal of technical expertise in design of the engine, chassis, and other mechanical necessities, while leaving the body design to his son. Edsel also managed to prevail over his father's initial objections in the inclusion of a sliding-shift transmission.
The result was the successful Ford Model A, introduced in December 1927 and produced through 1931, with a total output of more than 4 million. Subsequently, the Ford company adopted an annual model change system similar to that recently pioneered by its competitor General Motors (and still in use by automakers today). Not until the 1930s did Ford overcome his objection to finance companies, and the Ford-owned Universal Credit Corporation became a major car-financing operation.
Ford did not believe in accountants; he amassed one of the world's largest fortunes without ever having his company audited under his administration.
The five-dollar workday
Ford was a pioneer of "welfare capitalism", designed to improve the lot of his workers and especially to reduce the heavy turnover that had many departments hiring 300 men per year to fill 100 slots. Efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers.
Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($110 in current dollar terms), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers.. A Cleveland Ohio newspaper editorialized that the announcement, "shot like a blinding rocket through the dark clouds of the present industrial depression.". The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs.. Ford announced his $5-per-day program on January 5, 1914, raising the minimum daily pay from $2.34 to $5 for qualifying workers. (Using the consumer price index, this was equivalent to $111.10 per day in 2008 dollars.) It also set a new, reduced workweek, although the details vary in different accounts. Ford and Crowther in 1922 described it as six 8-hour days, giving a 48-hour week, while in 1926 they described it as five 8-hour days, giving a 40-hour week. (Apparently the program started with Saturdays as workdays and sometime later it was changed to a day off.)
Detroit was already a high-wage city, but competitors were forced to raise wages or lose their best workers.. Ford's policy proved, however, that paying people more would enable Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing and be good for the economy. Ford explained the policy as profit-sharing rather than wages. It may have been Couzzens who convinced Ford to adopt the $5 day..
The profit-sharing was offered to employees who had worked at the company for six months or more, and, importantly, conducted their lives in a manner of which Ford's "Social Department" approved. They frowned on heavy drinking, gambling, and what might today be called "deadbeat dads". The Social Department used 50 investigators, plus support staff, to maintain employee standards; a large percentage of workers were able to qualify for this "profit-sharing."
Ford's incursion into his employees' private lives was highly controversial, and he soon backed off from the most intrusive aspects. By the time he wrote his 1922 memoir, he spoke of the Social Department and of the private conditions for profit-sharing in the past tense, and admitted that "paternalism has no place in industry. Welfare work that consists in prying into employees' private concerns is out of date. Men need counsel and men need help, oftentimes special help; and all this ought to be rendered for decency's sake. But the broad workable plan of investment and participation will do more to solidify industry and strengthen organization than will any social work on the outside. Without changing the principle we have changed the method of payment."
Ford was adamantly against labor unions. He explained his views on unions in Chapter 18 of My Life and Work. He thought they were too heavily influenced by some leaders who, despite their ostensible good motives, would end up doing more harm than good for workers. Most wanted to restrict productivity as a means to foster employment, but Ford saw this as self-defeating because, in his view, productivity was necessary for any economic prosperity to exist.
He believed that productivity gains that obviated certain jobs would nevertheless stimulate the larger economy and thus grow new jobs elsewhere, whether within the same corporation or in others. Ford also believed that union leaders (particularly Leninist-leaning ones) had a perverse incentive to foment perpetual socio-economic crisis as a way to maintain their own power. Meanwhile, he believed that smart managers had an incentive to do right by their workers, because doing so would maximize their own profits. (Ford did acknowledge, however, that many managers were basically too bad at managing to understand this fact.) But Ford believed that eventually, if good managers such as he could fend off the attacks of misguided people from both left and right (i.e., both socialists and bad-manager reactionaries), the good managers would create a socio-economic system wherein neither bad management nor bad unions could find enough support to continue existing.
To forestall union activity, Ford promoted Harry Bennett, a former Navy boxer, to head the Service Department. Bennett employed various intimidation tactics to squash union organizing. The most famous incident, in 1937, was a bloody brawl between company security men and organizers that became known as The Battle of the Overpass.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Edsel (who was president of the company) thought Ford had to come to some sort of collective bargainingagreement with the unions, because the violence, work disruptions, and bitter stalemates could not go on forever. But Henry (who still had the final veto in the company on a de facto basis even if not an official one) refused to cooperate. For several years, he kept Bennett in charge of talking to the unions that were trying to organize the Ford company. Sorensen's memoir makes clear that Henry's purpose in putting Bennett in charge was to make sure no agreements were ever reached.
The Ford company was the last Detroit automaker to recognize the United Auto Workers union (UAW). A sit-down strike by the UAW union in April 1941 closed the River Rouge Plant. Sorensen recounted that a distraught Henry Ford was very close to following through with a threat to break up the company rather than cooperate but that his wife Clara told him she would leave him if he destroyed the family business. She wanted to see their son and grandsons lead it into the future. Henry complied with his wife's ultimatum. Overnight, the Ford Motor Co. went from the most stubborn holdout among automakers to the one with the most favorable UAW contract terms. The contract was signed in June 1941.
Ford Airplane Company
Ford, like other automobile companies, entered the aviation business during World War I, building Liberty engines. After the war, it returned to auto manufacturing until 1925, when Ford acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company.
Ford's most successful aircraft was the Ford 4AT Trimotor — called the “Tin Goose” because of its corrugated metal construction. It used a new alloy called Alclad that combined the corrosion resistance of aluminum with the strength of duralumin. The plane was similar to Fokker's V.VII-3m, and some say that Ford's engineers surreptitiously measured the Fokker plane and then copied it. The Trimotor first flew on June 11, 1926, and was the first successful U.S. passenger airliner, accommodating about 12 passengers in a rather uncomfortable fashion. Several variants were also used by the U.S. Army. Ford has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution for changing the aviation industry. About 200 Trimotors were built before it was discontinued in 1933, when the Ford Airplane Division shut down because of poor sales during the Great Depression.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to Detroit as the "Arsenal of Democracy". The Ford Motor Company played a pivotal role in the Alliedvictory during World War I and World War II. With Europe under siege, the Ford company's genius turned to mass production for the war effort. Specifically, Ford developed mass production for the B-24 Liberator bomber, still the most-produced Allied bomber in history. When the planes started being used in the war zones, the balance of power shifted to the Allies.
Before Ford, and under optimal conditions, the aviation industry could produce one Consolidated Aircraft B-24 Bomber a day at an aircraft plant. Ford showed the world how to produce one B-24 an hour at a peak of 600 per month in 24-hour shifts. Ford's Willow Run factory broke ground in April 1941. At the time, it was the largest assembly plant in the world, with over 3,500,000 square feet (330,000 m2).
Mass production of the B-24, led by Charles Sorensen and later Mead Bricker, began by August 1943. Many pilots slept on cots waiting for takeoff as the B-24s rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Willow Run facility.
Peace and war
World War I era
Ford opposed war, which he thought was a terrible waste. Ford became highly critical of those who he felt financed war, and he tried to stop them. In 1915, the pacifist Rosika Schwimmer gained favor with Ford, who agreed to fund a peace ship to Europe, where World War I was raging. He and about 170 other prominent peace leaders traveled there. Ford's Episcopalian pastor, Reverend Samuel S. Marquis, accompanied him on the mission. Marquis headed Ford's Sociology Department from 1913 to 1921. Ford talked to President Wilson about the mission but had no government support. His group went to neutral Sweden and the Netherlands to meet with peace activists. A target of much ridicule, Ford left the ship as soon as it reached Sweden.
Ford plants in Britain produced tractors to increase the British food supply, as well as trucks and aircraft engines. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917 the company became a major supplier of weapons, especially the Liberty engine for airplanes, and anti-submarine boats.
In 1918, with the war on and the League of Nations a growing issue in global politics, President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, encouraged Ford to run for a Michigan seat in the U.S. Senate. Wilson believed that Ford could tip the scales in Congress in favor of Wilson's proposedLeague. "You are the only man in Michigan who can be elected and help bring about the peace you so desire," the president wrote Ford. Ford wrote back: "If they want to elect me let them do so, but I won't make a penny's investment." Ford did run, however, and came within 4,500 votes of winning, out of more than 400,000 cast statewide.
Mental collapse and World War II
Ford had long opposed war and continued to believe that international business could generate the prosperity that would head off wars; when World War II erupted in 1939 he said the people of the world had been duped. He was not, however, active in the isolationist movement of 1939-41, and he supported the American war effort and realized the need to support Britain with weapons to fight the Nazis. He "lined up behind the war effort" when the U.S. entered in late 1941, and the company became a major component of the "Arsenal of Democracy."Following a series of strokes in the late 1930s he became increasingly senile and was more of a figurehead; other people made the decisions in his name. After Edsel Ford's death, Henry Ford nominally resumed control of the company in 1943, but his mental strength was fading fast. In reality the company was controlled by a handful of senior executives led by Charles Sorensen and Harry Bennett; Sorensen was forced out in 1944. Ford's incompetence led to discussions in Washington about how to restore the company, whether by wartime government fiat or by instigating some sort of coup among executives and directors. Nothing happened until 1945, with bankruptcy a serious risk, Edsel's widow led an ouster and installed her son, Henry Ford II, as president; the young man fired Bennett and took full control.
The Dearborn Independent
In 1918, Ford's closest aide and private secretary, Ernest G. Liebold, purchased an obscure weekly newspaper for Ford, The Dearborn Independent. The Independent ran for eight years, from 1920 until 1927, during which Liebold was editor.
The newspaper published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was discredited by The Times of London as a forgery during the Independent's publishing run. The American Jewish Historical Society described the ideas presented in the magazine as "anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-liquor, and anti-Semitic." In February 1921, the New York World published an interview with Ford, in which he said: "The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on." During this period, Ford emerged as "a respected spokesman for right-wing extremism and religious prejudice," reaching around 700,000 readers through his newspaper.The 2010 documentary film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (written by Pulitzer Prizewinner Ira Berkow) noted that Ford wrote on May 22, 1920: “If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball they have it in three words—too much Jew.”
During the Weimar Republic in the early 1920s, the Protocols was reprinted and published in Germany, along with anti-Jewish articles first published by The Dearborn Independent and reprinted in translation in Germany as a set of four bound volumes, cumulatively titled The International Jew, the World's Foremost Problem. Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf. Steven Watts wrote that Hitler "revered" Ford, proclaiming that "I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany, and modeling the Volkswagen, the people's car, on the model T."
On February 1, 1924, Ford received Kurt Ludecke, a representative of Hitler, at his home. Ludecke was introduced to Ford by Siegfried Wagner (son of the famous composer Richard Wagner) and his wife Winifred, both Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites. Ludecke asked Ford for a contribution to the Nazi cause, but was apparently refused.
While Ford's articles were denounced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the articles explicitly condemned pogroms and violence against Jews (Volume 4, Chapter 80), but blamed the Jews for provoking incidents of mass violence. None of this work was written by Ford, but he allowed his name to be used as author. According to trial testimony, he wrote almost nothing. Friends and business associates have said they warned Ford about the contents of the Independent and that he probably never read the articles. (He claimed he only read the headlines.) But, court testimony in a libel suit, brought by one of the targets of the newspaper, alleged that Ford did know about the contents of the Independent in advance of publication.
A libel lawsuit brought by San Francisco lawyer and Jewish farm cooperative organizer Aaron Sapiro in response to anti-Semitic remarks led Ford to close the Independent in December 1927. News reports at the time quoted him as saying he was shocked by the content and unaware of its nature. During the trial, the editor of Ford's "Own Page," William Cameron, testified that Ford had nothing to do with the editorials even though they were under his byline. Cameron testified at the libel trial that he never discussed the content of the pages or sent them to Ford for his approval.Investigative journalist Max Wallace noted that "whatever credibility this absurd claim may have had was soon undermined when James M. Miller, a former Dearborn Independent employee, swore under oath that Ford had told him he intended to expose Sapiro."
Michael Barkun observed,
That Cameron would have continued to publish such controversial material without Ford's explicit instructions seemed unthinkable to those who knew both men. Mrs. Stanley Ruddiman, a Ford family intimate, remarked that 'I don't think Mr. Cameron ever wrote anything for publication without Mr. Ford's approval.'
According to Spencer Blakeslee,
The ADL mobilized prominent Jews and non-Jews to publicly oppose Ford's message. They formed a coalition of Jewish groups for the same purpose and raised constant objections in the Detroit press. Before leaving his presidency early in 1921, Woodrow Wilson joined other leading Americans in a statement that rebuked Ford and others for their antisemitic campaign. A boycott against Ford products by Jews and liberal Christians also had an impact, and Ford shut down the paper in 1927, recanting his views in a public letter to Sigmund Livingston, ADL.
Ford's 1927 apology was well received. "Four-Fifths of the hundreds of letters addressed to Ford in July of 1927 were from Jews, and almost without exception they praised the Industrialist." In January 1937, a Ford statement to the Detroit Jewish Chronicle disavowed "any connection whatsoever with the publication in Germany of a book known as the International Jew."
In July 1938, prior to the outbreak of war, the German consul at Cleveland gave Ford, on his 75th birthday, the award of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner. James D. Mooney, vice-president of overseas operations for General Motors, received a similar medal, the Merit Cross of the German Eagle, First Class.
Distribution of International Jew was halted in 1942 through legal action by Ford, despite complications from a lack of copyright. Extremist groups often recycle the material; it still appears on antisemitic and neo-Nazi websites.
One Jewish public figure who was said to have been friendly with Ford was Detroit Judge Harry Keidan. When asked about this connection, Ford replied that Keidan was only half-Jewish. A close collaborator of Ford during World War II reported that Ford, at the time over 80 years old, was shown a movie of the Nazi concentration camps.
Ford's philosophy was one of economic independence for the United States. His River Rouge Plant became the world's largest industrial complex, pursuing vertical integration to such an extent that it could produce its own steel. Ford's goal was to produce a vehicle from scratch without reliance on foreign trade. He believed in the global expansion of his company. He believed that international trade and cooperation led to international peace, and he used the assembly line process and production of the Model T to demonstrate it.
He opened Ford assembly plants in Britain and Canada in 1911, and soon became the biggest automotive producer in those countries. In 1912, Ford cooperated with Agnelli of Fiat to launch the first Italian automotive assembly plants. The first plants in Germany were built in the 1920s with the encouragement of Herbert Hoover and the Commerce Department, which agreed with Ford's theory that international trade was essential to world peace. In the 1920s, Ford also opened plants in Australia, India, and France, and by 1929, he had successful dealerships on six continents. Ford experimented with a commercial rubber plantation in the Amazon jungle calledFordlândia; it was one of his few failures. In 1929, Ford accepted Joseph Stalin's invitation to build a model plant (NNAZ, today GAZ) at Gorky, a city now known under its historical name Nizhny Novgorod. He sent American engineers and technicians to the Soviet Union to help set it up,including future labor leader Walter Reuther.
The Ford Motor Company had the policy of doing business in any nation where the United States had diplomatic relations. It set up numerous subsidiaries that sold cars and trucks and sometimes assembled them:
- Ford of Australia
- Ford of Britain
- Ford of Argentina
- Ford of Brazil
- Ford of Canada
- Ford of Europe
- Ford India
- Ford South Africa
- Ford Mexico
- Ford Philippines
By 1932, Ford was manufacturing one third of all the world’s automobiles. Ford's image transfixed Europeans, especially the Germans, arousing the "fear of some, the infatuation of others, and the fascination among all". Germans who discussed "Fordism" often believed that it represented something quintessentially American. They saw the size, tempo, standardization, and philosophy of production demonstrated at the Ford Works as a national service—an "American thing" that represented the culture of United States. Both supporters and critics insisted that Fordism epitomized American capitalist development, and that the auto industry was the key to understanding economic and social relations in the United States. As one German explained, "Automobiles have so completely changed the American's mode of life that today one can hardly imagine being without a car. It is difficult to remember what life was like before Mr. Ford began preaching his doctrine of salvation". For many Germans, Ford embodied the essence of successful Americanism.
In My Life and Work, Ford predicted that if greed, racism, and short-sightedness could be overcome, then economic and technological development throughout the world would progress to the point that international trade would no longer be based on (what today would be called) colonial or neocolonial models and would truly benefit all peoples. His ideas in this passage were vague, but they were idealistic.
Ford maintained an interest in auto racing from 1901 to 1913 and began his involvement in the sport as both a builder and a driver, later turning the wheel over to hired drivers. He entered stripped-down Model Ts in races, finishing first (although later disqualified) in an "ocean-to-ocean" (across the United States) race in 1909, and setting a one-mile (1.6 km) oval speed record at Detroit Fairgrounds in 1911 with driver Frank Kulick. In 1913, Ford attempted to enter a reworked Model T in the Indianapolis 500 but was told rules required the addition of another 1,000 pounds (450 kg) to the car before it could qualify. Ford dropped out of the race and soon thereafter dropped out of racing permanently, citing dissatisfaction with the sport's rules, demands on his time by the booming production of the Model Ts, and his low opinion of racing as a worthwhile activity.
In My Life and Work Ford speaks (briefly) of racing in a rather dismissive tone, as something that is not at all a good measure of automobiles in general. He describes himself as someone who raced only because in the 1890s through 1910s, one had to race because prevailing ignorance held that racing was the way to prove the worth of an automobile. Ford did not agree. But he was determined that as long as this was the definition of success (flawed though the definition was), then his cars would be the best that there were at racing. Throughout the book, he continually returns to ideals such as transportation, production efficiency, affordability, reliability, fuel efficiency, economic prosperity, and the automation of drudgery in farming and industry, but rarely mentions, and rather belittles, the idea of merely going fast from point A to point B.
Nevertheless, Ford did make quite an impact on auto racing during his racing years, and he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996.
When Edsel, president of Ford Motor Company, died of cancer in May 1943, the elderly and ailing Henry Ford decided to assume the presidency. By this point in his life, he had had several cardiovascular events (variously cited as heart attack or stroke) and was mentally inconsistent, suspicious, and generally no longer fit for such a job.
Most of the directors did not want to see him as president. But for the previous 20 years, though he had long been without any official executive title, he had always had de facto control over the company; the board and the management had never seriously defied him, and this moment was not different. The directors elected him, and he served until the end of the war. During this period the company began to decline, losing more than $10 million a month ($126,990,000 a month in current dollar terms). The administration of President Franklin Roosevelt had been considering a government takeover of the company in order to ensure continued war production, but the idea never progressed.
In ill health, Ford ceded the presidency to his grandson Henry Ford II in September 1945 and went into retirement. He died in 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 83 in Fair Lane, his Dearborn estate. A public viewing was held at Greenfield Village where up to 5,000 people per hour filed past the casket. Funeral services were held in Detroit's Cathedral Church of St. Paul and he was buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.
Interest in materials science and engineering
Henry Ford long had an interest in materials science and engineering. He enthusiastically described his company's adoption of vanadium steel alloys and subsequent metallurgic R&D work.
Ford long had an interest in plastics developed from agricultural products, especially soybeans. He cultivated a relationship with George Washington Carver for this purpose. Soybean-based plastics were used in Ford automobiles throughout the 1930s in plastic parts such as car horns, in paint, etc. This project culminated in 1942, when Ford patented an automobile made almost entirely of plastic, attached to a tubular welded frame. It weighed 30% less than a steel car and was said to be able to withstand blows ten times greater than could steel. Furthermore, it ran on grain alcohol (ethanol) instead of gasoline. The design never caught on.
Ford was interested in engineered woods ("Better wood can be made than is grown") (at this time plywood and particle board were little more than experimental ideas); corn as a fuel source, via both corn oil and ethanol; and the potential uses of cotton. Ford was instrumental in developing charcoal briquets, under the brand name "Kingsford". His brother in law, E.G. Kingsford, used wood scraps from the Ford factory to make the briquets.
Georgia residence and community
Ford maintained a vacation residence (known as the "Ford Plantation") in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He contributed substantially to the community, building a chapel and schoolhouse and employing numerous local residents.
Ford had an interest in "Americana". In the 1920s, Ford began work to turn Sudbury, Massachusetts, into a themed historical village. He moved the schoolhouse supposedly referred to in the nursery rhyme, "Mary had a little lamb", from Sterling, Massachusetts, and purchased the historic Wayside Inn. This plan never saw fruition. Ford repeated the concept of collecting historic structures with the creation ofGreenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. It may have inspired the creation of Old Sturbridge Village as well. About the same time, he began collecting materials for his museum, which had a theme of practical technology. It was opened in 1929 as the Edison Institute. Although greatly modernized, the museum continues today.
On the idea that he invented the automobile
Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. Indeed, he began as a race driver of other people's cars. As Ford himself noted, by the 1870s, the notion of a "horseless carriage was a common idea". He was, however, more influential than any other single person in changing the paradigm of the automobile from a very expensive, heavy, hand-built toy for rich people into a lightweight, reliable, affordable, mass-produced mode of transportation for working-class people.
On the idea that he invented the assembly line
Both Ford and Ransom E. Olds are sometimes credited with the invention of the assembly line, although (as is the case with many inventions) the assembly line's development included many inventors. It combined the idea of interchangeable parts (another gradual technological development that is often mistakenly attributed to one individual or another). After 5 years of empirical development, Ford's first moving assembly line (employing conveyor belts) began mass production on or around April 1, 1913. The concept was first applied to subassemblies, and shortly after to the entire chassis. Although it is inaccurate to say that Ford personally invented the assembly line, his sponsorship of its development and use was central to its explosive success in the 20th century.
Ford was the winner of the award of Car Entrepreneur of the Century in 1999.
Ford dressed up as Santa Claus and gave sleigh rides to children at Christmas time on his estate.
A compendium of short biographies of famous Freemasons, published by a Freemason lodge, lists Ford as a member.
Ford was especially fond of Thomas Edison, and on Edison's deathbed, he demanded Edison's son catch his final breath in a test tube. The test tube can still be found today in Henry Ford Museum.
In 1923, Ford's pastor, and head of his sociology department, Episcopal minister Samuel S. Marquis, claimed that Ford believed, or "once believed" in reincarnation. Though it is unclear whether or how long Ford kept such a belief, the San Francisco Examiner from August 26, 1928, published a quote which described Ford's beliefs:
I adopted the theory of Reincarnation when I was twenty six. Religion offered nothing to the point. Even work could not give me complete satisfaction. Work is futile if we cannot utilise the experience we collect in one life in the next. When I discovered Reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan I realised that there was a chance to work out my ideas. Time was no longer limited. I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock. Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives. Some are older souls than others, and so they know more. The discovery of Reincarnation put my mind at ease. If you preserve a record of this conversation, write it so that it puts men’s minds at ease. I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long view of life gives to us.
- In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), society is organized on 'Fordist' lines and the years are dated A.F. or Anno Ford. (In the Year of our Ford) This is a reference to A.D., Anno Domini, which translates to "in the year of our Lord".
- In the book, the expression 'My Ford' is used instead of 'My Lord'.
- Symphonic composer Ferde Grofe composed a tone poem in Henry Ford's honor (1938).
- Ford is treated as a character in several historical novels, notably E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime(1975), and Richard Powers' novel Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance (1985).
- Ford, his family, and his company were the subjects of a 1986 biography by Robert Laceyentitled Ford: The Men and the Machine. The book was adapted in 1987 into a film starring Cliff Robertson and Michael Ironside.
- In the 2005 alternative history novel The Plot Against America, Philip Roth features Ford as Secretary of Interior in a fictional Charles Lindbergh presidential administration.
- The British author Douglas Galbraith uses the event of the Ford Peace Ship as the center of his novel King Henry (2007).
- Ford appears as a Great Builder in the 2008 strategy video game Civilization Revolution.
- In December 1999, Ford was among 18 included in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th Century, from a poll conducted of the American people.
- In 1928, Ford was awarded the Franklin Institute's Elliott Cresson Medal.
- The United States Postal Service honored Ford with a Prominent Americans series (1965–1978) 12¢ postage stamp.