Henry Ford: His career, his beliefs – and which Ford car did he drive?

Henry Ford with a car

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Timeline of Henry Ford’s career

1863: Ford born on a farm in Greenfield township, suburb of Detroit, on July 30.

1888: Married to Clara Bryant, daughter of a neighboring farmer.

1893: Began experimental work on automobiles in Detroit. Edsel Ford, his only son, born November 6.

1900: Mechanical superintendent, Detroit Automobile Co.

1902: Organized Henry Ford Co. with three other Detroiters to manufacture horseless carriages. Also partner in firm of Ford & Cooper (Henry Ford and Tom Cooper), automobiles.

1903: Organized present Ford Motor Co. June 16, with $28,000 paid in.

1905: Obtained control of 51 percent of company’s stock.

1908: Brought out first Model T car.

Henry Ford and Model T

1911: Won famous Shelden patent suit.

1914: Announced Ford “profit-sharing plan” and $5 a day minimum wage.

1915: Organized an unsuccessful peace ship expedition.

1916: Started to manufacture tractors.

1918: Began mass production of Eagle boat subchasers. Defeated for U. S. senator by 4000 votes.

1919: Bought out remaining minority stockholders. Won six-cent judgment against Chicago Tribune which published editorial headed “Ford Is An Anarchist.” Purchased Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad.

1921: Reported in financial difficulties, rejected Wall Street’s terms for aid and broke through depression to emerge stronger than ever.

1922: Purchased Lincoln Motor Co. at receivership sale for $6,000,000.

1923: Purchased Wayside Inn, near Sudbury, Mass. Boomed by friends for presidency.

1924: Launched first vessel of great fleet of Ford-owned steamships.

1925: Began rubber growing experiments in Florida. Produced 10,000,000th motor car. Bought 199 idle ships from U. S. Shipping Board for $1,706,000 and scrapped them.

Best ride on the range: The glamour of the Ford station wagon (1957)

Portrait of Henry Ford

1927: Obtained giant of 4,000,000 acres in Brazil for rubber growing. Settled out of court a $1,000,000 damage suit brought by Aaron Sapiro as result of anti-Semitic articles in Ford’s weekly magazine. Injured in automobile accident by hit and run driver.

1928: Began construction of early American Village and Edison Museum.

1929: Sold Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad. Increased minimum wage to $7 a day in effort to break economic stagnation.

The Great Depression: Newspaper headlines from the stock market crash (1929)

1931: Out of production for several months. Reduced wages to $6 a day.

1932: Brought out eight-cylinder model. Minimum wage reduced to 50 cents an hour. Made radio address supporting the re-election of President Hoover. Faced first serious illness undergoing operation for strangulated hernia and infected appendix.

1933: Threatened to withdraw more than $20,000,000 from one large Detroit bank if a trust company in which he was interested was permitted to “go under” in financial crisis. Ford had more than $60,000,000 in cash on deposit in Detroit banks at the time.

1934: Defied General Hugh S. Johnson and refused to accept NRA code. Minimum wage increased to $5 a day. Announced a million car program for 1935.

1935: Increased minimum wage to $6 a day. Produced more than million cars.

Evolution of Ford cars through the 1930s

Does Henry Ford drive a Ford? You bet he does! Idah M’Glone Gibson watches him do it (1915)

by Idah M’Glone Gibson – The Day Book (Chicago, Ill.) July 23, 1915

Detroit, Mich., July 23 – “I wonder if Ford drives his own Ford?” I asked someone in Detroit this morning.

“Always,” was the answer. “From the time that Henry Ford first drove his first Ford through the streets of Detroit and created something of a sensation he has driven no other make of car than his Ford.

“This year, he is driving a Ford touring car. You can see him almost any time about the streets. There he comes now!”

I looked up to see a man without a hat whose thin face seemed to be outlined against a background of waving iron gray hair. “Ford seldom wears a hat in summer,” was the comment of the man who stood beside me.

“He seems to be breaking the speed laws with that lil’ ol’ Ford,” I remarked.

The man beside me only smiled and although Henry Ford passed everything and everybody on the street he must have been within the speed limit for the traffic cop touched his hat and grinned as the Ford with its gray dressed, gray-haired occupant swept by him. Henry Ford smiled and returned the salute by lifting his hand to his bare head.

“Do all the members of Henry Ford’s family drive Fords?” I asked the gentleman beside me who seemed to know a good deal about the Fords. (In Detroit, they talk about Ford and his affairs as they do about the weather — constantly.)

“Mrs Ford,” he answered, “drives a Detroit Electric, Henry Ford’s son is at present on his way to California in a Ford, although he sometimes drives in winter an enclosed Cadillac. The family makes use of a large English Rolls-Royce limousine for town purposes when there are many guests to be taken care of or when inclement weather prevails.”

Ford himself, however, probably feels about his car as Abraham Lincoln did about his legs. You remember when some woman of more truthfulness than tact remarked upon the length of Lincoln’s legs, he answered:

“Madame, they are the same length of those of everyone else, they reach from my body to the ground and they get me over it.”

Certainly in the case of Ford and his Ford car — it seems to get him over the ground just as effectively as Lincoln’s legs did him. He is a part of it; he only had one hand on the wheel as he whizzed by me and to a bystander, it almost looked as though he had only to say “gee” or “haw” to his Ford as he used to do to the horses when he was on the farm.

See Ford assembly lines from 100 years ago, mass-producing Model T cars

Ford Motor Car - The record of Henry Ford

Remembering Henry Ford: Ford had deep-seated convictions, many friends & many critics (1947)

By David J Wilkie – Harrisburg Telegraph (Pennsylvania) April 8, 1947

Henry Ford, tall, and gaunt almost to the point of emaciation, was a man of deep-seated convictions, with many friends, some enemies and not a few critics — despite the fact he was at times almost inaccessible, he was easy to talk with and fascinating, although not infrequently somewhat difficult to follow in his philosophy.

When he died in his 84th year last night, he undoubtedly was at peace with himself and the rest of the world, for he rarely worried about anything.

Mr. Ford often asserted that “creeds were man-made.” Yet he built half a dozen or more churches, and he said he “tried to live as mother would have wanted me to.”

Insofar as he followed any particular faith, Mr. Ford was an Episcopalian; he derived great pleasure from patronizing the children’s choirs at the non-sectarian churches he established.

Mr. Ford had two favorite passages in the Bible. One from Hebrews which he quoted occasionally: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” The other, from Romans: Dearly beloved avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

I once asked him whether he ever worried about anything. “Only once,” he said; “that was when Mrs. Ford was ill.” He hadn’t worried about the Selden patent suit or other famous litigations that brought him into court; yet he disliked public appearances and rarely made a public address.

Mr. Ford liked poetry; one of his favorites was Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall.” This he frequently cited as forecasting an ultimate world federation and “parliament of man” that Mr. Ford himself so ardently advocated.

Henry Ford in his Quadricycle - first vehicle he developed 1896

He was in deadly earnest when he said that under certain circumstances he could build 1000 planes a day: similar he firmly believed, when he said it, that — in its early stages — World War II was “a phony war,” and that the United States never would enter it.

Whether he could have built 1000 planes a day still is a moot question. Certainly he surrounded the claim with a lot of reservations. Chief of these was that the design should be frozen long enough to get the planes into mass production. Most persons thought he was talking about bombers, when he really meant pursuit planes.

“All I have to do,” he said, “is to get the first one right; then if I couldn’t do it on one production line I’d set up another or a third line. You know folks once said we couldn’t put automobiles into volume production, but I managed to step production up to 10,000 a day.”

There probably never was a greater affection between two persons than existed between Henry and Clara Bryant Ford. They would have celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary next Friday, which incidentally will be Mrs. Ford’s 80th birthday.

Mr. Ford often referred to her as “The Believer” who furnished inspiration for his early efforts to produce an automobile. He delighted in telling how she poured gasoline from a medicine dropper through a small funnel into his first experimental engine as he obtained a spark from an electric light fixture in the kitchen of their home in Detroit in 1892.

In later years, Mr. Ford rarely went anywhere without Mrs. Ford; I have known them to sit for hours together on a bench over a small stream near their summer cottage in the Huron mountains along the shores of Lake Superior.

Former convicts & criminal reform: Ford’s methods of remaking human derelicts (1915)

Famous philanthropist applies horse sense to ex-convicts in his man factory with wonderful results — His sociological department, costing $9,000 a month, cares for 14,000 men without spying

Can Henry Ford make good?

When the automobile manufacturer told the United States Commission on Industrial Relations recently that he could take every convict in Sing Sing and make a man of him, he invited an examination of his ability to do so. Every thinking mind began to ask whether it was simply a casual assertion or a real expression of ability supported by an efficient plan, a working plant and actual accomplishments.

“If you can do that,” I said to him just after he had made his remarkable statement, “You must have a man factory in Highland Park.”

“I can do it,” he replied, “but I do not claim to have a man factory. I have an automobile factory where we do something more than turn out machines. The best thing for you to do is to come out to Detroit and see exactly what we are doing and find out what we have done. Then you can judge for yourself. Words never count for much in this world. It’s deeds.”

So I went to Detroit and thence to Highland Park unannounced. One of the first questions I asked was: “You say you can make men; what do you call a man?”

The answer came quickly: “One who stands four square to the world in reference to the functions that should be absolutely right with regard to himself, those who are dependent upon him and society in general… “How do you make men? By the application of horse sense.”

Ford auto factory workers in 1914 - producing Model T cars

Horse sense

E G Liebold, secretary to Mr Ford, conducted me through the extensive works – they cover sixty acres, he said – during the first hour; and I spent two days there, looking and questioning, mostly questioning. Every once in a while, Mr Liebold would explain to me something about how a particular part was being handled and the relation of part and handling to the mechanical system and the finished automobile.

I told him that the interest was not in automobiles nor how they were made there; not in the efficiency of Mr Ford’s manufacturing plant, nor in anything else that had to do with mechanics, machinery or business economics, nor even in his profit sharing plan, but in his man factory; how they made men, not how they made automobiles.

If that was anywhere about, I wanted to find it. So he opened every department in the factory to me and gave me every facility for investigating; as did the other lieutenants of Henry Ford as I met them, one after another.

The Ford sociological department

In the Ford sociological department, which has charge of the man making, there are records of more than 500 men who were put to work in the factory solely because the needed the uplift of work and good pay to turn them from ways of evil into ways of good.

But what is more remarkable, there is no record of a single man among them who had to be dropped because he returned to the kind of life he formerly lived. Among them are 150 men who have served terms in various prisons for crimes ranging from murder to petty theft; the terms ranged from thirty-four years behind the bars to a few months. Most of these ex-convicts are counted among the best and most faithful workmen in the departments and in the labor to which they are assigned.

Installing a motor 1923

The sociological department employs a force of eighty men, all under the supervision of John R Lee, who is assisted, as he puts it, by every man in the factory, from Mr Ford to the humblest worker about the shops. Forty of these men are subordinate executives, stenographers and clerks. The direct cost of the sociological department approximates $9,000 a month.

When there seems to be some good reason for considering the acceptance of an application for a job, the name and address of the applicant are given to an inspector, who jumps into one of the many automobiles kept for just such use and goes to the address given. There, he sees the applicant and his family, if he has any, and examines the conditions under which he lives. The inspector gets a fairly complete history of the man’s present condition.

What he has been or what he may become does not enter into consideration, and this is where Henry Ford’s system of employing men who have not lived righteous lives differs from any other. The only matter taken into account is what the man is today – the frame of mind he is in at the moment the inspector calls upon him.

He may have been a bank burglar or a holdup man, a forger or a murderer, but if he displays an inclination to do right and go to work, he may be pretty sure that within a day or two he will be wearing a Ford badge and have a place in the factory. Past records don’t count and promises for the future are not taken into consideration, and there is always room for one more in this big plant.

Sheet music - Hurrah for Henry

Watching, but no spying

But a successful applicant is watched. Nobody realizes more than these people do that promises of reform are easily broken and that good intentions have their assigned place in the infernal regions unless they are supported by actual performances.

Every one of the 14,000 men comes under the purview of the sociological department at least three times a year, whether he has a bad record or has all his life lived a decent and respectable life.

But there is no prying or spying. No inspector goes about among the man’s tradespeople to find if he pays his bills or asks his neighbors if he is beating his wife. The man himself is seen and questioned, usually in the presence of his wife or some other relative or friend, and always at his home or boarding house, and his statements are taken absolutely on faith, without a doubt or hesitation, unless there is reason to believe that he is concealing something. In the latter event, he is faced with facts or reports and asked for an explanation.

If he has fallen from grace, he is encouraged to take a fresh grip on himself and make another try of it. If he does not indicate repentance for a misdeed or for wrong living he is punished but not discharged.

It might be supposed that the men would object to this constant and persistent watching of their private lives and resent it. As a matter of fact, I made several trips on trolley cars on which workmen quitting with their various shifts were returning to their homes for the express purpose of getting into apparently casual conversation with them and finding out how they felt about this and some other matters incident to their employment in the Ford works.

Not one of the number to whom I suggested that objection might well be made failed to reply that watching certainly was a good thing for many of the men, and what was good for one was good for all. Probably the boldness and the openness of the watchfulness saves it from being misconstrued and resented.

Of course the duty of the inspector goes further than simply to make a report. Of the large number of foreigners employed in the factory, many of them ignorant of the English language, some are bound to be dwelling amid conditions which do not make for mental and moral improvement.

It is the business of the inspector not only to note this but also to suggest, but never insist, that the man seek other and more improving quarters and associates. Congenial and uplifting environment, socially and industrially, is the keystone upon which the entire sociological work in Highland Park is built, and Mr. Ford holds that with both of these no man can go wrong.

Some of the men, both before and after employment, are found to be living in hovels or herded together in crowded and unsanitary boarding houses and surrounded by people who have uncertain ideas of right and wrong. They are urged to move and the way is made easy for them to do so. Not with money, but through steady employment at good wages, which guarantee to a man an ability to pay for a fair living amid beneficial surroundings.

Making good

Naturally, this has worked wonders in the style of living of the men. A large number of them own their homes, having advanced step by step from squalid surroundings to dwellings, which, both within and without, make other who are less fortunate or less industrious envious or emulative. Some photographs taken by the sociological department showing the improvement in style of living answer partly, at least, the question, “Can Henry Ford make good?”

Especially with men who have been criminals does the sociological department concern itself; not necessarily because it desires to, and never unless actual need arises. But almost daily some special activity of this kind is made necessary. Here is one case that occurred while I was in the factory.

A woman telephoned that she wished to speak to this department. Over the wire she told the executive to whom she was directed that the wife of one of the workmen had asked her to inform the factory that her husband, who had been employed in the works for several months, was giving indications of losing his hold. She wanted the Ford people to see if they could not help him.

That night an inspector called upon the man and found him apparently yielding to the temptations of his former companions. The cheery word, the pat on the back, the encouraging smile of this inspector, all given without the slightest hint of patronage, seemed to have the desired effect and the man expressed a renewed determination to take a stronger grip than ever and keep straight for what there was in it for him and his family.

Conveyor belt and assembly line at the Ford Motor plant

Another story

Another case, one that had gone a little further, approached a conclusion at the same time. A man now 24 years old had taken a girl away from her home and fled to Indiana. Her mother followed him there and had him arrested. He was sent to prison, but his behavior was such that he was paroled. He married the girl and tried to make a home for her.

Driven from place to place because he was a paroled convict, and apparently for no other reason, he applied for and secured work in the Ford factory. He brought his wife and their two children to Detroit and there set up a pleasant and comfortable home. Unfortunately, however, he thus violated his parole and the Indiana officers sent out a police warning for him. He was traced to the Ford works and arrested.

Mr Ford himself took up the matter and, after a thorough investigation and a long talk with the young man, laid all the facts before the Governor of Indiana and asked for Executive clemency. I myself saw the long telegram from the Governor which arrived while I was there, expressing his sympathy and interest, and saying that a pardon would probably be issued within a few days. Meantime the man was paroled to the Ford factory, continuing his work and supporting his children and his wife, who is devoted to him. Right living and fair workmanship seem to be all that counts with these people.

Take one of the many instances shown by the records of the sociological department, in which families have been brought together and are living in comfort and harmony. It was discovered that a man who had been at work in the factory for a long time had abandoned his wife and two children in Canada five years ago and set up another domestic establishment in Highland Park. The matter was discussed with him, but he said he could not and would not live with his wedded wife; he would give up his job first. After several interviews he consented to meet his abandoned wife and talk the matter over.

At his expense the woman was sent for. An inspector met her at Windsor, just across the river on the Canadian side, to conduct her to the interview. The immigration inspector refused to allow her to enter this country because she had no means of support. The man was taken to Windsor, therefore, to meet her. After a long talk, he said he would break up his present establishment and take her back. Still the immigration inspector insisted the plan was hazardous and would not allow her to enter.

So the man took a house in Windsor and is living there today with his wife and children. Only a few days ago – and the reunion occurred nearly a year ago – he came to one of the executives of the sociological department and thanked him for bringing them together, saying that he was happier and more contented and that his wife was all he formerly thought she was not. More than fifty families have been reunited in this way.

By whatever means necessary

Take another case. One evening last summer a rough and tough looking individual rang the bell of the residence of N A Hawkins, the Ford sales manager. Mr Hawkins answered it himself and a conversation something like this took place:

“Are you Hawkins of Ford’s works?”

“I am. What can I do for you?”

“Give me a job. I am a burglar and a holdup man, and I’ve served twenty years in several prisons for my crimes. I’m tired of it all and want a job; and I’m going to get it or somebody is going to suffer.”

“Is that so? Well, what will you do if I don’t give you a job?”

“I’ll get mine. I’ve a wife to support and I’m going to get some money for her and me.” The man unfastened a suspender button and pulled a blackjack from inside his trousers. “I live at No. _______ street,” mentioning a very tough neighborhood, “and I’ll use this on somebody before I get home. If I can’t get money honestly, I’ll get it dishonestly.”

“Put that thing away,” said Mr Hawkins, “and come and see me in the morning. But don’t bring the blackjack with you. If you have to go hungry between now and then go hungry, just to see how much you mean by saying that you want to get money honestly. I won’t give you any and if I hear of a holdup tonight between here and where you live I’ll – well, I’ll give you such a talking to when you come to my office tomorrow that you won’t forget it in a long time.”

The man came in the morning and got his job. He is at work there still and behaving himself excellently. He is carrying a bullet in his body that Sergeant McDonald of the Detroit police fired into him after a daring burglary, literally blowing him off the roof of a three story house. That he landed in a big snowdrift was all that saved his life. He comes now to Mr Hawkins office every once in a while to talk with him, for anybody has access to any man in the office building any time he has need to see him. Not long ago Bill opened a bank account.

“The first time I ever went into a bank,” he told Mr Hawkins, “except to get the lay of it or to rob it.”

Building the body of an automobile, Detroit, Mich. 1916

A simple handshake

Recently Mr Hawkins, who says he is not more interested in this case than in a number of others, asked Mr Ford to go into the factory and shake hands with this ex-burglar and strong arm man. They strolled about without any apparent object until they came to where Bill was working. Bill was stooping over and Mr Hawkins hit him a slap on the seat of his trousers hard enough to make him straighten up.

“Hello, Bill,” said Mr Hawkins. “I want you to shake hands with Mr Ford.”

In the din of the factory Bill did not quite distinguish the name, but he stuck out a black and grimy paw and gripped the hand of Mr Hawkins’ companion with a will. Nothing was said about him or his life or his work, and the men passed on. That afternoon after quitting time, Bill came to Mr Hawkins’ office.

“Say,” he said, “do you know what they are telling me down in the shop?”

“No. What?”

“That that was the boss that shook hands with me – the big boss that owns the works. Was it?”

“Sure,” answered Mr Hawkins. “Why not?”

“Well,” said Bill, as he slouched over to a corner to hide a moisture in his eyes, “if Henry Ford will walk into his shop and shake hands with a man like me, he can have all I’ve got. Anybody who wouldn’t go straight for a man like that is a fool and deserves all he gets.”

Personal letters

All the office heads and some others write letters to the hard cases who have been brought to the factory through their personal attention, but never upon office stationery. They are private and personal communications, and not in any sense official. Here is a copy of the letter Mr Hawkins wrote to Bill on the first day he came to work. It is a fair sample of many other written to such people:

My dear Bill:

Today I hope you will begin your new Ford job with a fixed determination to fill it every minute from every standpoint, from bell tap to bell tap, so that you will qualify quickly for a permanent and substantial place on the payroll of this great big organization.

You have had a lot of ups and downs and the greater portion of your life has been misspent, although I have just enough confidence in human nature to believe that if a fellow like you is given a fair chance, at reasonable pay, in the right place and in the proper environment, the desire to do the honest, truthful and straightforward things in life is stimulated and strengthened to such an extent that the past and its regrets and its miserable associations are soon forgotten and wiped out, and planted in their places is the cleaner and healthier thought that there is only one way after all, and that is the right not the wrong way.

It is really much easier to go straight than crooked, and it’s a thousand percent more profitable from every standpoint.

Number ______ street is not the place from which you can make the right start. In my opinion your work will be easier and your mind more at rest if you will locate somewhere out in Highland Park within easy walking distance of the factory.

Don’t think I am trying to advise you everything you ought to do all at once, but please get this thought straight. Whenever I offer or try to help a fellow I go clear through with it, depending only upon the fellow himself to help me all he can, so the job of making a new man out of the old one will be well done.

Profit and loss in trade means profit and loss in men, and the Ford spirit is one of making men as well as making automobiles.

So long, therefore, as you behave yourself and do you work and try to get yourself on the straight line you needn’t fear that any detrimental reports from bluecoats or brass buttons will affect your place or standing with us.

In my opinion, no amount of jail will ever civilize brotherhood. And no amount of brotherhood will ever civilize jail. A man is sent “over the road” because he is bad according to law, but many a man is often bad according to law and good according to life. I am willing to believe you are good inside according to life and I am staking my position that you’ll make good if given the right chance.

Drop in the office and see me any time you want to talk about your work or tell me how you are getting along. I’ll always find time to see you.

Think over my suggestion about moving from ______ street into a different neighborhood and let’s see if the road isn’t a whole lot smoother living in a right environment than living where you are looked upon with suspicion and distrust. Sincerely yours,

N A Hawkins

That is a sample of the letters that are going out all the time, though there is no sample letter. There are many of a similar kind, all written in the same strain of helpfulness and personal regard for the welfare of the men to whom they are sent; always privately and to their homes.

See Ford assembly lines from 100 years ago, mass-producing Model T cars

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