Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist, the founder of
the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of
mass 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": 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 dealerships throughout most of 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 as promoter of pacifism and
Ford was born July 30, 1863, on a farm in Greenfield Township (near Detroit, Michigan).
His father, William Ford (1826–1905), was born in County 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 Belgian immigrants; 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
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 later wrote, "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 portable steam 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 (1866–1950) in 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
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, James
Couzens, and two of Malcomson's lawyers, John W. Anderson and Horace Rackham. 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 today) (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.
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 black;
as Ford wrote in his autobiography, "Any customer can have a car painted any color 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
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 today), 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. 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 Couzens 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
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 bargaining agreement 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
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, often 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.
199 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 Allied victory 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-
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 proposed League. "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
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. Like many other businessmen of the Great
Depression era, he never liked or entirely trusted the Franklin Roosevelt
Administration. 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. However, when Rolls-Royce sought a US manufacturer as an
alternative source for the Merlin engine (as fitted to the Spitfire and Hurricane), Ford
first agreed to do so and then reneged. 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
Ford in the early 1920s sponsored a weekly newspaper that published (among many non-
controversial articles) strongly anti-semitic views. At the same time Ford had a
reputation as one of the few major corporations actively hiring black workers; he was
not accused of discrimination against Jewish workers or suppliers.
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 Prize winner 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.”
In Germany, Ford's anti-Jewish articles from The Dearborn Independent were issued in
four volumes, cumulatively titled The International Jew, the World's Foremost Problem
published by Theodor Fritsch, founder of several anti-semitic parties and a member of
the Reichstag. In a letter from 1924, Heinrich Himmler described Ford as "one of our
most valuable, important, and witty fighters." Ford is the only American mentioned in
Mein Kampf. Speaking in 1931 to a Detroit News reporter, Hitler said he regarded Ford as
his "inspiration", explaining his reason for keeping Ford's life-size portrait next to
his desk. 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 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. It is still banned in Germany. Extremist
groups often recycle the material; it still appears on antisemitic and neo-Nazi
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 and was ill
stricken by the atrocities.
The damage, however, had been done. Testifying at Nuremberg, convicted Hitler Youth
leader Baldur von Schirach who, in his role as military governor of Vienna deported
65,000 Jews to camps in Poland, stated,
The decisive anti-Semitic book I was reading and the book that influenced my comrades
was... that book by Henry Ford, "The International Jew." I read it and became anti-
Semitic. The book made a great influence on myself and my friends because we saw in
Henry Ford the representative of success and also the representative of a progressive
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
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
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 today). 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.
Photograph was hand oil tinted by artist, Margaret A. Rogers.