Henry Ford: Truth and Fiction

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Model T Ford Forum: Forum 2013: Henry Ford: Truth and Fiction
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dan Killecut on Sunday, July 07, 2013 - 07:33 pm:

Much has been written about Henry Ford in both books and movies. A lot of it, especially in movies, is exaggerated and down right false. It makes good copy to jazz it up a little. One of the areas that is prime for this is Henry's relationship with Edsel. Henry was forty in 1903, his life long dream just starting to come together, so yes, he wanted and deserved control over his company for as long as he wanted. Yes, Edsel had talent, and Henry could have used this in better ways than he did. You can't judge their relationship by today's standards. Henry didn't approve of some of Edsel's life choices, just like parents today aren't overjoyed with some of their children's choices. Edsel still had a pretty good life, one normal people couldn't even dream of. I don't think he was as downtrodden as some of these movies portray. If Edsel was as unhappy as we are led to believe, he had the means to leave and do something else. Henry did love his son, and he was never the same after Edsel's death.

The other area that movies, especially like to play up, is Henry's so called affair. The last I have heard about this subject is, there is no concrete evidence that this happened. There are other areas of Henry's life that have been exaggerated.

Yes. he wasn't perfect, last I heard no one is.

As far as producing the Model T, for as long as he did, it was his choice. The cost of bringing out the Model A, as far as I remember, was about 265 million dollars. Imagine how much money that was back then. If I was Henry at the time, and they didn't want the Model T anymore, and I didn't want to produce anything else, I would have closed shop. He certainly didn't need the money.

The best and most truthful story of Henry is: The Public Image of Henry Ford, by David L. Lewis. He is the most knowledgeable expert on Henry Ford. You should read his book before passing judgement on Henry Ford.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Royce in Dallas TX on Sunday, July 07, 2013 - 07:42 pm:

I totally agree Dan. I can see Henry looking at the 1926 production numbers and profits thinking that he could stick it out till 1930 and still make more net profit than he would by building the Model A.

You are right the Dahlinger book was nothing but a sad attempt to cash in on the Ford fortune. It should not be part of any honest biography of Henry Ford.

We also don't really have any reason to believe Edsel's stomach cancer was caused by having the most affluent father in America. No doubt it was hard being Edsel but I would like to try it for forty years and see for myself, given the chance.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Sunday, July 07, 2013 - 09:59 pm:

One thing good about not being rich and fameous,the history channel will proably never do a hack job on any of us? Is there really a us? Bud.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ken Todd on Sunday, July 07, 2013 - 10:07 pm:

Dan, I just finished reading and suggest you read: "The Fords" an American epic, by Peter Collier and David Horowitz.
FWIW, I intend to look for a copy of David Lewis's book.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bob Coiro on Sunday, July 07, 2013 - 11:36 pm:

Charles E. Sorensen was a high-placed eye-witness to history, and his book, "My Forty Years with Ford," is a manuscript of personal recollection, however biased that may be in terms of the light in which he himself is portrayed. There won't be any more eye-witness books about Henry Ford because, obviously, everyone of note who knew him is deceased. What's left is a matter of documental research.

"The People's Tycoon," by Steven Watts, was a very good, thorough reference on Henry Ford himself. It was a little bit less of a page-turner than some of the other books I've read. Watts did what most historians do—that is to say, he gathered data from primary sources and available eye-witness accounts and compiled the information in chronological order. He was not an eyewitness, himself.

Watts portrays Henry Ford as a sort of 2-sided coin. On one side is the peerless visionary who put the world on wheels, changed the collective occupation of America from agriculture to industry and raised the standard of living of a gadzillion working families; and the other side of the coin deals with the consistent train wrecks that were the man's personal relationships.

If you read enough books on Henry Ford, you'll see that certain consistencies and sweeping generalities come to the fore:

He was an incomparable visionary, but not a genius. He was surprisingly ignorant, as came to light when he was called upon to testify in court as to his knowledge of the most basic facts in American history (and if the recent PBS documentary is to be believed, Henry Ford thought the American Revolution took place in 1812). Based on the business moves he made and the way he put the screws to his investors, one can safely conclude that he was a cut-throat businessman—though no worse than other Industrial Revolution giants like George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, John Rockefeller, JP Morgan, etc.

Back in those days, every factory was the kind of sweatshop that would give any OSHA rep apoplexy, but on the other hand, the existence of Ford's Sociological Department, however misguided and invasive, was an indication that he took an interest in the lives of his workers. He elevated the status of the blind and disabled, hired and promoted minorities and even hired ex-cons because he believed in rehabilitation. And yet, he was demonstrably anti-Semitic.

Of course, it's ridiculous to imagine that Henry Ford's treatment of Edsel caused him to develop stomach cancer. Nevertheless, Ford's routine practice of publicly humiliating his own son is a matter of thoroughly documented fact. Then again, a lot of the myths, like that of vanadium steel coming to Mr. Ford's attention for the first time in the form of a part from a wrecked French race car, will continue. And so it goes.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ted Dumas on Sunday, July 07, 2013 - 11:39 pm:

Money isn't everything. Edsel was beat down by his dad no matter what direction he went. I don't think growing up, he was given the skills to be able to tell his dad to take a hike and that he was going to paddle his own canoe. In my view, that was his only chance for a normal life.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By John Stokes on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 03:26 am:

Dan - I believe you are quite right in what you suggest.

One could speculate and argue either way about much of what Henry is credited - or discredited - for. We could present arguments that Henry did not invent the moving assembly line, or create the $5 day, but the facts are that he did something with them - he was a smart and clever operator.

For instance - and you are right - Henry did not approve of some of Edsel's choices. Alcohol being one of them. That makes neither individual right, or wrong, does it?

John Stokes
New Zealand


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By George_Cherry Hill NJ on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 06:34 am:

History belongs to the power of the scribe. :-)

Old Henry had a professional PR man from the day he could afford one...and at the same time when questioned on something to quote it has been reported he didn't say 'no comment' for things he didn't want to be direct quoted on but rather took a 'look' that basically said, "I can confirm or deny nothing" and let it be for the reporter or interviewer to figure out how to 'couch' what the reporter wanted to say.

All in all, he was a great man counting start to finish, sometimes just lucky, sometimes by shrewdness, and sometimes just being outright devious and self-centered.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Rob Heyen - Nebraska on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 08:03 am:

As many of you know, I find firsthand accounts written at the time quite interesting (and revealing) about the events surrounding Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. Below is a short article that appeared in "The Motor Way" in 1907. It's interesting that Henry Ford seems to be "shaping" history already, misstating his age, along with the year he built his first car.

This makes three articles I've found where Henry Ford claims he built his first car prior to 1896. I'm not certain if he (Ford) was trying to place his legacy with the first automakers in U.S. history (as the article claims) or if this was to "boost" his Selden Patent suit position, or both. Regardless, an interesting few paragraphs showing how the "truth" was already being stretched a bit as a legacy is being constructed.

One other thing that I think is interesting, Mr. Ford is already perceived by the writer as someone who will offer "his views are on every matter of interest with the industry". I think the press knew Henry Ford was almost always "good for a quote" and that's why throughout his career we see his opinions in the media. I'm sure if Ford Motor Company had a Public Relations Director that person would have cringed every time Henry Ford was near a reporter :-).


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dan Killecut on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 08:17 am:

Royce, I'm glad that Henry didn't just wait until 1930 and close up shop. Think of all the great Ford products we would have missed, from Model A, Flathead V-8's, including the Wood Station Wagon's, Sportsman Convertible, the great Ford's and Merc's of the 50's, Thunderbirds, the great performance Fords of the 60's, Mustangs, including the present day 662 horsepower Shelby Mustang. Not to mention all the best selling Ford trucks

Ken, you used the perfect phrase "Hack Job". The biggest hack job I ever saw was the TV movie that as I remember was based on Robert Lacey's book- Ford the Men and The Machine (I also have this book), which was aired late 80's or early 90's.

Ken, I have the book, Fords an American Epic. I think when you read the David Lewis book, you will get a closer look at the truth. David Lewis is the acknowledged expert on Ford. Also, for years he wrote Ford Country for cars and parts.

Bob, I also have Sorenson's my Forty years with Ford.

Ted, Edsel may have been "beat down" but supposedly one of the reasons Henry bought Lincoln was for Edsel to work with. Like Royce said "don't think I would mind being in his shoes" except for the cancer part, which you can't blame on Henry.

John, There is definitely a lot of speculation, but one thing is for sure, Henry changed the face of the world, like no other human has done.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ted Dumas on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 09:47 am:

To those who would welcome being in Edsel's shoes, I will say you wouldn't get any competition from me.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Jim Patrick on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 11:58 am:

Just because a man is rich does not mean he can't be a lousy father and Henry Ford certainly was that and more. Not only was he a lousy father, he was cruel, remote, ignorant, self-centered and incapable of empathy for his fellow man. As a certifiable megalomaniac, who's authority was unquestioned and had the money to make his every whim, no matter how ridiculous, a reality, he did as he pleased to whomever he pleased and most often gentle Edsel was the target of Henry's cruelty and need for control, because Edsel allowed it.

Unlike most men on this forum who would have told Henry where to go if he treated us the way he treated Edsel, the thought would never have entered Edsel's mind, for he was just the opposite of Henry. Edsel was a tortured soul who got no respect or credit from his Father, thus no respect from anyone else, either, since Henry condoned and encouraged it.

If anyone of you have ever been treated this way by a boss or a parent and you can do nothing about it, you can empathize with Edsel. He may have been rich and privileged, but he was totally alone, without the respect, credit and support he was due and deserved from the man he most wanted it from and it destroyed him.

The oldest son of Edsel, Henry Ford II, who was present during all of this, is quoted as saying: "My Grandfather killed my Father, in my mind. I know he died of cancer, but it was because of what my Grandfather did to him."

There is more to life than money and Edsel is a good example of that and I second Ted's statement. I would rather be dirt poor with the respect, love and support, of the ones I care most for, than to have all the money in the world and be treated with the disrespect and contempt Edsel endured until his dying day. Jim Patrick.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Rob Heyen - Nebraska on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 12:22 pm:

I always thought this was a good photo of Edsel with his father. I believe it was taken in 1905. The car is a Model F. Hard to infer anything from a photo, but still a good picture of the two.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 03:29 pm:

On the top of the page it say's :Post for the good of the hoby:Bud.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By John Stokes on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 04:11 pm:

A question for Jim Patrick - how would you appraise Henry Ford II?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By William L Vanderburg on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 04:18 pm:

"Post for the Good of the Hobby"....so that means we cannot post the truth that Ford may have been a shrewd businessman but sucked in other areas? That he had less than brotherly love for his fellow man? That apparently, he had a severe case of "Money Love"?

The "Good" of the hobby means taking the good with the bad. Ford was a human...humans are not infallible no matter how hard they try. Ford was not perfect...neither was any other car maker of which there were over 2000 at some point.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bruce Balough on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 04:49 pm:

As far as the “Affair”, my grandmother knew her and told me her name back around 1971. This would have been before 1910, as my grandfather moved to Springfield Ohio to take over Kelly Springfield Motor Truck engineering department.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bill Everett on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 04:49 pm:

John, I know you asked Jim, not me, but I feel compelled to answer it as if you did ask me.

I actually tried to meet Henry II a long time ago; this attempt was unsuccessful per the attachment. I don't have a copy of the letter I mailed to the Glass House requesting a brief handshake, but I do remember writing, "I never had the chance to meet your father or your grandfather as both had died before I was born."

It was several years after that I first learned about the relationship between Henry and Edsel, and that it had it's share (perhaps more than it's share) of strain.

Something I read in either Horowitz and Collier's book, or maybe Lacy's was the most impactive to me about Henry II, and that was his answer to his friend John Bugas who asked him late in life, "Henry, as a young man, why did you shoulder this burden? Why didn't you simply accept your trust fund and live an easier life?"

To which Henry II answered, (please forgive any detail misquote) "I did it for my father. I did it for my father to show the world that he had the right stuff. If he couldn't live to show the world, then I could do that for him."

If not letter perfect, I believe I have the heart and feeling stated correctly that Henry II was expressing.

I believe the text in the book went on to say, "The two men then sat in silence, absorbing the depths to which that a man will go for fealty, and family."

One of my favorite characters in the Ford saga is Eleanor. Never calling her father-in-law Henry, always Mr. Ford, Eleanor was the lady that ultimately proved most capable, and in some respects most motivated, to straighten out old Henry. Old Henry had no respect for Henry II, and only grudgingly accepted his presence at FMCO after Edsel's death because the War Department was beginning to question old Henry's abilities. War contracts were on the line; too much money hung in the balance for inaction.

After Henry II arrived, old Henry continued to attempt to thwart his contribution. Harry Bennett was openly contemptuous of Henry II. What triggered Eleanor, I really don't remember, but I believe, once she'd had enough of old Henry's (and Bennett's) treatment of Henry II, she sat down with old Henry and said, "Mr. Ford, I'd like Henry II installed as president of FMCO." to which old Henry demurred.

Eleanor, I believe, then said, "Mr. Ford, unless Henry II is installed as president of FMCO, I will then sell all the stock (41%) that Edsel left me to outside investors." Dreading having to deal with stockholders again, old Henry said something like, "OK, we'll install Henry II as president in the near future."

To which Eleanor replied, "By Friday, Mr. Ford, by Friday."

That lady was a class act.



Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dan Killecut on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 05:17 pm:

Jim, I guess you don't like Henry Ford. I would like to know what makes you so unreasonable in your view toward Henry Ford. You really need to read David Lewis's book. David Lewis has spent a life time studying Henry Ford from every angle. Interviewing and researching anyone who knew Henry. Henry as most, was no angel, But he also wasn't the devil. Remember he was 56 years old by the time he got complete control over his dream. He deserved to run it the way he wanted to. At the time he was hiring immigrants, blacks, ex-convicts, and handicapped workers, that no one else would hire. As far as your other accusations go, you should really read this book. Some of what you say is true, but much of it isn't.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Jim Patrick on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 06:53 pm:

You are right Dan. The more I discover about Henry Ford, the less I like him. That does not mean I don't acknowledge and appreciate his vast accomplishments and contributions to humanity and to us for giving us the Model T , but as a man, a father, an employer and a human being, he was a dismal failure.

You say he deserved the right to run his company the way he wanted, like we say you have the right to do what you want with your Model T, but there is a little difference. If I had a company like FMC, I would not hire thugs and equip them with clubs to go around terrorizing and beating my workers to get more production out of them and I would not invade their homes to be sure they were living the way I thought they should and I certainly wouldn't hire the best and brightest, milk them dry and cruelly cast them aside, often humiliating them in the process of their dismissal and if I had a son as bright and gifted as Edsel, I would step aside and enjoy life and let my son shine in his time just as I had shone in my time.

We have beaten to death the subject of him as a Father, which would be enough for me to dislike him, but there is also the matter of his anti-semitism which has been documented in his publications and books. If that is not enough, Henry Ford and Adolph Hitler had mutual admiration for eachother and Hitler even told a reporter for a Detroit News newspaper that he "regards Henry Ford as my inspiration", not in small part because of their shared views on the Jews. Google it. There is a lot more to read regarding Ford's influence and impact on Hitler, including the accusation in many publications (I will not go so far) that Ford's views certainly influenced Hitler's policies and may have contributed to the adoption of the Final Solution. As I said, Ford did great good, but he also did great harm, perhaps even more harm than good if human suffering counts.

This and the many other failures as a man and a human being that have been discussed here will hopefully allow you to see why I don't like or respect Henry Ford the man. Doing great things should not allow one automatic respect, or to be allowed to get away with doing great harm to one's fellow man. History has judged him harshly and rightfully so and we should not try and defend the indefensible nor the reprehensible just because we love the car he gave us. Jim Patrick


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ted Dumas on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 07:26 pm:

Henry peaked when he brought the world the Model T and ended the horse and buggy era. After the end of Model T production, it seems to me he went downhill and lost all his redeeming qualities and perhaps some of his common sense.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Tim Wrenn on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 07:45 pm:

In that picture of Rob's, with Henry & Edsel sitting side by side, one would think as a father he'd maybe have his left arm around his son, not in between. Body language--saying "close, but not too close, son"..... IMHO.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By John Stokes on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 09:06 pm:

“It is not for me to judge another man's life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.”
¯ Hermann Hesse


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 09:09 pm:

Really? Now we are to second guess a 108 year old picture? At the Gillmore Red Barns down by K-zoo Mi there is a sign by 3 or 4 Dodge cars saying the two Dodge Brothers beat a man on crutches with his own curtches!! As one pointed out there were over 2,000 makes so more than likely some makes owners might not have met todays standards? My question is do i now need to buy a Dodge to preach from? Im not trying to offend anyone,but it was a vastly differant world 50 75 100 125 and 150 years ago into which Henry and the Dodges were born.Bud.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Rob Heyen - Nebraska on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 09:32 pm:

Well, as long as we're on the Dodge Brothers. I found this while at Benson Library earlier this year. Remininsces of C. H. Bennet. I thought it quite an interesting (and amusing, since no one was killed) story. And I am sure there are many opinions about Horace and John Dodge:



Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By William L Vanderburg on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 09:56 pm:

Don't quote me on any of this.....

History tells that the Dodge Brothers were crude, obnoxious, lacked social skills, and pretty much were boors to everyone they met in society. Ford and the Dodges were all three born between 1863 and 1868.

Here's my take: Henry Ford loved his mother...loved her more than the farm he lived on, loved her more than the work it took to make the farm a home, loved her so much, that he was spiritually broken by her death. Ford Motor Company became his mother. Edsel, although his son, became an obstacle between Ford and his mother....he probably did love his son, but he loved his car more.

It's also been told time and time again that Clara told Henry that if he didn't accept unionization that she would leave him. Do you really think that one woman had that much power over one of the richest, most powerful men on the planet at that time and that they went OVERNIGHT from beating UAW reps to embracing them with open arms?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Rob Heyen - Nebraska on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 10:27 pm:

Sometimes I think we "over analyze" things. I mean people, events, many things. Especially the famous, or widely publicized events.

I believe Henry Ford, like many of us (me, anyway) had faults and virtues. I will never know the man, so will never have a true measure of him, from my perspective. It's somewhat like rumors (in my opinion), I can probably find anything I choose to about the man, good, bad or indifferent. Unfortunately, I'll never know for sure.

What I do know for sure, is what history has handed us. I am able to judge his accomplishments and failings. It seems to me there were many more of the former than the latter.

I'm not much of a Christian, but one thing I try (and often fail) to take to heart is, "judge not". (probably the more applicable cliche for me is "if you live in a glass house.......don't be throwing rocks :-)). I simply am not able to know what the man was really like.

Anyway, this thread has been all good reading, and at the end of the day, I'll still do not have a solid opinion about the man. What I do know is he changed the world forever.

Below is a letter I found at the Benson library this spring. I posted it earlier. II thought it made some kind of statement about Clara, and her feelings about the man she was married to for so long. I also thought it ironic that Henry Ford went out the way he came in, without electricity (due to a storm and power failure).



Also interesting, his last drink was from a glass of wine. Couldn't be all bad......


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 10:29 pm:

Bill,For a fact i do not know as to why Henry did all he did but when he was 13 it was Custers Last Stand,and many more indian wars too follow.In 1925 the kkk was a national political party and marched in Washington? Henry and the Dogdes were products of a far differant time and to rant and rave about all their falts almost 90 years later makes me mad! Most people on farms round here never got elect power till the 40's.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bernard Paulsen, San Buenaventura, Calif on Monday, July 08, 2013 - 11:22 pm:

I admire Henry Ford for what he has given the world: the first car his fellow men could afford. My admiration is even more focused on the product than the producer. I don't get hung up on Henry Ford's political or religious views (both of which I consider personal domains) as this is not related to his contributions. I also like Thomas Edison for what he has given us, and Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, among other great men of history.

If I were to look only at the unfavorable traits of people, would point out that Jefferson banged slaves, Eisenhower deported Americans during Operation Wetback, and FDR had a mistress, what would be left?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dan Killecut on Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - 07:44 am:

Rob and Ken, I think what both of you say is 100% correct. It was impossible to know what was on Henrys mind and impossible to judge him, for many reasons. David Lewis, who has spent his life time examining every bit of Henry Ford that he could admits that it is impossible to thoroughly know him. Lewis has a better insight into the man in all areas of his private and public life, then anyone else that has written a book on Henry. To judge Henry by book's written without the through research that Lewis has done, then coming up with definite opinions about Henry is not justified, especially if you are comparing the time frame of Henry' s life to how things are today.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dave Dufault on Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - 08:33 am:


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