The "maniacal despot" made out by some biographers and historians, or something different?
Below are a few quotes forum members wrote on a recent thread concerning Henry Ford. I greatly respect most of the respondents, and am not attempting to "pick a fight" with them and their opinions. In fact, I appreciate their fortitude and conviction to put their thoughts of Henry Ford into print. I also am not saying I disagree with them. For me, the "jury is still out" on Henry Ford. Was he an overbearing, shallow, stick in the mud who could not turn over the reigns of power? Probably, to some degree. Was he also a forward thinking, intelligent, warm, kind man who wished to help his fellow man while being a good father and leader? Maybe.
Recent forum member opinions of HF from another thread (again, no disrespect or disagreement, just a picture of commonly held opinions about Henry Ford):
"Henry was willing to say or do anything to achieve his goals. He often openly lied to the newspapers and trade magazines, treated his associates and family like crap, and was often underhanded, shallow, and downright mean. You can't take anything Ford said to a newspaper seriously. He had zero respect for newspapermen and journalists.
If you spend any time at all studying Henry Ford this will become apparent."
"Henry was a great and shrewd businessman in the early years that got Ford started, consolidated his power and got the FMC as far as he was capable of taking it with his, megalomaniacal closed mindedness, ignorance, prejudices and many flaws.
Had he been forward looking and not such a narcissistic, power mad, egomaniac, he would have recognized the genius of Edsel and his capability to take Ford far into the future,"
"While I enjoy the Model T and all it did for the people of this country, and the rest of the world, I don't have a picture of him on the wall. He was unjustly ruthless to many and did much harm to undeserving people."
Below are excerpts from interviews conducted by Ford Motor Company in the early to mid 1950's (courtesy of "The Henry Ford", all rights apply). Personally, I like these because we are able to gain insight into the people and events that shaped Ford Motor Company history. While the events and timelines are not always accurate, I think there are bits and pieces of information that may help put together a composite view of Henry Ford and the men and women who helped build Ford Motor Company.
The great thing about being an "amateur historian", is, I am able to type my opinions and impressions, and later change my mind (as I often do). With virtually no credentials, I don't have to defend my opinions, knowing they will probably change anyway.
I'll begin with recollections of Henry Ford by Charles Bennett. Mr. Bennett was the only original investor still living and interviewed in the Oral Histories (reminiscences). Personally, I think Mr. Bennett's unique position as an original investor, and success as the longtime president of Daisy Air Rifle, give his recollections a special place in the oral histories.
Mr. Bennett was also one of the first investors to sell his stock in Ford Motor Company, and was also a personal friend of A. Y. Malcomson. It seems Mr. Bennett, while divesting himself of Ford stock, remained a friend and acquaintance of Henry Ford throughout Ford's life. Both were born the same year, 1863.
A few excerpts:
Mr. Bennett recalls Henry Ford's disposition, and an incident, probably 1905 or 1906, when James Couzens did not follow through when Henry Ford told him (Couzens) to send a repairman from the Ford plant to help Bennett and a friend stranded with a Ford car outside Detroit:
About everyday discussions Bennett had with Ford in later years when Henry Ford would stop by Mr. Bennett's home:
Concerning Mr. Ford's attitude concerning religion:
And Mr. Bennett's thoughts following the death of Henry Ford:
More to follow.....
Henry Ford respected strength and despised weakness and perceived his own son, Edsel to be soft and weak. Harry Bennett, a tough ex-boxer and head of Ford's goon squad, was tough and was given the authority to bully Edsel in order to try and toughen him up which must have been awful for Edsel. It could be said that Harry Bennett was the son Ford never had and they spent more time together than Henry did with his own son Edsel, so of course Bennett is going to have nothing but great things to say about his benefactor. It was such a waste how Ford squandered Edsel's genius in favor of a goon and I would not be surprised if this treatment of Edsel brought on the stomach cancer that eventually killed him in 1943 at the age of 49. Some studies have shown that many of the conditions experienced by Edsel lead to stomach cancer. Excessive worry and stress leading to excessive heartburn and gastric ulcers. Henry Ford II, who was the closest to his Father, Edsel and saw what he endured, first hand at the hands of Henry Ford and Harry Bennett, summarized it best when he said, "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." I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall whenever Henry Ford II had it out with Harry Bennett over how he had treated his Father. Jim Patrick
I suspect you'll find that he was a man, the same as all of us. Neither totally good nor totally evil. With bouts of genius, accompanied by examples of failure.
All of those statements are true Rob. Henry was, at times, a great businessman, in fact 99% of the time. He was a shameless self promoter, and often came across as a country bumpkin when speaking publicly. Sometimes he used it to his advantage, other times not.
Henry was a racist, mean to his family, and a really weird guy in general. He was hardly ever completely honest when addressing newspaper men, as you yourself have ably demonstrated on countless occasions.
He was not honest in his business dealings, either.
I think lying to the press in order to get a better business position is a perfect example of that Ralph. Henry would say anything to a reporter if he thought it might help him in any way.
Even if you're nuts you might not be nuts all the time. Barely educated. At least by today's standards. Refused to read aloud. Was disappointed in a darn good son. Felt all of his higher-up employees were a threat and acted accordingly. Held a grudge for as long as it took to satisfy himself he was avenged. (Henry Leland for instance). I'm glad of one thing. I never walked blindly into a Ford factory and went to work for him. His product is another (better) story. But let's face it: that's how you made a buck in those days.
Boy, tough crowd. I'd hate to see what they say about HF on the Cheby sites......
It seems the Reminiscences are not nearly as critical as we are a hundred years later. A few more recollections by people who knew Henry Ford:
The description of Henry Ford as an engaging, kind employer with a keen sense of humor seem much different from what we believe today.
No one - certainly not me - said Henry was rude or mean to everyone. He could be charming and very persuasive in order to reach his goals. That didn't alter the fact that you couldn't trust him out of earshot.
Vlad the Impaler and Caligula had people who loved them too. Each was very successful on some level.
George Brown began with FMC in 1907. In this excerpt he talks about Henry Ford's demeanor at Piquette as the first Model T was being assembled. In this description Henry Ford sounds like an employer who understood how to lead, and as a result get the most from his employees:
I think the greatest disservice we often do to figures of the past is judge them through the our lens of today. But that is human nature and often the case because most of us only have our own time and reality to be the benchmark. How will future generations view the persons we are?
Remember Voltaire said: "History is a pack of lies we play on the dead."
Although I am not able to articulate the thoughts as well as you, I couldn't agree more. I believe we (myself included) have an arrogance about us that those who have gone before us could not have been as intelligent, sophisticated nor motivated. The truth is, these were remarkable people who accomplished remarkable achievements, in my opinion.
More from George Brown's recollections (THF):
I always appreciate the research you do, and look forward to all your new posts. Your research on the model K has gone a long way to rehabilitate that car's image, and you can count me among the folks who have been convinced that it was actually a pretty decent car. Its great to see someone willing to go the distance, to go dig up the evidence. That's part of being a great historian, amateur or otherwise.
When it comes to Ford himself, it's easy to try to paint a one-dimensional portrait - be it the portrait of a saint who could do no wrong or that of a cold-hearted, megalomaniacal bigot who cared only for profit. The truth is somewhere in between, and these one-dimensional portraits are a disservice to the historical record, to Ford's name, and to ourselves.
I think some of the folks in this thread are arguing two sides of the same coin, yet refusing to turn it over - or even acknowlege that it has another side! Henry Ford's idiosyncratic nature was second to none - only Martin Luther comes close in my mind.
I see that those recollections come from the 'golden years' of 1905-1915, when Henry went from strength to strength and almost everything came out well.
From my studies, he changed from then - the peace ship and the libel suit demonstrated his fallibility and that's when the less positive stories start.
John, I agree, "idiosyncratic" is a good adjective. I'm impressed by the consistency of descriptions where HF seems to be a pleasant, fun loving boss. He appears, according to peers and employees, engaging, upbeat and a good leader. On the other hand, James Couzens seems dark, unapproachable and distant in many of the memoirs.
Chris, good points. As HF leaves middle age, he seems to change. My interest is primarily through 1915 (in cars), so that is the period I'm most familiar with. I will add that Charles Bennett (original investor) and a few other personal and family friends seem to enjoy Henry Ford throughout his lifetime. Maybe it's the work relationships that suffer beyond 1920 (and with Edsel).
I've found some interesting stories involving Edsel during the early years that seem contrary to today's view of this famous father and son. I'll probably post those on another thread.
Thank you for the feedback and sharing your thoughts,
A few more quote from George Brown's Reminisces. Mr. Brown worked in accounting and apparently had to track down receivables and other accounting loose ends. As a result,meh seems to have had contact with Mr. Ford as well as workers throughout the organization:
These snippets paint an interesting picture of Henry Ford and the early days at Ford Motor Company, in my opinion.
Thank you Rob for all this research and the wonderful posts! Some of these tidbits I would have not expected. I very much enjoyed reading them.
I look forward to more. And hope all is well with you and yours.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Ford did many good things and some real bad things such as the way his son was treated and giving Harry Bennett such free reign in the thirties. His anti-Semitic views and association with Adolf Hitler are some pretty low points. Putting America on wheels was his crowing achievement.
I think he was a simple man yet a very complicated individual.
OOPS! Even I screw up once in a while:
Putting America on wheels was his CROWNING achievement.
It could be said that putting America on wheels was something to "crow" about. You may have invented a new term, Ted.
Myself i think it's a good thing the public has missed some of this! Can one imagine the vast number of people wanting to change their grandfathers name from Henry to Bubba?? What i do not understand is after so long is some of the hate posted here!!!!!!!!!!!! Bud.
I didn't notice it (typo) until reading Ted's "retraction."
One of the last ones for this thread. incidentally, the reason I'm "delving" into the reminiscences is due to a few broken ribs, so I suddenly had some "down time."
This comes from the rem. of Dr. Edsel Ruddiman (no, I don't know if that's where Clara and Henry got the idea). Dr. Ruddiman was a childhood friend and classmate of Henry Ford, growing up on a nearby farm, and sitting beside HF in school (one teacher, two pupils to a desk).
Dr. Ruddiman went on to the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt University (below) and so on. I found it interesting he seemed to consider Henry Ford his friend and peer. Later in life Dr. Ruddiman returned to the Detroit area and eventually ran a library and officed near Henry Ford at Greenfield Village as he studied soybeans as a source of protein and plastic. He modestly says in his rem. that he probably had as much to do with the invention of soy milk as anyone.
The point of this excerpt is not what he (Dr. Ruddiman) says, but what he doesn't say. He apparently did not feel Henry Ford had many of the negative traits he is credited with today (or if he did, he didn't reveal those opinions). The Dr. does say what that Henry Ford was a quiet man.
Dr. Ruddiman was born the year after HF, so at the time of this interview would have been at or about 90 years of age:
Above, spell check changed "laboratory" to library. Dr. Ruddiman was in charge of a Greenfield Village Laboratory, not "library"....
I suspect when one writes "history," it's much more attractive (and likely to be published) of it is sensational and salacious. A biography might not have sold well had the paragraph above by Dr. Ruddiman been the forward, "Mr. Ford was never shy; he was never forward. He was just an ordinary person. IN conversation, he didn't have much to say."
However, if the same forward reads "Mr. Ford was pompous, to the point he didn't choose to share his views with those around him, and felt his private thoughts too important to impart upon others......" You get the point.
The other difficult thing to do (as mentioned above) is to look at a person's life in context with the times they lived in. During the late 1920s and depression era 30s there was a move among many people in many nations to blame "others" and to resort to extremist ideas and factions (see Soviet communism and Nazi fascism) as a way to attempt to cope with the devastating worldwide depression. Many in this country were members of organizations and groups such as the KKK (yes, the KKK had a resurgence in the late 20s and 30s in the U.S.). Even in Nebraska. My father remembers attending KKK rallies near Lincoln NE. The rallies weren't directed toward African American's (we had almost none in Nebraska), but toward un American groups such as Catholic, Jewish, Eastern European and any other groups that were deemed possibly responsible for the economic malaise that had gripped the world (what a mouthful).
I am in no way saying any of these groups or individuals (nor Henry Ford in cases of anti-Semitic behavior) were justified, just that there were circumstances we may not be familiar with and events of the period that make it difficult to understand today.
Someday, history may write about the "arrogant, ignorant leaders who stood by and did nothing" about global warming (or do I need to say "climate change"). However, at this point in time, most of us feel comfortable dismissing the idea as voodoo science.
Anyway, I hope anyone reading along enjoys these tidbits and is having a good week,
ROB,What about those ribs????????????? Bud.
Henry Ford would have loved it. I own six Fords, but was bucked off a horse three weeks ago. Two broke and displaced, two cracked.....
However, I did crank start the K on Fathers Day!
Rob - Thank you for all the work you've been doing about Henry Ford and Model K History. The complexity of the topics and facts you find make it all very interesting.
BTW, broken ribs can be painful.....did it hurt to crank start the K? Just wondering...
Ouch...ouch and more ouch
Was it one of your own horses or riding another's? I ask because if it was your personal horse the wife has a theory that nobody agrees with but she of course believes she is right!
A horse with spirit left can be fun and is fun. But, according to her, let them 'sense' that something is even slightly off (such as you mounting ever so differently due to new hips) and for some reason they need to have an Alpha Experience, and try to now get even for the day they were broken!
Her Kiki was a thoroughbred and one day just decided to be outright ornery, not in the first set of the day but in the second...he faulted, bucked, threw her and stomped her...cost her broken and cracked ribs on an entire side...a knee that was physically twisted 180 degree and tore a bunch of stuff in the process and put her in a body cast for 6 months. She had owned Kiki Bomber for 7 years before that, rode him competitively weekly, but she to this day believes that because she was stiff that morning and held herself differently, Kiki knew it...and it was payback time. Perhaps short sighted on her part, but when I mentioned what happened to you, she asked...
Ironically, somewhere in the past I do think I shared her story with you before...Kiki was long gone before the body cast came off...but the riding habit and saddle to this day is STILL in the garage in its regular place even though she has only mounted a horse once since and that was 30 years ago just to prove to herself that she could.
I found a 16.5 probably even pushing 17 Percheron/King Jack champagne/caramel the year before last. Sure, not a thoroughbred, something normally delegated to pulling something but this one was different, one of the most beautiful, sleek, muscular animals I have ever seen...other than having bigger ears looked like an outsized thoroughbred, or better said thoroughbred on steroids...DaVinci could have used it as a model! No dice, she lets me buy T's on a whim without complaint...but to this day a horse is a different subject!
BTW...you are/did get back up on a horse, yes?
Keith, your welcome, and, yes.... (did it hurt cranking). Fortunately, things are getting much better now. The first week I had to sleep sitting up in a chair, laying down didn't work.
George, it was my wife's horse. I almost never ride, however, we had them in a temporary pasture in front of the house with electric wire fence. My oldest daughter and I were leading them (three) to the corral to put up for the night, and I thought, why should I walk this horse. They are meant to ride. So I jumped up on it and was just going to let it follow the two my daughter was leading.
To add insult to injury, she said just before I got on "dad, don't to that, you know he bucks (he has bucked off my wife and other daughter, once each).
I would have been ok, except our young German Shepherd ran under the horse, the horse tried to kick the dog, then took to bucking, end of story.
I cranked the K again tonight (youtube link). I have to use the "two hand method" and hope it doesn't backfire:
wow ... that started marvelously.
Oh, ouch! As far as I know, I have never broken a bone. (Don't know why, I should have a dozen times at least, including once being thrown from a runaway mule) And after George's tale, mine would seem trivial. About ten years ago my wife was thrown from her horse (a 17 hand quarter horse thoroughbred mix). She broke two ribs and was not allowed to return to her desk job for a couple weeks. We still have her saddle also. However, the horse was soon gone.
Regardless of the reason. Thank you for the research. Definitely, we need to look at people from the past through some sort of special lenses to see them in the context of their time. It was a different world then. All the influences that shaped a person's character were different.
Henry Ford was definitely a flawed human being. Especially as he got older.
I tend to think of him as a brilliant businessman. For good reasons, he paid better wages than he had to, or than anyone else did for similar work. And no union made him do it. He provided health care for most of his employees long before any other large company did. And no union made him do it. Things like that not only gave him the best employees that money could buy, it turned his employees into customers. Yes, he got into their morals and private lives too much also. But most of what I have read seems to indicate that most of Ford's employees liked the fact that they had their jobs (at least prior to the crash). (I don't think we can blame the crash on Henry?)
Big business in this country today seems convinced that they have an unlimited number of customers, no matter how many good people they lay off to be replaced with kids that they can pay half as much to because they cannot even do their jobs. No matter how much work they out-source to third-world toilets, they seem to think somebody will have plenty of money to buy their products. A sustainable, thriving, economy requires a solid foundation. Henry understood that. I think it is something most major businessmen today have forgotten. (Or been so corrupted by their education so as to forget.)
Just my opinion.
Get well soon!
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
That K started so quick the video could have been a couple of still's!! Good on ya Rob you make people think! Do they still eat horses in Canada? Before i get roasted that was a joke!! Bud.
Get well soon, Rob
John Côté Dahlinger's ghost written biography "The Secret Life of Henry Ford" from 1978 tells a lot about Mr Ford in his later years - it seems he had more time to spend fishing and talking with his possible other son(?) John in the 30's than with Edsel at the beginning of the century.
You can find it at amazon:
You'll like this. That horse (his official name is Amos, although I have other names for him, some starting with "A") is now in a feedlot. However, not to be fattened up to ride a plate in France, but to get daily work to make him more manageable. He's a working horse now.
I'll start a thread soon with reminiscences of Henry and Edsel Ford interactions during the early years. It may surprise, or not.....
I should have added, there were two other early business moves Henry Ford made that seem brilliant to me (opinion), that quickly (a few years) elevated him from penniless to one of the wealthier men in Detroit. It'll get to it soon. Hope your week has gone well,
Stumbled on a PBS show last night, Michale Palin in Brazil. One segment showed what is left of Fordlandia in the Amazon. Henry just could not understand ways of thinking different from his.
Fordlandia was a failure, but you don't often hear about Belterra, the successor plantation right down the river ... Belterra had 3 million + rubber trees in 1942, and that year it made 750 tons of rubber ... estimates put that by 1950 Belterra could meet all of FoMoCo's rubber needs.
But factors out of HF and FoMoCo's control (WWII and the invention of synthetic rubber) ruined the profitability of Belterra, so they sold it back to the Brazilian Gov't for a quarter million dollars.
We don't often hear about Henry's "other side".
Here's an investment Henry probably lost money on.
Ford had to give up his stake in The Dearborn Independent after a very embarrassing and public lawsuit ended with Ford paying off the claimant and then selling the newspaper in disgrace.
Here is a synopsis found on the web:
A series of articles on "the Jewish question" in American automaker Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent have aroused much debate and controversy since their publication in the early 1920s.
The Dearborn Independent first attacked Jews in its 22 May, 1920 issue and continued to do so in 91 subsequent editions. "The Scope of Jewish Dictatorship in the United States" "Jewish Degradation of American Baseball," "The International Jew—The World’s Foremost Problem," and other stories like them claimed the Jews were using communism, labour unions, gambling and even jazz music to weaken the American people. They were later reprinted by the Dearborn Publishing Company in four paper-bound volumes.
Even before the articles were written, E.G. Pipp, editor of The Dearborn Independent, resigned in April, 1920, and was replaced by William J. Cameron. Ernest Liebold, Henry Ford’s personal secretary, collected much of the material and Cameron likely wrote many of the articles himself. For another five years after the last of the "International Jew" articles was published, the Dearborn Independent continued to attack Jews.
After being accused by the Dearborn Independent in 1927, of trying to control American wheat production, Jewish lawyer Aaron Sapiro filed a defamation suit in Detroit but a mistrial was declared after a juror spoke to a reporter. Although Ford never testified, after the mistrial was declared, he issued public statements and apologies to individuals and Jews as a group.
On July 16, 1927, an out-of-court settlement of the Sapiro suit was announced. Ford shortly thereafter sold the newspaper.
Here is one of the longest, most interesting and informative threads on Henry Ford, ever to appear in the forum. Like a good book, it is such a good read you won't want to stop reading and will be disappointed when it finally comes to an end.
It appeared almost exactly 4 years ago and contains many posts by many members who, unfortunately, for whatever reasons, no longer contribute to the forum. I miss them. Jim Patrick