A week or so ago we had a thread in which a few posters suggested Henry and Edsel Ford's relationship was different from many historical accounts. After reading many Reminiscences by early Ford employees, it seems Henry Ford himself was a much different character than many accounts portray him, at least in the early years of Ford Motor Company.
George Brown was a Ford employee beginning in 1907. He recounts the early years of Ford Motor Company, the development of the Model T, and other events during his time with Ford. In these excerpts, he paints an interesting picture of Henry Ford, his relationship with workers at Piquette, and with his son Edsel:
Courtesy of The Henry Ford, all rights apply
Thanks Rob, Very interesting read.
How's the car coming along?
I think the "tub" or cowl area was painted today. I'm excited to see it coming together. Peter just collected the newly straightened crankshaft and rebuilt camshaft, so engine reassembly begins now...
That was GREAT reading, Thanx for sharing.
Yes Rob, that was a very nice read.
Interesting story and good reading with morning coffee
I enjoyed read this.
At the end of the article they refer to "getting number ten out". Would that be Model T number ten?
Thanks for posting this Rob. Nice to read something positive about Henry instead of the fake stuff produced to grab the headlines and fake documentaries.
Herb, yes, that's the way I took it. The Model T was originally set for market as early as late 1907, then spring 1908. Finally, it was pushed back to October 1908 as a 1909 model. All the while things like reinforcing frames and other setbacks resulted in just over 300 placed on the market by January 1, 1909. To put this slow production pace in perspective, Ford was routinely turning out over 100 cars a day (primarily Model S Roadsters) by late summer 1908.
Thanks, Rob. The remembrances are great reading. I found Bryan's book 'Clara' and Baine's book 'Arsenal of Democracy; FDR, Detroit, and an epic quest to arm America,,,' gave insight into the Henry-Edsel relationship. Edsel's technical and managerial talent is in evidence throughout Baine's book on Willow Run and the B-24 liberator. Henry and Bennett were at odds with Edsel and Sorensen throughout the war effort(and in years prior to the war). In 'Clara' I find examples that compare favorably with what you posted, at least during Edsel's boyhood years. Later on, Bennett did a lot of threatening things to Edsel and indirectly, his family, Henry did nothing to reign in Bennett, sometimes actually encouraging Bennett. Henry's (and Bennett's) control ended at the hands of Edsel's wife Eleanor when she threatened to sell her inherited Ford stock after Edsel's passing in '43, if Henry did not relinquish control to Henry Jr as Ford President in 1945. It was also interesting to me that Edsel's children (Henry and Clara's grandchildren) claimed very little of the HF estate when Clara passed. Maybe they already had enough stuff, but I believe they did not want the reminders of Henry Sr in their lives going forward. Just MHO, all of it is very interesting reading. jb
It's difficult to take stock of a person, even when so much has been written about them, especially in the case of Henry Ford. I know the Henry Ford I've read about (1900 - 1909) seemed talented, motivated and genuine with his employees. He also seemed friendly and certainly not heavy handed as a manager.
It's difficult to imagine how a person might be changed by relatively instant fame and becoming the wealthiest man the world had ever known. Anyway, an interesting man during interesting times. And, he changed the world.
Interesting. Thanks for the post.
A great read Rob - thank you for sharing it.
I agree with what James Bartsch has said about 'Arsenal of Democracy' (I've not read 'Clara' - but Clara was one person Mr Ford would not cross and, of course, she was the mother of his only child).
There is much mis-information about Henry Ford. Some of it I find ignorant and/or offensive. Just yesterday someone said to me that he was a great man '...even if he was friendly with Hitler' That was his serious belief.
Other examples include that nonsense that he controlled his workers - and their family's - lives. That they had to live their lives to Mr Ford's standards. That is simply untrue. He had peoples welfare at heart. The Cadbury family did much the same.
His 'peace mission' to Europe during World War One. At that stage the US was not even involved in the war. Call him naive, but the simple notion of him trying to lay down their arms, to stop the killing and get people to a negotiating table - at his own cost, in more ways that one - really ought to be admired, in my opinion.
Fordlandia. Mr Ford is accused of almost raping and pillaging the state of Para in Brazil - and then abandoning it. In fact the theory was excellent - much of the rubber grown in the East had its origins in Para. Ford wanted to be self-sufficient in his entire operation, including rubber, and he saw a great threat to rubber supplies from the East. (He was proven right with the Japanese invasion.) Some say Fordlandia was utopian, but Ford was simply providing what we would expect as the essentials of life that the inhabitants of Para were deprived of. Such as education.
Surely Edsel's father was disappointed in his son for his son's choice to smoke, drink and party. I suspect Mr Ford really expected his own son to uphold his father's publicly-known values. I believe that the father-son conflict may be that simple, and has been exaggerated over time.
Just my five cents worth!
I've saved that document, Rob, because I think it is a terrific insight. Thanks again.
You'd think they'd have cleaned up the type a bit. Quit reading before going cross eyed.
John Stokes, I agree with basically all you say here. I especially like your phrase " Call him naive, ". My own belief is that Henry Ford was a brilliant man, with very little formal education. He was largely self taught. Much like Abraham Lincoln. Henry, however, lived in a much more complicated time, and things were changing fast in the world theater. Yes, he made mistakes, but they were mostly mistakes made of good intentions. If, in fact, Henry WAS naive, it was due in part to the lack of formal education, and to a greater amount, that all the world was moving into a new era that nobody understood yet.
In his later life? Henry became a bit bitter. Frankly, that happens to many people as they see their life coming to a close, no longer able to do all that they could do only a few years before. While his later years should not be forgotten. They should also not be used as the "definers of his life".
Will Rogers said " It will take a hundred years to tell whether he helped us or hurt us, but he certainly didn't leave us where he found us."
Personally, I think Henry Ford was one of the greatest people to have ever lived. Right up there with Abraham Lincoln.
Charlie: Those records are pdf's of scans with OCR of the original typed documents form the 1950's. In theory OCR makes them searchable and more valuable to historians or regular model T (or K) people. I agree, a number of the records are almost unreadable, and I suspect the OCR on these is sketchy at best. Still I'm so thankful they are available without having to find paper copies at a library. Here's a link to accession 65:
See pg 8 for links to approximately 250 interview records.
This link to the Benson Ford center has been glitchy for me, but if it works it gives an introduction of each record along with a link to the same pdf.
The intro tells what that person did and when, you don't have to open the individual record to find out what that individual did at Ford, jb
I have read many hundreds of scanned pages online (maybe thousands by now?). While I find it somewhat annoying? I thank the technology and volunteers that did the scanning every time.
Numbers pulled out of the air, but an "order of magnitude" to think about. About a million poor copy typed pages can be scanned in the time it would take to enter a mere thousand pages by retyping them into a computer. Realistically, it does take nearly a hundred times the time and effort to retype than scan a page. Most of what WE would like to see would have never been re-entered if it had to be retyped.
Difficult to read? Yeah, but thank you regardless.
Charlie, to add to James comments regarding "cleaning up the type." This Reminiscence is one of several that were never completed and typed. I believe (now I'm pulling numbers out of the air... ) there were about 300 "Reminiscence" interviews conducted. Of those, about a 1/3, like the pages linked on this thread, were never completed and professionally typed.
Some, like this, were not even proof read, or finalized by the interviewee. As a result, they are not available online, only directly from Benson Library, THF.
One other thing to remember when reading the Reminiscences. Against what I believe are accepted interview techniques, questions were presented to the interviewees at the beginning of the recorded interview. However, the questions were not included with the interview (Reminiscence). Fortunately for my efforts, I found one list of questions sent to the interviewee that were (probably inadvertently) left with the interview. This particular list of questions included what I considered a leading question about.... yes, my pet project, the Model K. A few of the questions found, including the Model K reference:
Several of these questions were leading, and in my opinion probably conjured up and even created memories that otherwise wouldn't have occurred to the interviewee. Regarding the Model K, I was surprised so many interviews included information about a model that was one of many, and by the 1950's relatively insignificant to Ford history. However, there it is, the subject of one of a short list of questions.
Bottom line, the Reminiscences provide a wealth of information, and a glimpse into the memories of the people who were there. Unfortunately, I think leading questions may have tainted some of the answers. Without seeing the questions posed to the participants, we'll never know for sure....
I know I read that there were a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of interviews of survivors after HF passed. I believe at least some of these typed interviews are part of that info gathering with the intention of producing a comprehensive biography.
Cripes, Rob, it does look as though that particular interviewee needed leading questions!
But I don't see them as leading anyway. And, the Highland Park plant was not purchased - it was created.
And, Wayne - well said.