- Ford, Henry
- (1863-1947)Synonymous with the development of the automobile from the first appearance of his mass-produced Ford Model T in 1909, Henry Ford was a major figure in American industry and politics from World War I through World War II. Ford built his first car in 1896 and in 1899 established the Detroit Automobile Company. For a time, he concentrated on building race cars, and his company became the Cadillac Motor Car Company in 1902.Ford returned to automobile manufacturing when he established the Ford Motor Company in 1903. He first began production of the Model T in 1909 using the concept of mass-produced standardized parts and developed it further at his new Highland Park factory in 1910. In 1913, Ford developed the moving assembly line method of production enabling an enormous increase in production. In 1914, he introduced a profit sharing scheme and a five-dollar, eight-hour work day for his employees and later the five-day week. However, he also attempted to control workers through a personnel department that implemented mandatory English lessons for immigrant workers and a no smoking, no drinking, nonunion policy.Ford personally funded a “peace ship,” Oscar II, in 1915 in an attempt to end World War I, but once America entered the conflict, the Ford Company turned to producing engines, tractors, and vehicles for the government. Ford opened the world’s largest single manufacturing plant at River Rouge, Dearborn, near Detroit, in 1916. Such was Ford’s public stature that in 1916 he won the Republican presidential primary in Michigan without campaigning. In 1918, he was persuaded by Woodrow Wilson to run for the Senate but was defeated. There were attempts to persuade him to stand for the presidency in 1920 and 1923, but Ford supported Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. During the early 1920s, Ford’s magazine, the Dearborn Independent, published a series of anti-Semitic articles, and in 1938 the German Nazi government honored him.Ford expanded his operation after World War I to develop luxury cars and airplanes. In 1927, he ceased production of the out-of-date Model T and began producing the Model A. Sluggish sales of the new car are seen by some economists as a contributory factor leading to the Great Depression. Certainly unemployment was exacerbated in 1931 when Ford began to layoff workers to retool for the new V-8 engine. In March 1932, 3,000 unemployed workers marched on the Dearborn plant protesting wage cuts and unemployment. They met a violent response from the police and Ford Company security, who fired into the protestors killing four and wounding 60. The company also held out against the trade union drives of the 1930s, and when Walter Reuther led a rally of United Automobile Workers outside the Dearborn plant in 1937, they too were met with violence, although there were no fatalities. Union recognition was only granted in 1941.During World War II, the Ford Company converted entirely to war production and built a huge aircraft production plant at Willow Run outside Detroit. Ford himself was increasingly unwell, and in 1945 he passed control to his grandson, Henry Ford II, who was company president until 1960. The company continued to grow and by the 1960s was a multinational organization.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.