Term Paper: Henry Ford

Pages: 6 (1845 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Transportation  ·  Buy This Paper

Henry Ford may be the most famous American innovator. From his development of the Ford Model T, to the introduction of assembly lines, Ford helped usher in a technological revolution. Ford's impact was not limited to technology; he was widely renowned as a champion of his workers, and was the first major manufacturer to ensure that his workers were paid a living wage. Of course, like most people, Ford had his faults. For example, Ford was virulently anti-Semitic, and is credited with much of the spread of anti-Semitism throughout the Midwest. Furthermore, while technologically brilliant, Ford was not highly educated in other areas; this became problematic because he was viewed as a leader by many Americans. Because Ford had a tremendous amount of influence on American people, both his good and bad characteristics helped change the face of American history.

Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863 in Springwells Township, Michigan. His parents were Irish immigrants who had come to America and become farmers. Ford became interested in engineering at an early age. In fact, "by fifteen, he had a reputation as a watch repairman, having dismantled and reassembled timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times." (Wikipedia Contributors). Rather than taking over the family farm, Ford went to Detroit, where he worked as an apprentice machinist. Later, he went to work at Westinghouse as a serviceman for their steam engines. Ford then went to work with the Edison Illuminating Company, where he eventually became chief engineer. It was then that he began experimenting on gasoline engines. According to Ford, his first gasoline buggy "first ran satisfactorily along in the spring of 1893." (Ford and Crowther, p. 21).

In 1899, along with other investors, Ford formed his first car company, the Detroit Automobile Company. The Detroit Automobile Company went bankrupt, in part due to Ford's perfectionism. Rather than concentrating on selling vehicles, Ford continued to improve his car designs. These improved designs led to Ford's formation of his second car company, the Henry Ford Company, which Ford believed was devoted to racing cars. The other investors pushed Ford to come up with production models, which led to a split between Ford and the Henry Ford Company, which eventually became Cadillac. In 1903, along with other investors, Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company, the company that eventually proved tremendously successful for Ford.

Ford Motor Company saw immediate initial success. The Ford Model T. became the standard for automotive transportation in the early 20th century. Then, in 1913, the Ford Motor Company introduced the assembly line. The use of the assembly line permitted far greater production:

By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Henry Ford, and production continued through 1927 (well after its popularity had faded), with a final total production of 15 million vehicles. This was a record which stood for the next 45 years. (Wikipedia Contributors).

The success of the Ford Motor Company was not solely the result of the Model T's affordability. In addition to making an affordable car:

Ford invented the dealer-franchise system to sell and service cars. In the same way that all politics is local, he knew that business had to be local. Ford's "road men" became a familiar part of the American landscape. By 1912 there were 7,000 Ford dealers across the country. (Iacocca, p.1).

Furthermore, Ford realized that without roads and gas stations, the cost of an automobile was unimportant. So, "Ford pushed for gas stations everywhere...and...campaigned for better roads, which eventually led to an interstate-highway system that is still the envy of the world." (Iacocca, p.1).

Although the Model T. saw unrivaled success, Ford's competition soon began to offer two things that the Model T. lacked: options and financing. Ford responded by offering the Ford Model A. Ford also began offering financing in the 1930s through the Ford-owned Universal Credit Company. Despite these changes, the Ford Company eventually fell upon difficult times and lost a tremendous amount of money. Eventually, the Ford family forced Ford's resignation as president of the company due to his increasing senility.

Ford was also responsible for ushering in some tremendous changes in the industrial workforce. Concerned about heavy turnover, Ford looked for ways to increase efficiency. For example, in 1914 Ford doubled the daily wage of most of his workers. Furthermore, Ford introduced the 5-day, 40-hour work week. Ford's reasons were not entirely altruistic. For example, the increased wage permitted his employees to purchase the vehicles that they helped produce. Furthermore, the wage increase provided a tremendous incentive to his workforce, increasing productivity and employee loyalty. Furthermore, Ford labeled the wage increase as profit-sharing and used Ford's Sociological Department to ensure that eligible employees were living in a Ford-approved manner. In this way, the wage increase not only helped Ford's efficiency, but also gave the company a way of controlling its employees.

Although Ford is often championed as a labor revolutionary, one must understand that Ford did not support unionization. On the contrary, Ford was against union ships. In fact, he employed Harry Bennett, a former Navy Boxer, as head of his Service Department. "Bennett employed various intimidation tactics to squash union organizing." (Wikipedia Contributors). These tactics included, but were not limited to, outright physical attacks on labor organizers. Ford was able to avoid unionization far longer than his competitors. It was not until a United Auto Workers strike closed down the River Rouge Plant in 1941 that Ford's son Edsel was able to persuade his father to sign a contract with the union.

While the Ford name continues to be synonymous with automobiles, Henry Ford had other interests. For example, Ford expanded his mechanical interests and helped the fledging aeronautics industry. Ford also had political aspirations. For years, Ford was thought to be grooming himself to run for public office, possibly even the presidency. However, after a failed bid for the Senate, Ford retired his political aspirations and concentrated his energy on the Ford Motor Company.

Unfortunately, one of the things for which Ford continues to be known is his proliferate anti-Semitism. Although Ford never considered himself an anti-Semite, he was responsible for the largest anti-Jewish publication in the United States, The Dearborn Independent. Furthermore, Ford made his automobile dealers sell subscriptions to the magazine; the pressure was so intense that many dealers automatically included the price of the magazine in the price of a new Model T. The Dearborn Independent was the first place of publication for Ford's The International Jew: the World's Foremost Problem. Although the articles in The International Jew: the World's Foremost Problem were probably written by a ghost-writer, Ford had them published under his name and publicly supported their contents. Eventually, after facing several libel lawsuits because of its anti-Semitism, Ford closed his magazine, and eventually publicly retracted the information they had contained.

However, one of the more interesting facets of Ford's anti-Semitism is that he did not consider himself to be anti-Semitic. Several of Ford's close friends were Jewish. Instead, he believed that his commentary on Jews was based on some type of historical fact. An examination of Ford's The International Jew: the World's Foremost Problem, reveals this dichotomy. He begins the book by stating an intention to investigate Jews:

Nowadays, however, the Jew is being placed, as it were, under the microscope of economic observation that the reasons for his power, the reasons for his separateness, the reasons for his suffering may be defined and understood. (Ford, The International Jew, p. 9).

This introduction gives the reader the impression that Ford plans to attempt a historical inquiry into Jews and business. However, within pages, Ford is alleging, falsely, that Jews control the major department stores, the media, and all commercial lending in America and abroad.

Furthermore, Ford rejects the idea that this Jewish control could be attributed to racial or cultural superiority, but instead attributes success to "Jewish solidarity," which he contrasts to the immigrant experience of other races and cultures. (Ford, The International Jew, p. 12). In this way, Ford implies that the Jewish experience has been systematically designed to inflict harm upon other races.

While Ford's anti-Semitism appears egregious from a modern point-of-view, one must keep in mind that many Americans of Ford's time shared the same point-of-view. In fact, Neil Baldwin, who conducted an extensive investigation into Ford's anti-Semitism, points out that the textbooks of Ford's time were largely anti-Semitic. The McGuffey books took biblical stories and classic works of literature and presented them to America's students. Unfortunately, they only presented those works that contained anti-Semitic references, and promoted the idea that Protestant Christianity was the only acceptable religion. These early ideas had an impact on Ford, who "could quote spontaneously line-for-line from McGuffey." (Baldwin, p. 6). While the fact that Ford's anti-Semitism seemed to result largely from his upbringing and exposure to the current American ideals does not excuse his beliefs or behavior, it is important to distinguish Ford from some of his contemporary… [END OF PREVIEW]

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