Myth Of The 20th Century – Episode 36: Henry Ford, His Life, Work, And Legacy

Welcome to the Myth of the 20th Century. The podcast airs on Fridays.

— Brought to you by —

Adam Smith, Hans Lander, Nick Mason, and Alex Walker.

Notes:

“The Model T was not a car as we know them now – it was a person – crotchety and mean, frolicsome and full of jokes – just when you were ready to kill yourself, it would run five miles with no gasoline whatsoever.. I understood IT but as I said before, IT understood me: It magnified some of my faults, corrected others. It worked on the sin of impatience; it destroyed the sin of vanity. And it helped to establish an almost Oriental philosophy of acceptance.” So were the words of American author John Steinbeck, published in 1953 in the Ford News about the passing of the Model T as the end of American innocence. Henry Ford, founder, engineer, and leader of Ford Motor Company, had brought not only America the notion of an affordable, practical means of motorized transport, but the entire world. He embodied much of what America strove to be in the 19th and early parts of the 20th century – independent, forthright, and self made. His company, like his cars, became showpieces of the American middle class, offering an alternative to vast income disparities and luxury goods for the few with concepts such as the $5 work day and simple, low priced vehicles his own workers could afford. As Henry Ford neared the end of his life in 1947, however, he saw an America much changed from his youthful days as a farm boy, with the vast centralization of power brought about by two world wars, and a technocratic elite coming to dominate society from within institutions like the major corporations that he in part helped create.

Timeline:

1863 – Henry Ford is born in a small Michigan farm to English and Belgian immigrants, the oldest of five children.
1876-1879 – Henry becomes a budding young mechanic, teaching himself how to draw rudimentary blueprints and disassemble watches and tools.
1879 – Henry moves just outside of Detroit to live with his Aunt, gaining early skills as a machinist/mechanic and engineer.
1884 – Henry, now a man, enrolls at Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business University in Detroit.
1888 – Clara Jane Bryant becomes the wife of Henry Ford, and they remain together until Henry’s death in 1947.
1894 – Henry becomes the Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company and a top protege of Thomas Edison.
1896 – The Quadricycle, Ford’s first motorized vehicle, is driven throughout the streets of Detroit.
1899-1901 – Ford founds the Detroit Automobile Company, later abandoning it as the company’s sales fail to achieve investor expectations. Later in 1901, Ford builds a race car that competes, and finds victory, in Michigan’s first major automobile race. The Henry Ford Company is founded with Henry as the chief engineer, but is then forced out of the company by investors.
1903 – The Ford Motor Company is successfully founded with Henry Ford occupying two roles of chief engineer and vice president.
1907 – Ford manufactures his first tractor, marking the company’s first major step in developing the rural/farm worker market.
1908 – Highland Park is developed by Albert Kahn and marks the largest factory in operation up to that point.
1908 – The Model T, a landmark vehicle and product in American manufacturing history, is released to the public. The car would later go on to sell 15 million units.
1911 – Ford defeats the Selden Patent, an obscure 1879 patent that was holding back the American automobile industry.
1914 – Henry Ford makes several landmark moves by perfecting the assembly line production model, utilizing a series of process engineering and administrative breakthroughs, as well as doubling worker’s pay to $5.00 an hour and ensuring a full two-day weekend for all laborers.
1918 – Henry Ford runs for Senator of Michigan, although loses the election by 4500 votes.
1919 – Henry and Edsel Ford, hatching a takeover plot to oust the Dodge Brothers and other investors, finally privatize the Ford Motor Company.
1925 – After expanding into hotels, tractors, naval vessels, and automobiles, Henry Ford develops an aviation unit and rapidly becomes one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer.
1927 – Ford introduces the Model A and begins phasing out the Model T.
1932 – Ford releases the new V8-Engine model, and faces down the infamous Hunger March by Ford company laborers.
1943 – After shifting in and out of various positions with the company, Henry Ford once again assumes control of the Ford Motor Company.
1947 – Henry Ford passes away in the middle of the night, resting on the shoulder of his wife Clara.

References:

– The Wealth of Nations, Smith (1776)
– The History of the Standard Oil Company, Tarbell (1904)
– Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor (1911)
– The International Jew, The Dearborn Independent (1920)
– Prussianism and Socialism, Spengler (1920)
– My Life and Work, Ford (1922)
– The Hind Tit, Andrew Lytle (1931) – http://writing2.richmond.edu/jessid/eng423/restricted/lytle.pdf
– Henry Ford and his Peace Ship, Hill (1958) – http://www.americanheritage.com/content/henry-ford-and-his-peace-ship
– Henry Ford: The Road to Happiness, PBA Nova (1978) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaDprRfAYzg
– The Ford Foundation and the CIA, Petras (2002) – https://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/PET209A.html
– The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Morris (2003)
– Wheels for the World, Brinkley (2004)
– When Capitalists Cared, Smith (2012) – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/opinion/henry-ford-when-capitalists-cared.html
– Henry Ford: American Experience, PBS (2013) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAG4PHIhYK0
– 1932: The Invention of the V8-Engine – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RB3z1er9Sw
– 100 Years of the Moving Assembly Line, Ford Motor Company – http://corporate.ford.com/innovation/100-years-moving-assembly-line.html
– Anthony C. Sutton, scholar on financial and industrial elite networks – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_C._Sutton#Bibliography
– Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Jews, and the Fight to Define American Identity – http://www.identityindependence.com/fordlindbergh.html
– Henry Ford: The Man Who Taught Americans to Drive – https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197524
– Fordism: Economic History, Jessop – https://www.britannica.com/topic/Fordism
– Fordism, Post-Fordism, and the Flexible System of Production, Thompson – http://www.cddc.vt.edu/digitalfordism/fordism_materials/thompson.htm

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16 Comments

  1. Excellent. Now we need a crew of this caliber to do an episode on Taylorism and Management “science”.

    Reply

    1. We might do something on Managerialism. It will ultimately prove challenging.

      Managerial Science obfuscates basic common sense in American enterprise, creating needless complexity and providing academics with billions of accumulated capital in USG research grants, business-academic partnerships, wasted trees and bits for books nobody reads, etc. Tracking it’s development and consequences would be hard to turn into a 2 hour show, though.

      Reply

      1. You’re thinking too big brained about. A good show could be done in under 2 hours just talking about the absurdities surrounding the origins of management science concerning Taylor’s “data” and the politics behind Harvard Business School’s creation. Hit me up if you need help with that sort of project.

        Reply

        1. How should I get in contact with you?

          Presumably you’re Mencken’s Ghost from Rebel Yell.

          Reply

  2. Excellent series/podcast. I shall make a donation.

    Reply

  3. What an amazingly insightful podcast. First time listener her. I’m gonna dig in to the archives now.

    Btw. The intro music. Where’s it from?

    Cheers from Denmark.

    Reply

    1. Tak. Alex found a track from Moby and laid out a few audio clips. I managed to match it with some video: https://vid.me/WWLSx

      Reply

  4. I really enjoyed this. Henry Ford was even more remarkable than I had known.

    I second what @Dane’s question regarding the intro. I’d like to get a copy of it if at all possible.
    I don’t produce any content, so I have no plans for it other than personal enjoyment. I like to listen to things over and over and over again while I’m programming or reading online.

    Reply

      1. :( The link no longer seems to be valid. Any chance I can get a second chance?

        Reply

      2. Ah, it is working now. Thank you so much!

        Reply

  5. Great show as usual gentlemen. I knew a little about Ford but you guys fleshed him out and now I have increased respect for the man.

    I believe it was Hans talking about the returns on automation somewhere after the first hour. This is an argument I often get into with the “end of history” types who think more efficiency, more technology, etc. is always better for everyone. Like you mentioned they often say “well the assembly line job is replaced by robots, but now someone has to repair the robots!” Which is obtuse. There may now be technical jobs repairing the robots that require more skill, but there is also one person fixing the 10 robots that replaced 100 workers. We’re careening towards a future in which only the people in the top 5-10% of cognitive ability are going to be able to contribute economically. Don’t know what the consequences of that will be.

    Reply

    1. I was mentioning how the United States used to have about a 1 to 5 horse to person ratio in the past, whereas we’re now closer to about 1 to 50. The numbers vary depending on the accounting method, but the trend is clear – there is NO guarantee a worker will have employment as technology advances. You don’t have to look further than all the unemployed veterans, former auto workers, and people with advanced degrees serving coffee. I suggest everyone, no matter how successful, to not go near a money lender – ever – stay out of debt – and learn how to grow your own food. The system, very likely, will rule you obsolete some day too.

      Reply

  6. Wish I’d had more of this wisdom in my youth. Even then, I needed more, like a solid role model and a sense of purpose to give it a foundation to stick to. Otherwise, it’s in one ear and out the other. It’s that de-racinated, rootless feeling I’m speaking of, that enables people like me to behave like self-destructive, isolated individuals.

    Reply

  7. I remember my dad behind the wheel of a station-wagon in the late 1950’s, telling wife and kids that “Ford made this country great”. Around Detroit, he was considered something of Feudal Lord as well as a Folk Hero.

    Maybe, amongst the coastal elite, Ford was seen as handicapped by a lack of formal education and breeding. But locals revered his cracker-jack genius and fierce rural pride. Unschooled themselves, the locals instinctively revered Ford as a Promethean hick. Almost, although Ford was a Yankee, as a Promethean “Peckerwood” hick. Hard boiled. Taciturn. Lean and hungry. Fiercely independent and guarded.

    My dad ran a small business, raised a family, and succeeded in a 65 year marriage to a town sweetheart following Ford’s essen-tial maxim: “Don’t complain. Don’t explain.” In this way, Ford provided an all-around model of what a man, more dutiful than glib, should be.

    Reply

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