“I Invented The Modern Age...And I Tried To Stop The Great War” Henry FordSubmitted by Crabacado on Wed, 08/14/2013 - 12:21
I've just finished reading the recently published biography on Henry Ford, titled: I INVENTED THE MODERN AGE: The Rise of Henry Ford by Richard Snow.
Not quite a book review, more like my 'take-aways' from this excellent read and let me warn you, Henry Ford was a bizarre individual.
After reading this book, one cannot help but to think of the once great city of Detroit and the sad story of its epic decline. One could easily conclude that Henry Ford himself was solely responsible for the buildup of America's (once) 3rd greatest city. He was long dead by the time it collapsed.
There is not much question what destroyed it: Progressive Liberals and their Union crony's, or perhaps it's the other way around. The Unions and their Progressive Liberal crony's. Either way, Detroit is dead but the legacy of Henry Ford is not.
If he were alive today, what would Ford think of the decaying pile of compost we now call Detroit?
There's no doubt that Henry Ford was a great American visionary, just as there is no doubt that he was also lazy, eccentric and despised manual labor. That is, if said labor was required of him personally.
He was a master of concept development in his mind and then having others actually design and create his visions. If fact, throughout his entire life, he could never read a blueprint.
Many people still think that Ford invented the car and this is simply false. In fact, it can be said that Henry Ford never really invented anything at all.
What he did do well at, was surrounding himself with people who actually could create things. When that wasn't enough, he'd just take other peoples ideas and then tweak them slightly, to suit his own needs.
It cannot be denied that he was, indeed, a visionary, but it was his mastery of getting others to do his work that led to his false legacy as a great inventor.
Perhaps best known as the creator of in-line mass factory production, even this was not his original idea. It was a concept developed by his production managers that he reluctantly embraced.
Born on a rural Dearborn, Michigan farm in 1863, just 3 weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, there is one thing that the young Henry Ford knew for certain of his life to come: He would not grow up to be a farmer.
It was too much work. Too much hard work Too much dirty work.
He thought that chickens were only fit as food for a hawk. He thought that milking cows was a disgusting adventure. He thought that plowing fields and planting seeds was best left to lesser people.
Ford was a first generation American, the son of Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine for a life of long, cold winters in lower Michigan.
He was about as unschooled as one can be, having only studied under his farmer/father for 7 years. That was the total sum of his informal education. Everything else he learned in life, he taught himself or took from others.
Henry Ford left the farm as soon as he could and found himself working around machines. These various machines of the later decades of the 19th century enchanted him only because they had the potential to replace human manual labor and this idea appealed to him greatly.
Steam engines awed him with their power, but he could never get over the fact that people had to physically work in filthy and hot conditions, shoveling coal into furnaces.
This lead him to internal, gasoline powered, combustion engines. Around 1880 or so, these gasoline powered engines were mainly used by riverboats to turn a propeller and little else.
Henry envisioned a land based, gas powered contraption that could plow fields and turn band saws to cut would. The irony here is that one of Ford's favorite quotes was “A man who chops his own wood is warmed by it twice”
He envisioned a horseless carriage that could be steered by a driver instead of being pulled by a horse.
This vision was driven more by his distaste for farming and farm animals than by any desire to make the world a better place. Of course, his views of the purpose and value of the automobile evolved over time but his hatred of rugged farming life drove much of what he accomplished in his lifetime.
In fact, eventually, the rural farmer became his single biggest customer base, because a horse might only be able to travel 6 or 12 miles in a day and that was the entire scope of a farmers world. A six mile radius from home was the entire life experience for many farmers at the time.
Henry Ford eventually expanded that radius to an almost unimaginable radius for many a rural farmer and that is most certainly his greatest legacy of all.
Up until the now famous Model T was produced en masse, Henry Ford made many a rich man poor. He presided over several automotive companies that lost every penny of his investors money, but he always managed to find other backers.
His Model's A through S (some produced, some scrapped at the prototype phase) met with varying degrees of success, but never great success.
He was sued countless times, over the years, for various patent infringements and enjoyed using the witness stand as a pulpit for expressing his views, although one particular suit led to exposing just how uneducated he was in a most embarrassing way.
While on the stand and being questioned, an attorney asked if Ford had ever heard of Benedict Arnold. Ford responded that he had heard the name. The lawyer asked, “Who was he?” Henry Ford responded, “A writer, I think.”
Years before the first Ford car was ever built, in 1895, George Seldon was issued a broad and vague patent for the gas powered automobile. His patent claim was originally filed in 1879. Not one single Seldon car had ever been built, yet in 1909 (30 years later!), George Seldon sued Henry Ford in New York for infringement of his patent on the gas powered automobile.
Ironically, during this trial in New York City, there was something revolutionary happening outside the 5th story courtroom, on the street below.
Outside the courtroom window was the starting line for the first ever cross-country auto race from NYC to Seattle. Ford's attorney looked down below at the 5 cars that had entered the race and loudly stated to the court, “Your Honor, I see five entrants in the race; 2 Fords, an Acme, an Itala and a Shawmut, but no Seldon”
A single Seldon car was eventually built but only one, and it didn't run well at all, managing only to travel about 1000 feet before breaking down.
One of Fords 2 Model T's went on to win the 1st cross-country race, the other Ford came in 3rd place, only because its driver got lost in Wyoming. The mass produced $850 Ford Model T had beaten the $3000 Shawmut by a full 17 hours.
It was the mass produced and cheaply priced Model T that sealed the fate and riches of Henry Ford.
Once Ford had amassed a level of unimaginable wealth, he became part philanthropist, part anti-war activist, full time eccentric and all around asshole.
A particularly strange attribute of Ford's personality was that no matter how loyal or valuable a subordinate might be, he fired or dismissed every single one of them during his reign over the Ford Motor Company. He fired some of his best people, simply because they wanted to improve the cars they were building.
Once, when his own son, Edsel, modified a Model T and proudly displayed it in front of the factory for his father to see upon arriving at work, Henry had a crane pick it up and dump it into a heap of scrap metal. When one of his senior managers modified a car with several innovative improvements, Ford ripped the doors off with his bare hands, then climbed inside and kicked the roof off with his feet.
Strange man, indeed.
By 1912, the Ford Motor Company employed somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 employees directly. Indirectly, he employed the entire city of Detroit and its surrounding communities. He had sold close to 500,000 Model T's and took the unprecedented (some would say UN-capitalistic) step of improving the lives of his workers.
One might even say he took this endeavor a little too far, but once again, this was not Henry Fords original idea. It was the idea of his operations manager
At the time, the daily pay for a Ford worker was $2.34 per day and the Ford plant generally ran for 9 or 10 months of the year and closed in November through January, mainly due to the harsh winter climate of Michigan.
Generally speaking, his workers struggled mightily during the closure as they were paid so little, they could not amass any savings during the operating months.
After weeks of incessant urging by his operations manager, Henry Ford finally agreed to increase his workers minimum pay to a whopping $5 per day. As usual, Ford took someone else's idea and expanded upon it.
He didn't stop at doubling the wages, he also brought in a team of 10 full time doctors, 100 nurses and began offering free healthcare to his employees and their families.
He didn't stop there either because when Henry Ford discovered someone else's good idea, he went to bat and swung for the fences.
He implemented a full on social welfare program that would make even FDR blush.
As one would expect, word spread around the country like wildfire and people came from all over the country and all over the world. They descended upon Detroit like locust swarming upon a fresh crop.
Work at the Ford plant was not easy nor relaxed. He was all about productivity and worker efficiency. He soon found that workers from the Middle East were particularly productive, which is why, to this day, lower Michigan has such a high Arab/Muslim population.
Keep in mind, at the same time this was happening, he had gradually, through production efficiencies, dropped the price of a Model T from $850 to an astounding $300. Even his own workers could afford to buy a new car...IF he would allow them to.
This is a most interesting facet of Henry Ford's life.
In order to help his employees manage their new found wealth, Henry created a Sociological Department at the Ford Motor Company.
You see, he was worried that the emerging middle class he was creating would also result in a decline of their moral standards. Drinking, gambling, domestic violence and others sorts of dissipation.
Henry Ford was now well on his way to becoming a full blown tyrant.
'Sociological Investigators' from the Ford Motor Company now began to visit the homes of every single employee, much like the governments Child Protective Services or State Welfare Investigators would visit a troubled family today, and in much the same intrusive manner.
Some of it was good and some of it was bad, but for $5 a day, the workers were willing to tolerate this deep invasion of privacy.
An employee rule book was created and the company offered some exceptional services for its employees that even today would be considered extremely generous.
Free lawyer assistance for buying a house, financial advice on investing, personal hygiene classes, legal assistance in navigating the Naturalization and Citizenship process.
On the down side, there were expectations for employees that bordered on the absurd.
Men were expected to be married, save a certain amount of their wages, be debt free, own their house and furniture and have children. If you didn't meet these criteria, you might be able to keep your job, but the company wouldn't let you buy one of their cars.
At the time, if you couldn't buy a new Model T for $500 or so, the next car you could buy was well over $1000.
The growing Sociological Department brought in an Episcopalian Minister named Samuel Marquis to run the program, however, one can only imagine how the large Muslim part of the workforce felt about this.
His department investigators routinely showed up at workers doorsteps with questionnaires and inquired about their personal lives, asking workers wives questions like; “How much money does your husband bring home?” “Does he drink?” Does he gamble?” “Is there any domestic abuse at home?”
To be fair, there are numerous examples where extremely poor immigrants were personally helped by management with loans, moving assistance and other such generosities, to help move these people into middle class environments.
In five years, from 1914 through 1919, the average Ford workers personal savings increased from around $200 to almost $2200. Of course, this is something to be celebrated, not ridiculed, however...every coin has two sides.
Enter the first world war.
Henry Ford was deeply isolationist and anti war to his core. One of his more famous quotes about war made national headlines:
“To my mind, the word 'MURDERER' should be embroidered, in red letters, across the breast of every soldier.” The only people who benefit from war are “...the militarists and the money lenders.”
Ford told the Detroit Free Press, “I will do everything in my power to prevent murderous, wasteful war in America and the whole world.”
In December, 1915, Henry Ford chartered an ocean liner named the 'Oscar II' and set sail for Europe with a ragtag entourage of anti war activists, Senators, Governor's and media.
Although he had absolutely no specific agenda, nor itinerary, they set sail for Europe. When asked by a reporter what the mission and end game was, he simply replied, “We're going to have the troops home by Christmas.”
10,000 people gathered at the harbor to see them off.
Having set sail from New York on the 5th of December, they had barely arrived by Christmas, let alone stopped the war by then. When they arrived in Norway, nobody was there to welcome them.
A winter crossing of the North Atlantic is no picnic and Ford was quite ill with a bad cold and likely some sea sickness as well.
He left the anti war group with a large cache of money and a few days after arriving, he quietly set sail on the return voyage home, having accomplished nothing except generating a lot of anti war press coverage.
It was during this journey home that the one millionth Model T had rolled of the assembly line in Detroit.
Upon his return to New York, Ford found himself being ridiculed by most of the American press. However, they somewhat warmed after the initial battering. One editor wrote, “Henry Ford deserves respect, not ridicule. No matter if he failed, AT LEAST HE TRIED. Had every citizen in the United States, including President Wilson put forth one tenth the effort Mr Ford did, the boys would have been home by Christmas.”
On a final note, Henry Ford, though a serious man, did have a great sense of humor. One day, while being driven by his chauffeur, he passed a broken down Model T with its owner standing beside it. Henry rolled down his window and shouted, “Get a horse!”
Highly recommended reading for every Capitalist, Libertarian, Entrepreneur and Historical aficionado:
I INVENTED THE MODERN AGE: The Rise of Henry Ford' was researched and written by author/historian Richard Snow and published in 2013.
eBook ISBN 978-14516-4559-0