Ford, Henry, born 30-07-1863, on a farm in Greenfield Township, near Detroit, Michigan. His father, William Ford (1826–1905), was born in County Cork, Ireland of a family originally from western England, who were among migrants to Ireland as the English created plantations. His mother, Mary Litogot Ford (1839–1876), was born in Michigan; she was the youngest child of Belgian immigrants; her parents died when Mary was a child and she was adopted by neighbors, the O’Herns. Henry Ford’s siblings include Margaret Ford (1867–1938); Jane Ford (c. 1868–1945); William Ford (1871–1917) and Robert Ford (1873–1934). His father gave him a pocket watch in his early teens. At 15, Ford dismantled and reassembled the timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times, gaining the reputation of a watch repairman. At twenty, Ford walked four miles to their Episcopal church every Sunday. Ford was devastated when his mother died in 1876. His father expected him to eventually take over the family farm, but he despised farm work. He later wrote, “I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved.” In 1879, he left home to work as an apprentice machinist in the city of Detroit, first with James F. Flower & Bros., and later with the Detroit Dry Dock Co. In 1882, he returned to Dearborn to work on the family farm, where he became adept at operating the Westinghouse portable steam engine. He was later hired by Westinghouse company to service their steam engines. During this period Ford also studied bookkeeping at Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business College in Detroit. He was known worldwide especially from about 1914 as a promoter of pacifism and as a publisher of antisemitic texts such as the book The International Jew. Henry Ford in 1888, aged 25. Ford, like other automobile companies, entered the aviation business during World War I, building Liberty engines. After the war, it returned to auto manufacturing until 1925, when Ford acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company.
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Ford’s most successful aircraft was the Ford 4AT Trimotor, often called the “Tin Goose” because of its corrugated metal construction. It used a new alloy called Alclad that combined the corrosion resistance of aluminum with the strength of duralumin. The plane was similar to Fokker‘s
VII-3m, and some say that Ford’s engineers surreptitiously measured the Fokker plane and then copied it. The Trimotor first flew on 11-06-1926, and was the first successful U.S. passenger airliner, accommodating about 12 passengers in a rather uncomfortable fashion. Several variants were also used by the U.S. Army. In 1928 the German designer Hugo Junkers visited Ford in Detroit. Ford accepted Josef Stalin‘s
invitation to build a model plant, NNAZ, today GAZ, at Gorky.
Ford has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution for changing the aviation industry. 199 Trimotors were built before it was discontinued in 1933, when the Ford Airplane Division shut down because of poor sales during the Great Depression. Ford was a pioneer of “welfare capitalism”, designed to improve the lot of his workers and especially to reduce the heavy turnover that had many departments hiring 300 men per year to fill 100 slots. Efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers. Ford had opposed America’s entry into World War II and continued to believe that international business could generate the prosperity that would head off wars. Ford “insisted that war was the product of greedy financiers who sought profit in human destruction”; in 1939 he went so far as to claim that the torpedoing of U.S. merchant ships by German submarines was the result of conspiratorial activities undertaken by financier war-makers. The financiers to whom he was referring was Ford’s code for Jews; he had also accused Jews of fomenting the First World War, see the section on his anti-Semitism below. In the run-up to World War II and when the war erupted in 1939, he reported that he did not want to trade with belligerents. Like many other businessmen of the Great Depression era, he never liked or entirely trusted the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration, and thought Roosevelt was inching the U.S. closer to war. However, Ford continued to do business with Nazi Germany, including the manufacture of war materiel. Beginning in 1940, with the requisitioning of between 100 and 200 French POWs to work as slave laborers, Ford-Werke contravened Article 31 of the 1929 Geneva Convention. At that time, which was before the U.S. entered the war, Ford-Werke was still under the control of the Ford Motor Company. The number of slave laborers grew as the war expanded although Wallace made it clear that companies in Germany were not required by the Nazi authorities to use slave laborers. When Rolls-Royce sought a U.S. manufacturer as an alternative source for the Merlin engine , as fitted to Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, Ford first agreed to do so and then reneged. He “lined up behind the war effort” when the U.S. entered in late 1941.” His support of the American war effort, however, was problematic. Once the U.S. entered the war, Ford’s Willow Run plant was converted into a B-24 factory. Production, however, was marred by incompetence and bungling. Following a series of strokes in the late 1930s he became increasingly debilitated and was more of a figurehead; other people made the decisions in his name. In Germany, Ford’s anti-Jewish articles from The Dearborn Independent were issued in four volumes, cumulatively titled The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem published by Theodor Fritsch , founder of several anti-Semitic parties and a member of the Reichstag. Fritsch died age 80 on 08-09-1933. In a letter written in 1924, Heinrich Himmler described Ford as “one of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters.” Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf. Adolf Hitler wrote, “only a single great man, Ford, [who], to [the Jews’] fury, still maintains full independence…[from] the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions.” Speaking in 1931 to a Detroit News reporter, Hitler said he regarded Ford as his “inspiration,” explaining his reason for keeping Ford’s life-size portrait next to his desk. Steven Watts wrote that Hitler “revered” Ford, proclaiming that “I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany,” and modeling the Volkswagen (see Ferdinand Porsche) , the people’s car, on the model T. In ill health, Ford ceded the presidency to his grandson Henry Ford II in September 1945 and went into retirement.
He died on 07-04-1947, old age 83, of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 83 in Fair Lane, his Dearborn estate. A public viewing was held at Greenfield Village where up to 5,000 people per hour filed past the casket. Funeral services were held in Detroit’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul and he was buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.
Henry Ford married Clara Bryant in 1888. One child was born from the marriage, son Edsel Bryant Ford (1893-1943). He had four children, the eldest of whom, Henry Ford II, became president of the Ford Motor Company in 1947. When Henry Ford I was once asked if he wanted to do his life over again, he said, “No objection, as long as the same woman could do it.” Direct descendants and later relatives (eg President Gerald Ford) later played important roles in the further history of the US.