Henry Ford is widely accepted as one of the 20th century’s greatest innovators; founder of the Ford Motor Company and producer of the first economic automobiles.
Living from 1863-1947, Ford leaves behind an intriguing and controversial legacy: a mixed bag of achievements, ideas, and philosophies which drew both praise and criticism alike. He is credited with sweeping workplace reforms and business practices, and was known for instituting progressive yet harsh employment models. However he has also been rebuked for his extreme antisemitism, fascist sympathies and Nazi ties.
Over the Ford companies’ decades of success, he could be credited with:
- Developing the first mass-produced cars for the middle class.
- Revolutionizing mass production methods and competitive pricing.
- Establishing a $5 per day minimum wage (1914), more than doubling the average worker pay at the time.
- Lobbying for a 40 hour work week (1926).
- Frequent hiring of women into his work force.
Conversely, he was also responsible for:
- Staunch opposition to labour unions.
- And corporate intrusion into the private lives of employees.
Additionally, Ford leaves a contradictory record outside of business:
- Regarded as a pacifist who opposed American entry into WWI.
- Later gave steadfast support for Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations proposal.
- Opposed American entry into WWII, advocating business and trade as a path to peace.
- Simultaneously funded Nazi activity in Germany, and did frequent business with the Germans through the 1930’s (also assisted in developing war materials for the Axis).
- Heavily produced military equipment and weapons for the US during the Second World War.
- Held thoroughly anti-Semitic views, publishing books and newspapers which spread “right-wing extremism and religious persecution”. (Even receiving honourable mentions from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf).
- Had ties to the use of French slave labour in Europe during 1940.
All of that being said, Henry Ford is without a doubt a questionable figurehead in the worlds of history and manufacturing. Here are some quotes from the man himself:
“There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: make the best quality goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.”
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
“With all the wealth of the world at hand, there are human beings who hunger, whole nations who suffer cold. The judgment for this condition, for misusing Nature’s gifts, is the judgment upon man’s failure, man’s unsteadiness. Leadership is the thing.”
“No unemployment insurance can be compared to an alliance between a man and a plot of land. With one foot in the land, human society is firmly balanced against most economic uncertainties. With a job to supply him with cash, and a plot of land to guarantee him support, the individual is doubly secure. Stocks may fail, but seedtime and harvest do not fail.”
“When bankers get into business they usually destroy it.”
“I wouldn’t have the Presidency or any political office-don’t want anything to do with it nor have politics have anything to do with me.”
“There can be no lasting peace where hatred exists. Hatreds will continue to arise as long as the causes of war are not rooted out and exposed.”
Henry Ford’s legacy was an interesting case study for me. His role in industry, innovation, political climate and philosophy was marred by controversy, both then and now, but was nevertheless fascinating to research. Have any suggestions for a future Quote of the Week case study, or any thoughts on this one? Drop them in the comments below! -MC