Ford, Henry, 1863-1947

Alternative names
Birth 1863-07-30
Death 1947-04-07

Biographical notes:

Industrialist and philanthropist Henry Ford, born July 30, 1863, grew up on a farm in what is now Dearborn, Michigan. Mechanically inclined from an early age, he worked in Detroit machine shops as a young man and became an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company in 1891. Henry and Clara Jane Bryant, married in 1888, had one child, Edsel, born in 1893. In that same year, Henry tested his first internal combustion engine, and by 1896 completed his first car, the Quadricycle. Ford partnered in two attempts to manufacture automobiles, Detroit Automobile Company and Henry Ford Company, before the Ford Motor Company was incorporated in 1903 with Henry as vice-president and chief engineer. In 1906 he became company president, and in 1908 he introduced the immediately popular Ford Model T. To meet growing demand, the company opened an innovative factory in 1909 in Highland Park, Michigan. At Highland Park, Ford combined precision manufacturing with the utilization of interchangeable parts and a division of labor; the continuous moving automotive assembly line was instituted in 1913. Three years later, construction of the company's next factory was begun on the banks of the Rouge River in Dearborn. It would be the world's largest industrial complex, a plant characterizing Henry Ford's ideas of mass production. All the elements needed for production, from refining raw materials to final assembly of the automobile, took place at the Rouge Plant. Both Henry and Clara Ford had wide-ranging interests, particularly in areas of historic preservation, education, and community health. Their Dearborn Fair Lane Estate, built in 1915, reflected a love of the natural world and was declared a National Historic Site in 1967.

From the description of Henry Ford and Ford family papers, 1773-1955 (bulk 1915-1950). (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 51267783

In 1911, Henry Ford's challenge of George Selden's broad patent on the gasoline-powered automobile was upheld when the United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ford Motor Company was not infringing on the Selden patent. Henry Ford acquired the struggling Detroit General Hospital in 1915, modernizing it and converting it to Henry Ford Hospital. In 1916 Henry Ford brought a $1 million libel suit against the Chicago Tribune for being called an anarchist in an editorial. The case was decided in Ford's favor in 1919, but he was awarded only 6 cents and his lack of knowledge of history was revealed and mocked publicly. It was shortly after the trial that Ford began to express interest in building a history museum dedicated to industry and daily life. In 1918, Ford made a popular but ultimately unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent candidate. Prior to the United States' entry into World War I, Henry Ford vociferously espoused pacifism, with campaigns including the Peace Ship and conference of 1915 and support of the anti-preparedness movement in 1916. In 1917, however, he became what historian David Lanier Lewis calls a "fighting pacifist" through the production of military engines, vehicles, and boats and financial and publicity contributions to the Liberty Loan program and other war efforts. These activities and many others are documented by records accumulated at Henry Ford's office in the Highland Park Plant, an office directed by Henry's personal and general secretary, Ernest G. Liebold, from 1910 to 1924. In 1924, the Office of Henry Ford was moved to the newly built Engineering Laboratory in Dearborn, where it operated out of the Engine and Electrical Engineering (EEE) Building until its dissolution in the early 1950s after Clara's death. Between 1914 and 1919, the character of the Henry Ford Office changed dramatically, largely due to the universal acceptance of the Model T, national publicity surrounding the implementation of the five-dollar day, and the increasing size and complexity of the Ford Motor Company. This change is reflected within the Highland Park Offfice records, with records generated up to 1919 largely concerned with Ford Motor Company, agricultural pursuits, the building of the Fair Lane Estate, and Henry's pacifism, followed by the war effort. After Henry's resignation as company president in 1919, his office records reflect his interests in an ever-growing number of fields outside of Ford Motor Company operations.

From the description of Highland Park Office records subgroup, 1902-1928 (bulk 1907-1919) (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289024427

As a result of the universal acceptance of the Model T and the national publicity resulting from the 1914 announcement of the five-dollar day, Henry Ford became extremely wealthy and a constant presence in the press, increasing public interest in his activities. From this time on and especially after his resignation from the presidency of Ford Motor Company in 1919, Henry Ford's attention turned increasingly to his numerous interests in diverse fields such as aviation, politics, hydroelectric power, industrial decentralization, industrial agriculture, education and public history.

From the description of Non-Automotive Interests and Activities records series, 1916-1931 (bulk 1923-1931) (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289024405

American industrialist.

From the description of Henry Ford and Theodor Fritsch leaflet, 1927. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754867590

Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903. In 1906, James Couzens, at the time general manager and one of the company's first stockholders, organized the Henry Ford Office to manage Ford's correspondence and personal affairs. Frank l. Klingensmith, who was hired as a bookkeeper and clerk and eventually became treasurer and a director, received and answered mail, handled taxes, real estate transactions, requests for aid, etc. By 1911, E. G. Liebold had become personal secretary to Henry Ford, and in addition to some company duties, largely took over the administration of Henry's affairs. The Ford Motor Company was relatively small, correspondence was slight, and Henry's interests centered on his automotive and agricultural activities. Between 1914 and 1919, however, the character of the Henry Ford Office changed. The universal acceptance of the Model T and the national publicity following the announcement of the five dollar day resulted in an increased volume of correspondence. As the company's size increased, functionally specialized departments were created for handling company activities and records. As early as 1916, income tax records reveal the beginnings of the Henry Ford Office as an independent entity distinct from the Ford Motor Company. Organizational lines within the company, however, were fluid, and there were no tight chains of command. By 1919, after Henry Ford had resigned as president of Ford Motor Company, and continuing until his death in 1947, the Office of Henry Ford managed the magnate's wide-ranging personal interests and non-Ford Motor Company businesses. However, because of Henry's continued involvement in Ford Motor Company, many company matters were also handled by the office.

From the description of Henry Ford Office records, 1823-1984 (bulk 1920-1947) (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289019680

Prominent American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production.

From the description of Henry Ford correspondence, 1942 Jan. 7. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 694776498

After his resignation as president of Ford Motor Company in 1919, Henry Ford's attention turned increasingly to the diverse and varied interests he cultivated outside the company. Even prior to this time, Henry engaged in numerous non-Ford Motor Company business concerns and avocational pursuits, all of which were administered by the Office of Henry Ford. Enterprises beyond the Ford Motor Company managed from the Henry Ford Office included the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad; the Dearborn Publishing Company; the Dearborn Realty and Construction Company; Henry Ford & Son, Inc.; the Dearborn State Bank; and Henry Ford Hospital, to name a few. Other interests pursued by Henry Ford include the Peace Ship expedition in 1915, agriculture, antiques, historical restoration, old-fashioned dancing, education, and the operation of numerous schools. From the early teens through the early 1930s, Ernest G. Liebold was general secretary for Henry Ford and managed most of his business affairs outside of Ford Motor Company while also handling his personal finances. Frank Campsall was private secretary to Henry and Clara Ford from the early 1920s until his death in 1946. He handled most of the important non-financial business and correspondence of this period. In the 1930s, his responsibilities increased to include financial dealings that were previously handled by Ernest Liebold. Campsall, along with another of the Fords' secretaries, Harold Cordell, also handled the purchase of antiques. Leslie J. Thompson was a cashier, bookkeeper, and accountant for Henry Ford's personal finances and payroll after 1918 and in charge of personal income tax matters. William Gregory was active in the purchase of real estate and other property-related finances for Henry Ford from the 1910s to the early 1920s. H. R. Waddell was originally assistant to Frank Campsall and Harold Cordell.

From the description of Financial records subgroup, 1912-1952 (bulk 1919-1946) (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289019677

Manufacturer, inventor, and businessman.

From the description of Diagram of valve assembly initialled by Henry Ford, 1926. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79453599

With the overwhelming success of the Model T, Henry Ford amassed a huge fortune which allowed him to turn his attention towards pursuits other than the automobile with little regard to their costs. The publicity generated from his announcement of the five-dollar day in January, 1914, assured that no matter what his personal or business ventures, they were sure to be national topics of interest. Some of those interests included aviation, hydroelectric power, industrial decentralization, industrial agriculture, politics, education and public history. Records describing several of these interests are included in the Personal Topics Subject File Subgroup. Henry Ford's name first began to surface as a Presidential nominee in the spring of 1916, shortly after his Peace Ship mission. Despite the failure of the venture, Henry Ford nonetheless had risen in the eyes of the public as a pacifist leader. Many turned to Ford with the hopes that he might challenge Woodrow Wilson in the Presidential election. Despite public statements that he was not seeking office, popular petitions put Ford on the Presidential-preference ballot of the Republican Party in Michigan and in a light vote he defeated Senator William Alden Smith and came close to winning over Senator Albert B. Cummins in the Nebraska Preferential Primary. A second flirtation with the Presidency came in 1922 shortly after Truman Newberry (Ford's opponent in the 1918 Michigan Senate race) resigned amid allegations of campaign misconduct, and rumors of corruption plagued the Harding administration. In the fall of 1922 the Wall Street Journal printed an article entitled "Why Not Ford for President?" Ford for President Clubs popped up throughout the country and Ford's secretary, E. G. Liebold, told the New York Times that he received 200 letters a day urging Ford to run for office. When Iowa supporters filed petitions for Ford to be listed in the primary, Ford's office staff let things take their course; however, momentum came to an abrupt halt on August 2, 1923, when Harding died and Republicans rallied behind Calvin Coolidge with revived unity. Henry Ford had an enduring interest in the development and use of hydroelectric power. In 1910 he built his first small hydroelectric system on the Rouge River in Dearborn and in 1915 when Ford had his permanent residence, Fair Lane, built near the site he enlarged the facility to provide power to his home. Beginning in the late teens through the 1930s Ford purchased around twenty hydroelectric facilities in southeastern Michigan, known as "Village Industries." Small part manufacturing plants operated at the sites and allowed workers to maintain a farm and enjoy the pay and security of industrial work. Ford also purchased larger hydroelectric facilities from the government at Green Island, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1918, the Federal government announced that the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, would be the site of a government-built dam and two nitrate plants. This was at the height of World War I and the United States had to import nitrates, used to make explosives, from Chile due to a lack of domestic production facilities. By the time the plants were completed the war had ended and the demand for nitrates was low. The plants were shopped around to the fertilizer and power industries as well as to large industrial companies. Henry Ford was one of the individuals who received a letter about the development and indicated an interest. In April 1921 Ford offered to purchase the steam and nitrate plants for $5 million (their actual cost to build had been at least $130 million) and rent the Wilson Dam for $1.7 million annually. He also offered to complete dam no. 2 and build dam no. 3 for the government and then lease them. He promised to build a major industrial center that stretched for 75 miles along the Tennessee River valley and would employ one million people in the fertilizer, electricity and automobile industries. On December 3, 1921, Ford and Thomas Edison visited the Muscle Shoals area to survey the property. A bill authorizing the acceptance of the offer passed through the House, but George Washington Norris, a Senator from Nebraska, opposed turning government plants and dams over to a capitalist and was able to block the bill in the Agricultural Committee in the Senate. After an amendment of his initial offer and years of lobbying for approval of the proposal by J. W. Worthington, founder of the Tennessee River Improvement Association, Ford finally withdrew his offer in October 1924. Norris later authored the act creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, of which Muscle Shoals is a part. Aviation became an interest of Edsel Ford's at the age of fifteen and in 1909 Henry Ford gave Edsel and three of his shop employees permission to build an airplane using a Model T engine. This began a relationship between the Fords, Ford Motor Company and aviation that would last for decades. Ford's early aviation activities included offering to build dirigibles for the government, providing engineering staff and facilities for that purpose and building the Ford Airport in Dearborn complete with a dirigible mooring mast. Edsel Ford and other Ford executives such as William B. Mayo, William Stout and C. Harold Wills were members of the Detroit Aviation Society and in 1920 they helped to form the Aircraft Development Corporation in order to make Detroit the manufacturing center of the lighter-than-air aircraft industry. Ford purchased the Stout Metal Airplane Company in July 1925 and soon began manufacturing the popular Ford Tri-Motor airplane. Interest in aviation continued until in 1928 Ford test pilot Harry Brooks was killed in a plane crash off the coast of the Florida while flying the new single passenger Ford Flivver airplane and sales of the Tri-Motor began to plummet with the onset of the Depression. The Company did again become involved with aviation during World War II, building aircraft engines, gliders and the B-24 Liberator. Ford's interest in public history grew after his humiliating testimony during the Chicago Tribune libel trial of 1919 revealed his lack of knowledge of American history. He and Clara purchased the Wayside Inn, in Sudbury, Massachusetts, in 1923. The property was built in 1683 by David Howe and operated as the Howe Tavern for many years. Upon Ford's acquisition of the property many improvements and expansions were made, including the reconstruction of the Redstone School, associated with the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb", from Sterling, Massachusetts; opening of several schools, including the Wayside Inn Boys School; the operation of a roadside market for the sale of products generated from the farming of approximately 300 acres surrounding the Inn, and the operation of a sawmill, blacksmith shop and gristmill. Losses associated with the Inn became evident at the end of Ford's life. The Wayside Inn Corporation was formed in 1945, most of the farmland was sold off and the Boys School closed in 1947. The Inn was subsidized through the Ford Foundation until a devastating fire almost completely destroyed the structure in 1955. The Foundation agreed to rebuild the Inn and the National Trust for Historic Preservation accepted responsibility for its restoration and operation. It reopened in 1958.

From the description of Personal Topics Subject File Subgroup, 1823-1984 (bulk 1920-1947) (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289020965

Henry and Clara Ford lived in a succession of fourteen homes, the last of which, Fair Lane, was constructed on the shores of their Rouge River estate in 1915. A wealth of papers representing a cross-section of the Fords' busy and complex lives and dating back to 1835 were assembled from the rooms of the mansion after Clara died in 1950.

From the description of Fair Lane papers subgroup, 1835-1955 (bulk 1888-1950). (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 51267740

American automobile manufacturer.

From the description of The case against the little white slaver, 1914. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122637860

From the guide to the The case against the little white slaver, 1914, 1857-1869, (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

In addition to the purchase of around twenty hydroelectric facilities or "village industries" in southeast Michigan as well as facilities in Green Island, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota, Henry Ford purchased substantial tracts of farmland in southeast Michigan and timber and mining properties in other parts of the country. Over time he acquired around 26,000 acres of farmland and hydroelectric property in southeast Michigan, 75,000 acres of timber and rice land at Richmond HIll, Georgia, and 400,000 acres of timber and iron mining land in northern Michigan, among other properties. Most of the farmland was retained as individual farms where tenants and their families lived and worked.

From the description of Water Power and Real Estate records series, 1918-1945. (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289020963

Henry Ford resigned as President of Ford Motor Company in 1919, succeeded by his only son, Edsel Ford. In March of 1923 construction began on the Albert Kahn-designed Dearborn Engineering Laboratory. The building was completed at the end of 1924 and although he had offices in other locations, Henry Ford's office there became his most frequently used and the home base for his office staff, including E. G. Liebold and Frank Campsall. The building is located near Ford's Fair Lane estate and next to his beloved Edison Institute and housed the offices and publishing facilities of the Dearborn Publishing Company (publisher of the Dearborn Independent and Ford News), the C.E. Johansson Company, Ford radio stations, and engineering and experimental operations. The building was also the site of round table luncheons in the dining room, where Henry Ford and various executives would often dine and discuss company business. Henry Ford's main office remained at the Dearborn Engineering Laboratory until his death in 1947, allowing for the accumulation of the bulk of his office correspondence in this subgroup.

From the description of Engineering Laboratory Office records subgroup, 1920-1952. (The Henry Ford). WorldCat record id: 289024411

Biographical/Historical Note

American industrialist.

From the guide to the Henry Ford and Theodor Fritsch leaflet, 1927, (Hoover Institution Archives)


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