Ask the Best and Brightest: What Would Henry Ford Think of the Motown Meltdown

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Over the years, I’ve become inured to the mainstream automotive press’s mindless Motown cheerleading and irrational optimism. But every now and then, they really get my goat. The Detroit News ran a feature today by Bryce J. Hoffman clunkily entitled “How would Henry Ford react to today’s automakers?” It’s bad enough that Detroit’s zombies have suckered the federal government into endless subsidies by re-writing recent history. (We were doing GREAT until the economy tanked!) But for a journalist to raise an important historical question and then let Detroit apologists spin it without question is, uh, enervating.

Hoffman lobs the question to an industry titan: Crazy Henry’s genetic progeny.

“Most of this wouldn’t shock him because a lot of this happened during his lifetime. He failed a couple times,” Bill Ford relates. “He saw a lot of car companies come and go. And he saw his own company go bankrupt and then go on to the verge of bankruptcy several times during his lifetime.”

Yeah, well, great. Who cares if Henry Ford would have been shocked or not? What would the founding Ford have made of Chrysler’s federally subsidized [mock] salvation and GM’s nationalization?

Historian Douglas Brinkley, author of “Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress,” almost tackles the topic.

Henry Ford — the consummate self-made man — would have been disturbed by the big role the federal government now plays in the U.S. auto industry. But he would be far more interested in new technologies like battery-electric and ethanol powertrains that are emerging in the industry today.

That’s it? Henry Ford would have been “disturbed”? And then, what, forgotten about it to go chase unicorn fart-powered economy cars? I don’t think so. This article is more than a whitewash. It’s a washout.

Hoffman’s lazy, laissez-faire journalism aside, it’s an extremely interesting question. What would Henry have made of Uncle Sam sticking his nose in Detroit’s business (albeit by invitation)? Brinkley intimates that Hank would have condemned the fed’s interventionism. But is that true?

Lest we forget, like the current Chairman sharing his name, Henry Ford was happy to court and fill big, fat government contracts—from any government. In fact, Hank was an active supporter of European fascism.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ford’s involvement with Nazi Germany (and GM’s, but that’s another story), here’s a quick precis from a report printed by the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1974:

Ford was also active in Nazi Germany’s prewar preparations. In 1938, for instance, it opened a truck assembly plant in Berlin whose “real purpose,” according to U.S. Army Intelligence, was producing “troop transport-type” vehicles for the Wehrmacht. That year Ford’s chief executive received the Nazi German Eagle (first class) . . . .

The outbreak of war in September 1939 resulted inevitably in the full conversion by GM and Ford of their Axis plants to the production of military aircraft and trucks . . . On the ground, GM and Ford subsidiaries built nearly 90 percent of the armored “mule” 3-ton half-trucks and more than 70 percent of the Reich’s medium and heavy-duty trucks. These vehicles, according to American intelligence reports, served as “the backbone of the German Army transportation system.”

As stated above, in July of 1938, Henry Ford accepted the Verdienstkreutz Deutscher Adler (the Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle) from the Nazis. It was the highest award the Nazis could bestow upon a foreigner.

Given his political sympathies, I think it’s safe to say that Henry Ford would not have questioned President Bush and then Obama’s decision to “save” Chrysler and GM. I reckon he might have called for one overarching, government subsidized American automaker, with “disincentives” for transplanted competition. And himself running the show, of course.

But that’s just my take. Over to you, our Best and Brightest.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Matt51 Matt51 on Jun 22, 2009

    Ford was a genius. An unbalanced genius, but a genius. He was about the first American employer to hire blacks and give them the same pay as whites. He also employed Jewish Americans in his factories, in spite of his harsh and stupid rhetoric. His Model T, and his 1932 Ford V8, were both astonishing breakthroughs. GM could not match the Ford V8 until 1955. He left a debt free company for his grandson to run, something more business owners should do. Yes he probably went insane, but that does not detract from his achievements. Good colored car paint was not available until DuPont made major breakthroughs in the early 20's, and DuPont owned GM. Ford was not being unreasonable in insisting his cars be painted black, Ford adopted colors once good colored paint was available. Ford would have continued to push for fuel made from hemp or soy, and we probably would be energy independent. I don't think for a moment he could stand the effete MBA pansies running the American auto industry.

  • Geeber Geeber on Jun 23, 2009
    Matt51: Yes he probably went insane, but that does not detract from his achievements. Many historians believe that Henry Ford I had a series of "ministrokes" in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and was later afflicted with early signs of dementia. Those affected his personality and outlook on life, although he was certainly cantankerous and unpredictable long before then.
  • W Conrad Sedans have been fine for me, but I were getting a new car, it would be an SUV. Not only because less sedans available, but I can't see around them in my sedan!
  • Slavuta More hatchbacks
  • ED I don't know what GM is thinking.I have a 2020 one nice vehicle.Got rid of Camaro and was going to buy one.Probably won't buy another GM product.Get rid of all the head honchos at GM.This company is a bunch of cheapskates building junk that no one wants.
  • Lostjr Sedans have been made less practical, with low rooflines and steeply raked A pillars. It makes them harder to get in and out of. Probably harder to put a kid in a child seat. Sedans used to be more family oriented.
  • Bob Funny how Oldsmobile was offering a GPS system to help if you were lost, yet GM as a company was very lost. Not really sure that they are not still lost. They make hideous looking trucks, Cadillac is a crappy Chevy pretending to be fancy. To be honest, I would never step in a GM show room now or ever. Boring, cheap ugly and bad resale why bother. I get enough of GM when i rent on trips from airports. I have to say, does anybody at GM ever drive what everyone else drives? Do they ever then look at what crap they put out in style fit and finish? Come on, for real, do they? Cadillac updated slogan should be " sub standard of the 3rd world", or " almost as good as Tata motors". Enough said.