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Henry Ford, an American folk hero to many, was a man with several faces. He was a genius who revolutionized the automobile industry, irrevocably altered American culture and commerce, developed mass production, and helped the middle class emerge in America. He was also an anti-Semitic autocrat who hated Wall Street, bankers and financiers with unmitigated passion. Ford paid the highest wages but was zealous in his opposition to unions. He was exceptionally hard on his only son, Edsel, who died of stomach cancer at the age 48, and Ford acknowledged his admiration for Hitler. And in establishing one of the largest American fortunes, he never borrowed a penny, not from individuals, financial institutions or the government. Henry Ford’s focus on developing an affordable car, the Model T, at a time when most automobile manufacturers sought more luxurious models, ushered a new era of transportation, but even more so, brought about a revolution in technology, sales and culture. The Model T made its debut in 1908, bearing a purchase price of $825. In the following six years the price dropped to $575 and sales soared from 10,000 a year to nearly half of all the automobiles sold in America. At its peak, Ford Motor Company was churning out one car every 24 seconds! Award-winning author and syndicated columnist Daniel Alef, who has written more than 300 biographical profiles of America’s greatest tycoons, brings out the story of Ford and his remarkable life of achievements and his dark side. [5,713-word Titans of Fortune profile with timeline, bibliography and over 30 video links]
When William Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players,” he did not have the likes of Henry Ford in mind. The world may have been Ford’s stage, but he was not merely a player. He was a superstar! Some have called him the major architect of modern America and, in many ways, he was. Few Americans in American lore can match the impact the farmer mechanic had in forever changing our way of life.
Ford was born on July 30, 1863, near Dearborn, Michigan. His father was a reasonably prosperous farmer, a member of an emerging middle class, yet Ford’s childhood had all the earmarks of a rural upbringing.
Ford’s mother, Mary, was the greater influence on his life. She emphasized self-control and warned him that he had to earn the right to play. “My mother taught me to work,” he said. She also taught him to read, introducing him to the McGuffey Eclectic Reader. Ford biographer Steven Watts noted, “The impact of McGuffey on Henry Ford’s character and principles was profound.”
Ford attended the one-room Scotch Settlement School a few miles from the farm. Ford was more of a prankster than a serious student. His best friend at school was Edsel Ruddiman, after whom Ford would later name his only son.
Although one farmer called Ford “the laziest bugger on the face of the earth,” Ford was not lazy. Farming, to Ford, was a form of servitude; it held little interest for him. He was drawn to mechanical things, working with tools, experimenting with steam engines and dismantling and repairing watches and clocks.
Ford’s sanguine life took a severe blow in 1876, when his mother, only thirty-seven, died giving birth. Ford placed the blame on his father. Friction between father and son had been building up for years. They were not cut from the same cloth. Ford’s father was conservative, disinclined to take risks, a farmer who viewed land as the principal source of security. He detested his son’s interest in mechanical things.