Henry Ford (30 July 1863 to 7 April 1947) was without doubt one of the towering industrial figures of the 20th century.
As the founder of the mighty Ford Motor Company, he revolutionised the manufacture of motor vehicles by the efficient use of the assembly line process. This reduced the cost of his famous “T” Model Ford to the extent that it became affordable to middle class America – and car ownership blossomed as a result.
As his automobiles spread beyond the borders of the United States a massive revolution grew apace and the age of the car had arrived. It was to change the face of humanity forever.
Ford was also a deep thinker and philosopher. He extended the reasoning behind his automotive success to other areas and became convinced that a vital contribution to human dignity could be achieved by the harnessing of industry to provide mass-produced goods at prices that all could afford. This style of consumerism –or “Fordism” as he called it – would therefore break down barriers between the “haves” and “have-nots” and become a key element in achieving peace for humanity.
Ford was a strong pacifist, and in 1915 he attempted to end the First World War by chartering an ocean liner – named the “Oscar 11 Peace Ship” – that he sailed to Europe. On board were many prominent American pacifists that he hoped would participate in peace conferences between the belligerent nations and hopefully broker an end to the War. The venture failed but did not seriously damage his international stature.
In an era that was often highly discriminatory across many areas of society, Ford hired black workers in his factories, as well as women and men with physical handicaps, but strangely he was also anti-Semitic, writing articles for a newspaper called the Dearborn Independent. These articles had a strong anti-Semitic flavour that attracted a favourable response from Nazi Germany.
His son, Edsel Ford, had assumed the position of President of the Ford Motor Company in 1918, but when he died prematurely in 1943, aged only 49, Henry appointed his grandson Henry Ford 11 to the Presidency.
Henry Ford himself died on 7 April 1947 at 83 years of age. Industrialist, inventor, pacifist and entrepreneur, he was a visionary who succeeded in changing the course of human history.
Image: Portrait of Henry Ford, c 1919, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.