Henry Ford’s Own Story
IT happened that on Ford s fifty-second birth day a commission from the French Chamber of Commerce arrived in Detroit, having crossed the Atlantic to inspect the Ford factories.
They viewed 276 acres of manufacturing activity ; the largest power plant in the world, developing 45,000 horse-power from gas-steam engines designed by Ford engineers ; the enormous forty- ton cranes; 6,000 machines in operation in one great room, using fifty miles of leather belting; nine mono-rail cars, each with two-ton hoists, which carry materials in short, the innumerable details of that mammoth plant.
Then they inspected the hospitals, the rest rooms, noted the daylight construction of the whole plant, the ventilating system which changes the air completely every ten minutes, the labor- saving devices, the "safety-first" equipment.
At last they returned to Henry Ford s office, with notebooks full of figures and information to be taken to the manufacturers of France. They thanked Ford for his courtesy and assured him that they comprehended every detail of his policies save one.
"We find, sir," said the spokesman, courteously, "that last year you had more orders than you could fill. Is it not so?"
"Yes, that is correct," replied Ford. "But with the increased output this year we hope to catch up."
"And yet, is it not so that this spring you lowered the price of your car fifty dollars?"
"Yes, that is true," said Ford.
"But, sir, we cannot understand is it then true that you reduce your prices when already you have more orders than you can fill? This seems strange to us, indeed. Why should a manufacturer do that?"
"Well," Ford answered, "I and my family already have all the money we can possibly use. We don't need any more. And I think an auto mobile is a good thing. I think every man should be able to own one. I want to keep lowering the price until my car is within the reach of every one in America. You see, that is all I know how to do for my country."
Unconsciously, he was voicing the new patriotism the ideal to which he was to give the rest of his life. He said it simply, a little awkwardly, but the French commission, awed by the greatness of this Detroit manufacturer, returned and re ported his statement to the French people as the biggest thing they had found in America.
Yet this viewpoint was the natural outcome of his life. A simple man, seeing things simply, he had arrived at a place of tremendous power in America. He had come to a time when he need no longer work at his engine or his factory organization. He had leisure to survey his country and its problems, to apply to them his machine idea.
And he saw in America a great machine, made up of countless human parts a machine which should work evenly, efficiently, harmoniously, for the production and just distribution of food, shelter, clothes, all the necessities of a simple and comfortable life.
His part, as he saw it, was to make and dis tribute automobiles. He meant to do his part in the best way he knew how, hoping by his suc cess to hasten the time when every one would follow his example, and all the terrible friction and waste of our present system would be stopped.
This was his only interest in life. A farmer- boy mechanic, who had left school at sixteen, who had lived all his life among machines, in terested in practical things, he saw no value in anything which did not promote the material well-being of the people. Art music, painting, literature, architecture luxuries, super-refine ments of living, these things seemed useless to him.
"Education? Come to Detroit and I'll show you the biggest school in the world," he says.
"Every man there is learning and going ahead all the time. They re realizing that their interests are the same as their employer s, that he is the men s trustee, that he is only one of the workmen with a job of his own, and that his job, like the jobs of the others, has to be run for the good of the whole plant. He would fire a man who took away from the other men for his own ad vantage. That spirit would harm the works. Similarly, the men would have a right to fire him if he took away from them for his personal benefit.
"The men in my plant are learning these things. They re leading the way for the workers of this country. They are going to show other workers, just as I hope to show other employers, that things should be run for the most good for the most people. That s the education we need.
"This education outside of industry that we have to-day is just the perpetuation of tradition and convention. It s a good deal of a joke and a good deal of waste motion. To my mind, the usefulness of a school ends when it has taught a man to read and write and figure, and has brought out his capacity for being interested in his line. After that, let the man or boy get after what he is interested in, and get after it with all his might, and keep going ahead that is school.
"If those young fellows who are learning chemistry in colleges were enough interested in chemistry they would learn it the way I did, in my little back shed of nights. I would not give a plugged nickel for all the higher education and all the art in the world."
This, then, was Henry Ford at 52. A slender, slightly stooped man, with hollow cheeks, thin, firm, humorous lips, gray hair ; a man with sixty odd millions of dollars; used to hard work all his life, and liking it. A man who on a single idea had built up a tremendous organization, so sys tematized that it ran by itself, requiring little supervision.
In some way he must use his driving energy, in some way he must spend his millions, and his nature demanded that he do it along the line of that idea which had dominated his whole life the machine idea of humanity, the idea of the greatest good to the greatest number.
That summer, for the first time, he found him self with leisure. He was not imperatively needed at the plant. He and Mrs. Ford spent some time in Greenfield, where he enlarged the old farm by purchasing nearly four thousand acres of land adjoining it. He himself spent some time on the problems of organizing the work on those acres. He and his wife lived in the house where they had begun their married life, and where, with their old furniture and their old friends, they reconstructed the life of thirty years before.
Ford returned to Detroit with a working model for a cheap farm-tractor which he intends to put on the market soon. He worked out the designs and dropped them into the roaring cogs of his organization which presently produced some dozens of the tractors. These were sent down to the farm and put to work. In due course, caught up again by the Ford organization, the tractors will begin to pour out in an endless stream and Ford will have done for farm work what he did for passenger traffic.
But he realized that those occupations did not absorb his whole energy. Unconsciously he was seeking something bigger even than his factories, than his business operations, to which he could devote his mind something to which he could apply his ruling idea, something for which he could fight.
The terrible 4th of August, 1914, which brought misery, ruin, desolation to Europe and panic to the whole world, gave him his opportunity.
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