Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2004 Issue

Henry Ford: Hell on Wheels

Hford

The history of Henry Ford is the history of America in the 20th century.


A review by Bruce McKinney

Recently I read Wheels for the World, a biography of Henry Ford and a history of the Ford Motor Company by Douglas Brinkley who has written more books than Zsa Zsa had husbands. This book was written with the support and cooperation of the Ford family with the understanding that the story would be a balanced account. The Ford saga is a complex one and the book is 764 pages of primary text to which is appended 90 pages of notes, bibliography and index. For the first 500 pages it is the history of Henry Ford and it then continues on to tell the story of the firm with an emphasis on the firm's leadership. It is not, in the final analysis, a story about cars and trucks. It is a story about people and one person in particular. The book was released as Ford Motors prepared to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2003.

Most of what you "know" about Henry Ford is probably not going to be confirmed in this book. This is the 21st century and we don't hold much back anymore though, by television standards, this book is down right polite. This is the “many sides” of Henry Ford though some of the more difficult aspects of Henry Ford are alluded to but not explained.

Henry Ford was born in what is today Dearborn, Michigan during the Civil War in the same month the Battle of Gettysburg was fought: July, 1863. He grew up on a farm during the heady decades following the Great War as America was beginning to embrace the role of world leader. In the final decades of the 19th century all things seemed possible to the nation and to Henry Ford in particular. He believed in possibilities. As the American century was looming he was tinkering with the horseless carriage. He was not its inventor though in time he would become its "perfecter". By 1905, after an initial failure, he was building "Fords," one of more than 2,000 automotive brands that would be built at the dawn of the automotive age. Among car builders he alone had a unique and absolutely correct concept about how to build, not only cars but also, his company. He would seek the maximum market when others sought the maximum profit. Today it sounds logical but it was revolutionary then. This man could build cars. He would also build a business.

In time, in the quest to increase production and lower selling prices so to find the broadest possible market, he developed the concept of the assembly line, an incalculable advance in manufacturing technique. Previously, parts to build a car arrived around a chassis in a star pattern where piece by piece they were bolted together to make a finished vehicle. He, his staff and engineers determined that a chassis moving down a line from work station to work station could simplify, improve and speed up the assembly process. With the implementation of this concept the modern manufacturing era was born.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
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