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Henry Ford Talks About War and Your Future
America's No.1 pacifist, now its No.1 munitions-maker, looks at the world today-
by Donald Wilhelm
MR. FORD'S famous 1915 peace ship established him as our number one pacifist. On that fantastic Babel, as it set out to stop the last war with words, he quickly retreated to his stateroom. And as soon as the Oscar II reached the other side he hurried back home, having learned much, he still says, from the, experience. "All we're here on earth for," he likes to say, "is to get experience."
He was the only American favorably mentioned in Mein Kampf by Hitler. This fact plus his pronounced, but recently renounced, views about the Jews, his isolationist associates and utterances, and his refusal early in this crisis to make airplane motors for Britain, put him on the spot.
He is still a pacifist, a conscientious objector. He makes no bones about it. He views this war, like the last, as the greatest of catastrophes; doesn't want to think or talk about it, and when pressed said: "I hate war. I've always hated war. . . . You can't get me to say anything in favor of war, except that it gives us experience." Nevertheless, today he is probably more feared by Mr. Schicklgruber and the Japs than any other American except the President. Today he will soon be turning out a $325,000 four-motor B-24 flying fortress every hour, a $15,000 Pratt & Whitney air-cooled airplane motor every half hour, with his own liquid-cooled motor also on the way; an armored car or a jeep every minute or two, and mountain ranges of other war items to blast the Axis. Today he is our number one munitions-maker.
His birthday is July 30. At seventy-nine one finds him on the go from sun-up to sundown. To interview him, you have to catch him in transit.
From Washington I wrote to him asking for an interview. Back came a letter saying, "We shall be glad to refer this to Mr. Ford at the first opportunity." I sent an urgent telegram. No answer. At my home in Connecticut the following Monday evening I took up the phone and asked our long-distance operator to get Henry Ford on the wire at his home at Dearborn, Michigan. She laughed, but I bet her a box of candy I'd get him, and won. In a minute or two his voice came, clear, easygoing, informal.
When I apologized for calling him at his home, he said, "Oh, that's all right; Mrs. Ford and I were just sitting here reading. Where are you?"
"Golly, that's quite a distance," he said. "Could you be here Wednesday morning, at ten, say?"
"At nine, if you wish."
"All right. I'll meet you at my office in the engineering building at nine, Wednesday morning. I'll be glad to see you." But none of his staff there knew anything about all this. At the very hour I appeared, my office in Connecticut was receiving a telegram saying I couldn't see Mr. Ford at all. He rarely came to his office, I myself was now told. He was always on the go in his car. "His car is his office." Told to cool my heels in the reception room there, a moment later: I saw a Ford sedan roll up to the door. The driver slipped out, came in. In the front seat was a slender, small figure in gray, his gray hat on his lap, completely relaxed in the morning sunlight. "Isn't that Mr. Ford out there?" I asked the receptionist on his throne.
"I wouldn't know about that," he said, smiling.
I said, "Guess I'll go out and ask him."
Bombers! I wondered how he, our number one pacifist and conscientious objector, felt about making bombers. I aimed to find out.
"This seems like a pretty good car, Mr. Ford," I began, to keep things informal.
He laughed. "Step on it, Wilson. Now watch that meter!"
It moved up to fifty miles an hour. "Step on it, Wilson," he repeated impatiently.
The meter swung to sixty.
"She'll do better than that, Wilson!" he said.
"But there's a stiff side wind, Mr. Ford," Wilson objected.
"Besides," I said, "the road's full of ruts."
First impressions: Looks like a Vermonter; . . . Looks fit. Skin clear. Hands young for seventy-nine. Says proudly that he never wears glasses except for the very closest work. . . . Eats lightly, he adds. No stimulants. Has never smoked (no one in the executive dining room or on a Ford job smokes, nor did even on Ford property until lately). . . . No sports. No exercise except riding his bike now and then around his place in Dearborn. . . . What keeps him young? He and Mrs. Ford often read to each other, he says. He likes to sit in the sun. He never argues with anyone. He likes to relax with the children in the schools of the New England community he has reproduced, Dearborn Village, where, that they may learn by doing, he likes to help them make things. . . . So far, he seems an extraordinarily simple man whom interviewers and public relationists have chosen to make complex.
"It's the young people who will make the future," he said. "Their lives haven't been messed up. They're honest. But they have to know how to do things, how to think and work. Education is the hardest job in the world, the way most people have to live, without land and nature to help. . . . Production is education. People who work are learning all the time. They're getting experience. It's work that gives them character.
"Politics never produces anything. It's the decaying apple.
"Industry has given us some great educators, like the radio, the motion picture, and the motorcar. The motorcar brought about a greater intermingling of people than any other thing in history. I've never thought of it as just something to get around in, to be made and sold at a profit. I like to think about what the 25,000,000 cars and trucks we've made here at Dearborn alone have meant to people. You can't get more than you give. That's where God steps in."
Money as such appears to mean little to him, who probably hasn't the remotest idea of how much he has. "Money isn't wealth," he said. "People are always confusing money with wealth. "Production is the only way to create wealth. Money is necessary to organize businesses and keep homes running. It saves transportation when you want to exchange the work you've put into raising a bushel of wheat, say, for the work some one else has put into making something, maybe a tool, in another part of the country. Idle money never does anybody any good. Gold is about the most useless metal we have. We've kept about the same amount of money in banks for thirty years. The main reason is that if we had to borrow, the bankers would try to take our institution away from us. They tried that — once."
To make things in a big way, make them cheap. To make them cheap, cut costs. To cut costs, make many all alike, use machines to make them. To make it possible for people to buy them, pay the highest wages.
This formula was Mr. Ford's great contribution. He didn't invent mass production, but he was the first to make it work in a big way. He has lived to see it adopted by countless other makers of things, to see it multiply and cheapen the things on sale, change our way of life and living, become basic to our success in war.
Lest we forget: This idea of his was at first deemed crazy. His partners quit him. Manufacturers here in the land of the free and brave went though the ceiling, came down hopping mad, when in 1914 he established five dollars as his minimum daily wage and cut his working day from ten to eight hours. In 1922 he increased his minimum wage to six dollars. In 1928 he adopted the five-day week. In 1929, when his friend President Hoover was begging American employers not to lower wages, he increased his minimum wage to seven dollars, and he held to it until forced by hard times back to six dollars, now his minimum for every Ford employee, man or woman, old or young, including many who are physically handicapped.
Mentioning the great company of inventive souls, I told him about stepping into the tent hangar of the two Wright brothers at the first big aero meet, at Squantum, Massachusetts, in 1910: "There they were, Mr. Ford, sitting on their trunks on the dirt floor. And what do you suppose they were doing? They were studying the wings of a dead sparrow one of them had picked up coming back from lunch. If only they had applied the lessons of flight built into the wings of that sparrow, they might have advanced aviation by ten or twenty years."
When I said I was thinking of the shape of the sparrow's cambered wing, thick and rounded at the front and not kitelike as were early airplane wings, he agreed: "Yes, you're right." Then he said that on a Florida beach one day he and Mr. Edison had found a dead frigate bird. They gathered it up, took it home, studied it for days. "It kept very well," he said. "There was hardly any fat on it." After a pause, he added, "The plover is one of the best flyers. I've got interested in it lately. It's becoming extinct. That's too bad."
The moment his eye lights on anything, especially anything made, his mind appears to be groping back to its making, to the way it was made, to the time given to its making by one or many craftsmen or machines. What made the Model T so light and cheap turned on the pioneer production of a strong vanadium alloy steel. All that steel companies cared much about in those days was the production of ordinary carbon steel. He could find only one company that would even try to make vanadium steel in big tonnages for him — a little outfit that was willing to take a chance, at Canton, Ohio. The superintendent once told me how Mr. Ford spent most of his hours while waiting for the first heat: "He spent his time climbing over the scrap pile. Every now and then he'd come to me with a piece of metal in his hand, as excited as a boy finding something special. He'd say, 'I think I know, Griffith, where this came from—what kind of a machine, who made it.' "
He wanted, at once, a copy of this bit quoted from the blackboard of a humble schoolmaster in the mountains of Colorado. Deep in him is his homage to work, to the craftsman, to skill.
Deep in him, too, is his love of the soil. Not far from the throbbing great River Rouge plant is the modest, unmarked white farm cottage where he and Mrs. Ford first lived, before he quit farming, his father's vocation, to go back to Detroit to make his first automobile in the brick shed now located in Greenfield Village. Several times a year, he told me while talking about housing old and new, he and Mrs. Ford go there, all by themselves, to prepare and have a meal by themselves. While we rolled through his thousands of acres, he shook his head each time I mentioned the war, but warmed to talking about the soil.
"We're raising soybeans here," he said. "The time will come when not an inch of the soil, not a single crop, not even weeds, will be wasted. Then every American family can have a piece of land. We ought to tax all idle land the way Henry George said — tax it heavily, so that its owners would have to make it productive."
He wants everyone to see the many small factories he has built within fifty miles of Dearborn and operates at a loss, no doubt. These small factories, each making a single item — magnetos, for example — reflect his hunger to get people back on the land. "The family of every American workingman," he insists, "should have a piece of land."
A prime reason why he has never given a dollar to Detroit charities (his son, Edsel, makes up handsomely for him) is that public relief, as he sees it, prevents people from going back, or being driven back, to the land. "Public relief," he said, "is the greatest curse that ever struck the earth. No one ever gets anything for nothing." His idea of being helpful is manifested in other ways. For example, years ago he had a study made of the percentage of people in the State of Michigan who had physical handicaps of any kind. Then he made places for a like percentage of physically handicapped men and women in his own employment — so many who were deaf, lame, one-legged or one-armed, so many with arrested cases of tuberculosis, and so on. Each, of course, receives full pay. And because of their special devotion to their work he believes they do their part well, often much. better than others.
WHEN I mentioned the war the third or fourth time, he turned around in his seat and said: "I have always hated war. The last war threw civilization back a half century. No one wins a modern war except a few warmongers, maybe a hundred. The common people never win. War comes to their doors and takes their sons, takes men away from the work they want to do in providing people with the things they need. It takes things away from them. It takes the money they've saved to educate their children. It taxes them to pay for things destroyed. . . . This country should be strong enough to put an end to this senseless destruction."
"But this war?"
"War is destruction," he said. "No, sir, you can't get me to say anything in favor of war except that it teaches us. It gives us experience, and all we're here on earth for is to learn."
Not knowing that he believes we are all destined to come back to earth again and that he has said he only hopes Mrs. Ford will be at his side, I said, too lightly, "I wonder!"
Feeling his reproving look, and the driver's, I added: "I don't know, Mr. Ford. The older I get, the less I know. For instance, I never did understand how my mother, a widow with six children, always knew in advance when anything was about to go wrong. I've always thought it was because she was French and the French are supposed to be intuitive."
"It's experience," he said simply."She'd lived before."
Also he applies his own ideas about choosing men for important jobs. Months back he paused on his rounds to say to the youngster now in charge of production at the huge bomber plant, "You're going to run it." The youngster said, "But, Mr. Ford, I don't know anything about running a bomber plant!" Mr. Ford answered, "It's time you learned," and that was that.
Almost every morning until this crisis came to upset all his plans, he attended the simple nonsectarian service conducted wholly by the young folks in his schools in Greenfield Village. In the little New England Martha-Mary Chapel (named for Mrs. Ford's mother and his) he had me sit in the balcony with him one morning. After the Doxology, a hymn, the Lord's Prayer, another hymn and the reading of the Twenty-third Psalm, then a third hymn and a recitation of Van Dyke's poem on work by a boy, came three songs — Old Black Joe, a solo, My Little Gray Home in the West, by a young miss, and Auld Lang Syne.
He looked on — more interested, it seemed, in the young folk, most of whom he knows by their first names, than in the service itself. Afterward, when I said I wished I could come every morning, said young people were good for the soul, again he said, smiling, "They're honest!"
Then, in the office of his personal secretary, he settled himself in a chair, pushed off the light, black low shoes that the proud shoemaker in the Village makes for him, put his feet on the radiator, and talked nearly two hours about postwar America.
EVEN at seventy-nine, apparently the future interests him far more than the past, the present, or even the job that his big empire is doing — making munitions of war. "There's no need of this country having hard times after peace comes," he said, "if we pull together and use our experience. . . . We can look forward to many of the most prosperous years we've ever had."
When reminded that a depression has followed every war we've had, he answered, "Things are different now." And when reminded that this war is destroying more wealth, whether measured in lives or in money, than all the wars of the past combined, he said, "If this war ended tomorrow there'd be a big gap to be filled. Right now there are shortages of many things people want, and the shortages are increasing. Even before we had to defend ourselves you couldn't show me one man or woman who had plenty of everything. For everyone with half enough I could show you many who didn't have the simplest essentials of decent living, like good food and shelter and education."
We Americans were a lot better off at that, he went on, than the people in other countries. Nature didn't distribute her gifts equally; people had never used them equally. We made out better than most. We lifted ourselves by our own bootstraps. We can do it again. "This country is too rich in its land and other resources, in inventive, scientific, and manufacturing skill," he insisted, "to go down. If the war goes on another year or two there will be demand for all we can make. We'll have to help many other countries. The gap is getting bigger all the time. It will be up to industry to fill it.
"Production is the only way to have prosperity. I've been saying this for forty years. It was true then. It's true now. It will be true after this war."
There isn't such a thing as overproduction, he agreed. The problem is to maintain purchasing power, he said, and added, "The first thing the country should do when peace comes is to issue currency in dollars to pay back to the people the money they've loaned the government. That money would provide purchasing power, keep industry going, provide jobs, until we get squared around."
"That idea, of working the printing presses to make more dollars, sure will make some people see red, Mr. Ford," it was suggested.
"Let 'em!" he answered. Then he added: "The dollar is good all over the world. That's because there's plenty to make it good. It's backed up by the government, by the people of the country, by their ability to work. It don't even need to be backed up by all that gold we've got buried underground. Use that, if you have to. It's no good where it is. Idle money never does anyone any good. It never has. You've got to put it to work. There'll be plenty of work for it to do."
He looks upon our enormous wartime increase in industrial capacity
as an asset, not a liability, especially if governments will refrain from
to the free flow of goods. When reminded that war plants would have to be converted
back to the ways of peace, he said, "That will have to be worked out." Then,
noting that new industries have always been necessary to prosperity, he emphasized
the future importance of aviation. "The generation before mine," he
said, "gave us the railroads. My generation produced the automobile. Everybody
will be flying after the war. There's always been a place in the world for
any new way "to improve transportation and communication."
Science and invention, he said, will help to provide new industries, products,
and services. War always stimulates invention as well as scientific effort.
We have the most generous patent system in the world. Our government has issued
more than 2,000,000 patents, mostly to "lone" inventors. The most
productive years in an inventor's life are those under thirty. . The young
inventors in this country have a better chance to come through than the young
men in most other countries, especially those countries that have been preparing
for war and fighting longer. At the beginning of the last war we had scarcely
200 industrial research laboratories. Now we have more than 2,000.
One evening, a year later, he stopped in. They discussed the findings. Learning that the best prospects lay with soybeans, he told his research director to go ahead and concentrate on those. Since then the humble soybean has swiftly increased in both agricultural and industrial importance. In addition to twenty-odd plastic and other industrial uses for it, within the last year Mr. Boyer and his technical associates have found a way to produce from it a new material resembling wool but better for some purposes — felt, for hats, is one. This achievement especially pleases Mr. Ford. "Heretofore," he explained, "wool has always had to come from animals. Now we can make it in a factory. We're turning to wheat, and we've already found twenty different substances in it, a surplus crop, that we can use in our plants. There is no limit to the uses of crops and also farm wastes in industry."
He did not discuss many of the post-war pros and cons that hundreds of Washington weather prophets are studying. Arriving at his conclusions in his own way, he reveals greater confidence than many of them.
In this office he never uses, he smiled as I glanced about at the carved mantel, rich hangings, huge Oriental rug, and costly furniture. "I never liked it, either," he said, laughing. "I feel more at home in a barn."
"May I take off my coat?" I asked. He answered by peeling off his. "Make
yourself at home. Do anything you like," he said, tinkering with the:
Swiss music box in its handsome case, and observing, "It needs a little
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper