Henry Ford was undoubtedly a successful businessman, although his business practices and social views often reflected controversially on both him personally and the Ford Motor Company. He was an avowed pacificist, and some say an anti-Semite.
When World War II broke out, and especially after the United States was attacked by Japan, he had to adjust his views. Henry Ford and his company, under the leadership of his son Edsel, joined the herculean efforts of hundreds of other American businesses to build the machinery and weapons needed to defeat the Nazis and Japanese.
Author A.J. Baime writes a compelling history of one of the most volatile and dangerous periods in world history. The story chiefly revolves around the Ford Motor Company and its participation, but also touches on other automotive giants like General Motors and Chrysler. At that time, all of the major automobile manufacturers had plants in Europe which Hitler took over as he rampaged through country after country.
I found the book fascinating, and although heavy on background history, I never felt it bogged down but rather enhanced the narrative. I especially found it interesting to read more about Edsel Ford and his leadership throughout this turbulent period. He was gravely ill and died in 1943, but the company went on to make a significant contribution to the war effort because of the groundwork he had laid. The fact that he had to contend with his father’s negativity toward him and Harry Bennett, Henry’s “resident thug,” made him a more admirable figure than I expected to find.
After having boasted they could build a bomber an hour, the Ford Motor Company struggled to meet quotas at the beginning but by the end of the war, they were churning out well over three hundred B-24 Liberators a month, earning them the Army-Navy Excellence flag. During that period, automotive advertisements touted contributions to the war effort, rather than the latest model (car manufacturing was, for the most part, put on hold).
It was truly eye-opening to read how a nation that had been mired in the Great Depression for years suddenly rose up and met the challenge of arming the nation and its allies to achieve victory. Anyone interested in World War II history or automotive history will find this a worthwhile read.
NOTE: Earlier this year I wrote a series on Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company (Part One, Part Two, Part Three), as well as a two-part series on Fordlandia (Part One, Part Two), his Amazonian utopian experiment.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.