Seventy years ago, this month, Henry Ford retired from his position as head of the Ford Motor Company. I’m sure he was tired after so many years of innovation and struggle as he built his personal empire.
It seems to me that Ford automobiles are either loved or hated by consumers. I’ve owned a few with good results, so I have nothing bad to say about them. But then, I don’t get very excited about cars. I’m one of those who look at cars as a necessary evil. I have to own one, but it can be more functional than luxurious.
Today a friend and I will drive a couple of hours to visit a car auction. It’s not just a car auction, but limited to classic and collector automobiles. You know, cars like a 1928 Duesenberg, or a 1932 Ford truck in mint condition. Or maybe a 1972 Ford Mustang or some other muscle car from that era.
I used to think owning an old car would be fun until I watched a driver park one on the auction floor. He was wearing leather gloves, and without power steering he worked hard turning the steering wheel, gripping with all his strength, pulling and pulling to move those large wheels attached to that iron frame supporting a heavy 12 cylinder engine.
While walking to his table at a restaurant in New York City, Glen Curtiss was once stopped by an old man who said, “If you need any help with your lawsuit, please let me know.”
Curtiss was with his attorney, and later asked, “Who was that guy?”
The attorney replied, “Oh, that’s Henry Ford.”
This was when Curtiss was being sued by the Wright brothers over the invention of airplane flaps vs. using wires to warp the wings to control flight.
In his early years Henry Ford was sued by a physician in Rochester, New York over the design of the engine. The doctor had a patent on valves or something and sued Ford for violating it, and after a legal battle between the two sides Ford won, and continued with his production. He, thereafter, was sensitive to the issue of progress in spite of prior claims.
The Ford Motor Company did introduce many new features and had some flops. Most would agree that the Mustang was among its best, and the Edsel the worst.
The late 20th century was the most challenging as Japanese engineering, led by an American engineer, set a new standard that had to be met, and today the American automobile industry improves each year as more and more innovation is introduced into the process of design and manufacturing.
Old Henry would be proud of today’s autos. He’d probably not waste time with the recent history, but eagerly look to the future and ways to further advance the technology of modern automobiles.
So we salute Henry Ford for his contribution to such an important part of our culture.