Imagine taking a camping trip in a Model T. Now look around and see Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone as your companions. You sit around the campfire exchanging wild ideas, while members of the press hover just beyond your circle, snapping photos and feverishly scribbling notes from the conversation of geniuses. Such is the nature of this interview with historian Steven Watts. After five years culling through Henry Ford’s lifetime collection of personal notes and documents, and records of interviews with his colleagues and employees, Mr. Watts brings us a picture of a man whose impact on our society extends far beyond the automobile and the assembly line. Ford planted seeds of consumerism, modern marketing practices, anti-smoking activism-and even fostered the now widespread availability of campsites. But his complexity and contradictions are perhaps most intriguing, as “a man whose talents were enormous and whose flaws in many ways were equally enormous, who outraged intellectuals but had a kind of love from common folk in this country – a kind of folk hero.” Enjoy this humorous and poignant look at a man who is such an incremental part of the fiber of American culture.
Steven Watts is a professor of history at the University of Missouri. His books include The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life (Houghton Mifflin 1997) and The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (Knopf 2005).
Topics Explored in this Dialogue:
- Why Henry Ford could never work on the assembly lines he created
- Why this white anti-Semite was revered by his black employees
- How Ford laid the groundwork for American consumerism
- What impact Ford’s wife had on the organization of the first unions
- What role Henry may have played in his son Edsel’s early death
Program Number: 3142 Host: Michael Toms Interview Date: 4/6/2006