I have always known of Henry Ford as an innovator and industrialist and even as a controversial political commentator. In recent months, I have got to see many other dimensions of the man and the impact he had way beyond the ‘Tin Lizzies” he helped launch.
We stayed at this iconic hotel this weekend for a wedding and got to see Ford’s impact on aviation and even hospitality – it is a classier version of today’s airport hotel and motor inn. Local guests were full of stories about Henry, Clara, Edsel and other members of their family and their residences and quirks.
We took a tour of the plant which churns out as many as 1,250 F-150 trucks a day – each customized for trim, color, sunroof etc. The plant is a marvel of conveyor belts, robotics and highly motivated workers. Nice to see the man-machine symbiosis – robots precisely position a sunroof as humans bolt them in, robots paint the vehicles while humans handle the carpeting.
Even more impressive was to learn that the Rouge complex at one point employed 100,000 workers as Henry pioneered vertical integration. In the 1920s, Ford had coal and iron ore mines, rubber plantations, rail cars, blast furnaces, a lot more.
Detroit Institute of Art
I led off Silicon Collar with the incredible story of how Tadae Shimoura left his farm in Japan and made the improbable journey to Ford’s home in Michigan in the early 1900s. He was the first Japanese citizen to be part of the US auto industry. Other countrymen followed, and one, James Hirata is immortalized in one of the Diego Rivera fresco murals at the Detroit Institute of Art (he's the one with the white shirt and tie). The murals are a commentary on Detroit when they were painted in 1932-33. It was the leading industrial center of the world which was also hit disproportionately hard by the Great Depression. But through the 27 panels you can see the massive impact Ford had on the city and the world. This holiday weekend was particularly busy for the museum. Patrons of all ages were there to see a Star Wars costume exhibit, and many passed the courtyard where the Rivera murals dominate and to admire in them the city and the industry Henry built.
Fast forward to today’s auto industry
We now have tiered supply chains, mass customization, variety of automation, sensors and software in vehicles. Henry would be proud to see how the automobile industry has evolved. He would enjoy going to Plex events, like I have for the last few years, and getting to meet executives and visit shop floors of companies like Inteva, Accuride, Hatch Stamping and MFC Netform.
Estate in Florida
By many benchmarks, Thomas Edison was the greatest American innovator ever. He set a goal for himself to have a major invention every six months, and a minor one every ten days and came close to accomplishing that remarkable track record. I went to see his winter estate, south of where I live, in Fort Myers earlier this year and got a bonus. Henry Ford treated Edison like a father figure and used to spend winters with him in Florida. You get to see other aspects of Henry’s life when you see how the two geniuses collaborated and relaxed. Among other things, the vegetation and labs at the estate show they looked for ways to grow rubber in the US and looked at alternate chemicals to be used in tires and other automobile components.
I would highly recommend any and all of the above sites to pay tribute to the amazing man. As for me, all this recent exposure to Henry could be serendipitous – may be he is trying to get me to write a book about him