Henry Ford: Genius of Mass Production

Brandeis University

Daniel Breen is Senior Lecturer in Legal Studies at Brandeis University, and a recipient of the Louis Brandeis Award for Excellence in Teaching. While his primary academic interests lay in the law and politics of the Early Republic, he also holds a Ph.D. in American History and enjoys lecturing on a wide variety of subjects. Professor Breen is currently working on an article about the secession movement in New England during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.

Overview

History of Henry Ford

Henry Ford may have been both the most influential, and the most infuriating, of all of America’s industrial geniuses.  No one did more to bring about the mass consumer economy of the modern United States, with its continuing reliance on the automobile.  Yet Ford combined his visionary impulses with an intense nostalgia for the rural past—a past his own innovations had helped consign to oblivion—and a truly awful commitment to anti-Semitism.   Who, really, was Henry Ford?  In this presentation, we will try to address that question, by delving into the contributions and complexities of this thoroughly peculiar American genius.

 

Recommended Reading about the History of Henry Ford:

  • The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, by Steven Watts
  • Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, by Douglas G. Brinkley
  • Drive!  Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age, by Lawrence Goldstone

 

Discussion Questions About the History of Henry Ford:

1)    By making the automobile affordable — at least for middle-class Americans — Ford made possible our modern landscape of suburbs, fast food restaurants and shopping plazas.  What do you think are the benefits, and the costs, of that kind of car-based social environment?

2)    Ford was famous for his 1914 decision to pay workers five dollars a day—more than twice what they had been making before.  Why would Ford do such a thing–especially when the country was in the grips of an economic depression that year?  How might large companies today benefit from raising worker salaries?

3)    Ford is often thought of as a visionary, as no one did more than he did to produce a society wedded to the automobile as the primary way to get around.  What do you think might be the next revolution in transportation?  What should we hope for from the next great visionary in terms of new, better, or more efficient ways of getting from place to place?

 

 

 

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