April 11, 2006

Today In Automotive History

1888 Henry Ford marries

Henry Ford married Clara Bryant Ford in Greenfield, Michigan, on her 22nd birthday. Clara described her intended to her parents as "quiet, pleasant, keen-minded, and sensible." When Clara Bryant married Henry Ford, he was living on a 40-acre plot of land that belonged to his father. Instead of farming the land Ford had it cleared and sold the lumber. Once the lumber was gone, he took a job as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company. The move was the beginning of Ford's precipitous rise through the ranks of the engineering world, a career that saw he and his wife move 11 times between 1892 and 1915, always to finer circumstances. Not many wives in that day would have approved of such a migrant lifestyle, but Clara Bryant Ford did. She is credited with backing her husband in all of his endeavors. There was a time when Henry Ford's success as a maker of cars was dubious at best. Indeed, Ford spent the years between 1895 and 1901 as a virtual unknown and unpaid tinkerer. In 1896, Ford met Thomas Edison for the first time. Edison encouraged him in his car-building mission, exhorting Ford to continue his work, "Young man, that's the thing. You have it. The self-contained unit carrying its own fuel with it." Ford wasn't the only man "to have it," but Edison's words affected him. "No man, up to then," Ford explained, "had given me encouragement." But his wife had. The union of Clara and Henry would reach its most celebrated stages after Henry had become a success. Clara Bryant stood by her man, it's true, but there were times when she objected to his practices, and on those occasions she intervened. She is often credited with forcing her reluctant husband to finally give in to labor negotiations. In 1941, most of the workers at Ford's colossal River Rouge Plant walked out on their jobs. Even after a successful strike, Henry Ford refused to negotiate with the UAW. He believed that Ford workers were essentially loyal and that the union had bullied them into striking. The stubborn Ford said, "let the union take over," meaning he wouldn't run the company if they were a part of it. The government informed Ford that they would take over were he to close the plants. Ford was immovable. He insisted the government, by backing the unions, would hurt the American auto industry and not Henry Ford. Finally, though, Henry capitulated. Apparently, Clara informed him that should he close the plants, he would have to seek a new wife.

Posted by Quality Weenie at April 11, 2006 07:06 AM | TrackBack