5 Myths About Henry Ford


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That "Liberal" Wage Hike
1927: Henry Ford (left) and his son Edsel (right) stand next to the first and the 15-millionth Ford. (Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company)

This is perhaps the most persistent Ford myth. It's true, Henry Ford raised wages to a level unheard-of at it the time: Assembly line workers had the potential to earn $5 a day. But it wasn't so they could buy their own Model Ts, as is widely repeated. Ford wasn't a liberal champion. He didn't particularly care about his workers' individual economic situations. He just wanted his workers to stop getting fed-up and walking off the line mid-shift, which cost the factory in wasted time, reduced or lost productivity and the headache of constantly hiring and training new employees. After the pay increase, productivity and quality improved, turnover was reduced and Ford was satisfied he'd made a sound investment [source: Leef]. However, with that increase, workers had to agree to a code of conduct that applied on the job and on personal time. They couldn't drink, gamble, or allow their wives to work outside the home. Immigrants had to learn English. Ford even employed a committee who would make home visits to ensure these standards were met.

So even though Henry Ford invented methods that changed manufacturing forever, his 'big brother' approach to employee management wasn't one that was especially celebrated — or widely adopted.

Author's Note: 5 Myths About Henry Ford

Rather than take a stand on the pro-Henry Ford/anti-Henry Ford debate, I have to wonder how much more difficult it would have been for him to function the way he was in the Internet era. It would be so much more difficult to get away with the kind of things he did with the media and consumers watching every move. Of course, that should be said about plenty of the prolific and controversial businesspeople (and politicians and entertainers) alive today, and it doesn't seem to stop a lot of them from opening their mouths. There are some flaws in this line of questioning, I know. But if Henry Ford hadn't automated manufacturing, someone else surely would have. We'd still have our cars, laptops, smartphones and everything else by now, so it's really hard to let some of his behavior slide. But one of the most interesting things about Henry Ford is that he seemed to think he was operating in a vacuum — that people would buy his cars, but not really pay attention to anything else he did. And that just wouldn't fly now.

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Sources

  • History.com. "Henry Ford." 2009. (Oct. 31, 2014) http://www.history.com/topics/henry-ford
  • Leef, George. "Obama Is The Latest To Fall For The Henry Ford Urban Myth." Forbes. Feb. 5, 2014. (Oct. 31, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2014/02/05/henry-fords-logic-barack-obamas-non-sequitur/
  • Snopes.com. "Henry Ford Junkyard Parts." April 19, 2011. (Oct. 31, 2014) http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/fordpart.asp
  • Vlaskovits, Patrick. "Henry Ford, Innovation, and That "Faster Horse" Quote." Harvard Business Review Blog. Aug. 29, 2011. (Oct. 31, 2014) http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/08/henry-ford-never-said-the-fast/
  • Woeste, Victoria Saker. "Henry Ford: Behind the Myth." Huffington Post. June 7, 2013. (Oct. 31, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-saker-woeste/henry-ford_b_3404768.html
  • Worstall, Tim. "The Story of Henry Ford's $5 a Day Wages: It's Not What You Think." Forbes. March 4, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/03/04/the-story-of-henry-fords-5-a-day-wages-its-not-what-you-think/

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