Saturday 2010-12-11

Wheels for the World by David Brinkley

Brinkley's history of Ford bounces along through highs to lows: the Model T, the Edsel, the Mustang, the Pinto, the Taurus, and ends with Explorers rolling the wrong way. In addition to have covering all that ground, Brinkley seems to at least understand some business, as he describes as moat-building Henry Ford's tandem work with James Couzens fixated on making cars efficiently for the masses.

Written in 2003, it concentrates on the first 50 years of Ford, while limply covering the most recent history. With 20/20 hindsight, Brinkley might have been better served to stop his book with the first death of Ford, leaving the death of Detroit to a second book.

The American invents as the Greek chiseled, as the Venetian painted, as the modern Italian sings.
-- Willis West, Introduction
his father, William Ford, owned one of the region's most prosperous agricultural operations, and in 1876 the well-tended Ford property was selected to represent Dearborn's best in that year's Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wayne County.
-- Origins
The burly Dodges (John and Horace) wre tough in a way Henry Ford most certainly was not. They were strong physical men who were always up for a fight, not for the joy of it, but because in their view of the world, fist fightin was sometimes necessary.
-- Founding Ford
For everyone save his wife, Clara, demonization of the strong and destruction of the weak seemed to be the inevitable end of any close relationship with Henry Ford.
-- Founding Ford
The industry itself may have been in its infancy, but for all its aura lof derring-do, carmaking was by no means purely a young man's game; many of those who caught the auto bug, such as Cadillac's elder statesman Henry Leland, were established businessmen of a certain age, and with the means to act upon their favor.
-- Growing Successes
Before long, he (Alfred Sloan) sold the shiny new lemon (not a Ford) to a friend, who sold it to another friend, who soon after took the thing to an open field and blew it up with a stick of dynamite.
-- Growing Successes
lawyer that he was (George) Selden's intent apparently was to come up with such precisely vague legal wording for his patent that it would accord him the exclusive right to license -- and therefore exact royalty payments from -- any and all internal-combustion-driven vehicles to be developed in the United States from the date of the patent's issue to its expiration after the standard seventeen years.
-- Growing Pains
As the joke ran about the man trying to explain why he wanted to be buried in his Model T: "I ain't never seen a hole yet that she couldn't get me outta."
-- Growing Pains
In one case, reported in the Minneapolis Journal of August 9, 1902, a Minnesotan driving a car was shot in the back by loals opposed to the encroachment of the auto.
-- Model T Mania
His company's affordable ModelTs went far to help modernize farming practices as qwell as rural life overall, for sturdy Ford cars and trucks could be used both for transportation and as tireles iron workhorses. Simply by attaching a bel to the vehicle's crankshaft or rear axle, a farmer gained a power source capable of a multitude of tasks -- "grinding grain, sawing wood, filling silos, churning butter, shearing sheep, pumping water, elevating grain, shelling corn, truning grindstones, and washing clothes."
-- Model T Mania
three types of innovations implemented at Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1914 that "led the way in revolutionizing industrial production in general and automotive production in particular." The first was the adoption of specialized amchinery, followed by the organization of the assembly process to optimize synchronization, and the last was mechanization...
For Ford Motor, which was just coming through the protracted Selden legal battle, efficient production offered better protection than any patent.
-- Fordism
In that study, titled Henry Ford: Inventor of the Supermarket?, the professors concluded tht Ford Motor's commissary shops were the precursors to the Kroger's, Winn-Dixies, and Wal-Marts of the future, and that Ford has anticipated the new trend toward one-stop shopping a full decade before anyone else.
-- Alone at the Top (ignoring company stores)
James Couzens gave his elder son, Homer, a Model T for his fourteenth birthday in 1914, back when it was not unusual to see boys that age driving around rural roads like those near the Couzens family's weekend retreat north of Detroit. But that August 8, his T overturned with Homer at the wheel, pinning the boy underneath. James and Margaret Couzens were immediately called to the scene, but by the time they reached the wreckage, their son was dead.
-- Alone at the Top
Norman Hapgood concluded that outside of the automotive realm, Henry Ford had the mind of a child.
-- Withstanding the Downturn ( like Mike Tyson )
(During the recession at the start of the 1920s and when Ford needed cash) Dealers across the country suddenly began receiving unordered shipments of Model T cars and Fordson tractors -- which according to the find print in the company's standard contract, they had to pay for whether they wanted the vehicles or not. To meet the obligation, most of the company's dealers had to turn to their local banks for loans, which meant Ford Motor Company would not have to do likewise.
-- Withstanding the Downturn
A remnant of James Couzens's sense of social responsibility, the sociological department also reflected Henry Ford's belief in certain values, including a stable household, steady savings, and cleanliness.
The department was difficult to understand in its own time, and has remained so ever since. In starting it, the company was trying to take care of its own people in the midst of an urban-industrial environment that was brutal on the uninformed employee. Perhaps a worker's home life should have been none of the company's business, yet many Ford employees had serious trouble at home.
-- The Rouge
when Karl Marx began work on Das Kapital in the 1850s, the largest manufacturing company around was a cotton mill in Manchester, England, owned by his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels.
-- The Rouge
Mere transportation was no longer enough, and new techniques in the way cars were made, mareketed, and financed allowed custoemrs to reach upward, if a car seemed better than anything they could have previously afforded. These were the trends that executive at General Motors exploited, givin it a jump on what Sloan called the "mass-class" era.
At a time when banks didn't yet offer auto loans and custeors had to pay cash for car purchases, a lower price price did lead to greater sales...
But thanks to a GM exectuive naemd John J. Raskob, installment buying arrived to energize the automobile industry...
By 1924, one in three cars sold by GM was financed through GMAC...
GM accelerated its loan program with a new innovation that allowed people to trade in a secondhand car and use the proceeds as a down payment...
The only car that could beat a new Model T was an old Model T at half the price.
-- Goodbye, Model T; Hello, Model A
CountryPersons per Vehicle in 1926
New Zealand13
United States6
-- Model A and Trade Abroad ( Who's the sick man of Europe now? )
The idea of product policy was not only to offer something for every automobile customer, but to carry a motorist from the fist thrill of buying a new Chevy, all the way through the family years of an Olds or a Pontiac to either the respectability of a Buick or the flash of a LaSalle, and ultimately, the crowning achievement of owning a Cadillac.
-- Mercury
In 1958, twenty years after the introduction of the Continental (Christopher Walken is old) and fifteen years after Edsel Ford's death, a famous car called the Edsel was produced by the Ford Motor Company...
That his name has been associated with that model is a bitter injustice...
The shame is that people don't think of the Continental as being, in spirit, the real "Edsel".
-- Mercury
At the River Rouge plant in Dearborn, one of Ford Motor's most successful wartime projects was the quarter-ton 4x4 truck -- the jeep.
-- Willow Run and the B-24 Liberators
"You're so effective one on one. You could sell anybody anything, " he once told his brash subordinate. After that, (Robert the Wrong) McNamara made (Lee) Iacocca submit his arguments in writing... Quoth one Mustang enthusiast at the Ford Motor Company: "This car is the greatest thing since the Erector set."
-- Mustang Generation
If one were to judge by the air pollution over Los Angeles, the interstate congestion in Chicago, and the hazardous waste in Houston, the automobile was the "new Satan", destroying Planet Earth at an alarming rate. "Industrial vomit," Alvin Toffler wrote in Future Shock...
-- Trouble All Around
In the end, it took nearly five thousand regular U.S. Army troops until July 30 (from July 23) to restore order. Across a six-mile span from Grand River Avenue to Gratiot Avenue, the city "looked like Berlin in 1945", according to the mayor...
The Detroit riot, the worst in the histroy of the United States, revealed that the Motor City was not the prosperous, progressive industrial city it had been when Henry Ford was alive.
-- Trouble All Around
Two days after Ford's announcement (recall of Pintos), the CBS television show 60 Minutes covered the problems with the Pinto fuel tank...
Two months later (in August 1978), the Ehrlich girls in Indiana went out for their ride, apparently oblivious of the danger posed by the Pinto (the family would receive a recall notice on the car in February 1979 (ouch)). They were burned to death in what should have been a minor accident.
-- Financial Crisis
At its launch in late 1985, the Taurus (with its sibling, the Mercury Sable) surprised the market simply by standing as a statement of competence and, more than that, of self-confidence. the notion of a high-quality American model was downright startling back then, but in making it a reality, Ford pried open a door that had slammed shut for many customers in the early 1980s.
-- Team Taurus