Henry Ford: History, Highways, and Helping Out

Last month, I was once again lucky enough to attend the annual trend conference, "Further with Ford." It's always a special treat, but I always wish I had more time to hang out and visit The Henry Ford.

This year, to my immense delight, we started there! 

There's nothing a history geek loves more than museums. Ford hosted our first night's dinner on the floor of the museum. Afterward, we were allowed to walk around to our heart's content. The Henry Ford isn't a museum solely focused on the history of Ford. There are plenty of Ford cars to see, of course, but there are plenty of pieces marking technological advances, trends, and social changes that took place in the U.S. I took so many pictures that I killed my phone. To see them all (including the bus Rosa Parks would not sit in the back of and the chair Lincoln was shot in), click on the link to the album. 

Album: The Henry Ford

The Unveiling

That evening, Alan Mullaly, President and CEO of Ford Motor Co. unveiled the restored artwork for an ad that originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1925. It was the depiction of Henry Ford's vision: providing affordable transportation to everyone.

This is the painting before being restored:

Ford Highways Painting before restoration.jpg

And a picture I snapped of Mr. Mulally unveiling the restored painting at our dinner. 

Mulally unveiling restored painting.jpg

The caption in the original ad was: Opening Highways the Highways to All Mankind. Cars were, at the time, a luxury for the few that could afford them. Then Henry Ford came along and made the manufacturing process more efficient and the vehicles more affordable. Suddenly, everyone had access to the adventure of the open road and the opportunities that come with access.

My grandmother used to tell me about her family's Model A and how her parents had driven her and her little brother from New Mexico to California. She remembers the car being delivered by train in a large crate. Can you imagine? My great-grandfather wasn't a rich man. He worked the mines, played the clarinet, had a wife and two kids. He wasn't rich, and times were hard, but he was still able to buy a car and set off with his family to start a new life out west. That's the story of Ford that I remember most... how that one car changed everything for my grandma's little family and for the rest of us that came after.

Volunteer Day

On the day that we usually spend at the test track, we got to do something a little different. The groups were split up on three drives. One was an architectural tour of the city, another was delivering plants and fertilizer for a greening project, and the third was delivering supplies for Habit for Humanity. Since I never worked on a Habitat project, I volunteered for that one. So did a lot of other people. Not many folks volunteered for the garden project. I felt sorry for that group, so I begrudgingly said, "I'll go..." and started a mini wave of other easily guilted people moving over to the green thing. As much as I REALLY wanted to do the Habitat thing, I'm really glad I changed my mind.

Greening of Detroit - garden flowers.jpg

I was introduced to a group called Greening of Detroit. This group is working to replant the city, support local community gardens, and to educate members of the community about nutrition and growing your own food. I also learned that Ford not only donates resources to this group (plants, fertilizer, vehicles), but that their employees are encouraged to volunteer at this and other local non-profits.

In fact, the Ford Volunteer Corps works throughout the U.S. and the world on volunteer projects year round. This particular non-profit really stuck with me. The financial difficulties Detroit is dealing are impacting their work. Park maintenance is being cut back, so the regular maintenance is up to them and other community members. Non-profits don't have unlimited resources, so taking on the added work that would normally fall on the city is impacting their work. Hopefully, more community members will step up to keep this going. Personally, I didn't want to leave. As much as I wanted to go back and test out some more cars, I would have preferred to hang out and help out with the gardening.

Henry Ford profile.jpg

Everywhere you go in Dearborn and Detroit, you see the name Henry Ford. He had an impact on his hometown, his country, and the world. And although he failed in his first attempt at a company and pulled out of his second company, he didn't give up and created the Ford Motor Company that lives on today. Here's to the third time being the charm, to never giving up, and to a company that lives the spirit of its founder.

And here's to Mr. Ford on the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Happy Birthday, Henry!