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! 


Looking Forward with Ford

I'm at Ford corporate headquarters in Dearborn right now. I'm being overwhelmed with information, but it's all good stuff. There are nearly 200 writers here learning about how Ford is using future trends to shape their cars and the way they do business. Among the trends we're covering are Youth Influence, Aging Population, and Emerging Technologies. Last night, we were treated to the words of Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, Brink, and Outliers. I don't think I can express to you how very incredibly geeked out I was to meet him! Seeeeee...

Malcolm talked about a paradigm shift that occurred in the 70s that has created circumstances that we are all experiencing today. Later that night, over drinks with the other social media folks here, we talked about what he had to say and all agreed that we were all nodding our heads about what he was saying. What was he saying? I'll have that up later this week. If you're not already subscribed to my feed or signed up to get my posts via email, please do so. I wouldn't want you to miss what he had to say. It's important.

In one of the sessions this morning, we discussed Millenials and what they are expecting from companies. Funny, but I identified with so much of what they want. Is it because I have children that age? Is it because I live in California where that sort of thinking has been around for a while? I'm not sure. I just remember nodding my head at all the talk of simplifying life, to the point of changing the idea of car ownership. I'm still Gen X enough to want my own car, but for the next generation of drivers, sharing is becoming more acceptable. My daughter in San Francisco is a member of the Zip Car service. Whenever she needs a car, it's there. But the rest of the time, she's on her bike, taking the Muni, or walking. She avoids a large car payment, monthly parking fees, and maintenance costs. Of course that's all built into the Zip service, but not to the extent that a car owner realizes those costs.

We also talked about people returning to urban living. This is a big one for me. I would LOVE to live where I can work and play and take an elevator downstairs to the market. If you go to the cool new neighborhoods in San Diego's downtown area, you'll find blocks and blocks of really beautiful buildings, hip and modern, rising to the sky. On the ground floors are cafes, markets, stores, and offices. The area, once semi-abandoned, is becoming a place that people are not just going to for work or a night out at the newest restaurant, but also a place to call home. Why are we feeling more comfortable about living in denser environments? According to sociologists and trend analysts, we're becoming more tolerant because of our global neighborhood: the internet.

That takes me to all the emerging technologies. Oh wow... I don't think I'll ever want to leave my car. And the safety presentation was another great session filled with information on how Ford is working to keep drivers and passengers safer. There's a lot to share, including a video on booster seats for kids that parents will want to see. Too much to add into this post. But I'll save that for tomorrow... after we go see an actual crash test!

There's a lot going on in the world right now. So many shifts and changes. It's great to see an "old" company like Ford be so active about the future of not only their own brand and business, but the lives of their drivers now and into the future.


You can follow the conversation on Twitter: #FordTrends