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Quotes by and about Henry Ford

(Henry Ford, part 4)

New translation, the Magna Carta

K 'Y

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Quotations drew from Henry Ford’s writings.
Fourth document in a new major psychological study by abelard.
  marker at abelard.org Henry Ford, ignorant genius - introduction
marker at abelard.org Henry Ford, ruthless business manipulator
marker at abelard.org Henry Ford, mechanical man - Model T, modern times
marker at abelard.org Quotes by and about Henry Ford

marker at abelard.org psycho-logic

marker at abelard.org psycho-babble

other psychological profiles:
marker at abelard.org Adolf/Adolph Hitler Schicklgruber - his psychology and development
marker at abelard.org Did Hitler know about the holocaust? A psychological assessment
marker at abelard.org The psychology of Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin
From My life and work
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  On borrowing
On bulk production
Ford on his friend John Burroughs
From Today and Tomorrow
Some comments from media and others
End notes

Work in progress

Henry Ford, despite his ignorance, had a great deal of the engineer’s commonsense. Ford may be seen as an idealist and a reformer, even though he did tend to do well from doing good. It is always hard to know, when a human behaves well, whether it is altruism or seeking the main chance – perhaps the ‘two’ are not fundamentally distinguishable. Indeed, some do the most awful harm while apparently believing themselves great idealists, as did both Hitler and Ford. It is also quite common for a person to do both great good and great harm in different situations. There are not simple answers, and cartooning lives as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is not true to the everyday complexities of human lives and to varying situations or circumstance.

Ford claimed, What is good for Ford is good for America.
It might be also suggested that what was good for the Ford Corporation was also good for Henry.

From My life and work

First published November 1922 (281 pages + short index)
New edition march 1924

As you will see, this book is essentially ‘homely wisdom’ from Ford’s experiences.

In My Life and Work, Ford writes on manufacturing and business, where he was one of the great innovators and organisers, and on life, where he was usually a naÏve and narrow-minded child.

I have chosen quotes to illustrate both these sides of Ford’s character. Ford’s basic business commonsense would be most useful study for any would-be captain of industry, even to this day.

p.43 [...] and out of the delusion that life is a battle that may be lost by a false move grows, I have noticed, a great love for regularity. Men fall into a half-alive habit. Seldom does the cobbler take up with a new-fangled way of soling shoes and seldom does the artisan willingly take up with new methods in his trade [1]. Habit conduces to a certain inertia, and any disturbance of it affects the mind like trouble. It will be recalled that when a study was made of shop methods, so that workmen might be taught to produce with less useless motion and fatigue, it was most opposed by the workmen themselves. Though they suspected that it was simply a game to get more out of them.

p. 43 – 44

One sees them all about—men who do not know that yesterday is past, and who woke up this morning with their last years ideas [...] there is a subtle danger in a man thinking that he is ‘fixed’ for life. It indicates that the next jolt of the wheel of progress is going to fling him off.

p. 44 The desire seemed to be to find a short cut to money and to pass over the obvious short cut— which is work.

p. 47 Everybody knows it is always possible to do a thing better the second time. [...] Making “to order” instead of making in volume is, I suppose, a habit, a tradition, that has descended from the old handicrafts days.  Ask a hundred people how they want a particular article made.  About eighty will not know; they will leave it to you.  Fifteen will think that they must say something, while five will really have preferences and reasons.  The ninety-five, made up of those who don’t know and do not admit it and fifteen who do not know but do not admit it constitute the real market for any product.  The five who want something special may or may not be able to pay the price for special work.  If they have the price, they can get the work, but they constitute a special and limited market.  Of the ninety-five perhaps ten or fifteen will pay the price for quality. Of those remaining, a number will buy solely on price without regard to quality. Their numbers are thinning with each day. Buyers are learning how to buy. The majority will consider quality and by the biggest dollar’s worth of quality.  If, therefore, you discover what will give this 95 per cent. of people the best all-round service and then arrange to manufacture the very highest quality and sell at the very lowest price, you will be meeting a demand which is so large that it may be called universal.

p. 53 Weight may desirable in a steam roller but nowhere else. […] Whenever any one suggests to me that I might increase weight or add a part, I look into decreasing weight or eliminating a part!

p. 67 From the day the first motor car appeared on the streets it had appeared to me to be a necessity.

p. 71 It is strange how, just as soon as an article becomes successful, somebody starts to think that it would be more successful if only it were different.

p. 72 Salesmen always want to cater to whims instead of acquiring sufficient knowledge of their product to be able to explain to the customer with the whim that what they have will satisfy his every requirement—that is, of course, provided what they have does satisfy those requirements.

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On borrowing
p. 74 […] the extra money might in each case have been had by borrowing, but then we should have had a continuing charge upon the business and all subsequent cars would have had to bear this charge.

On bulk production  
pp.74 – 75

That is the beginning of the steady reduction in the price of the cars in the face of ever increasing cost of materials and ever higher wages.
In a dark little shop on a side street an old man laboured for years making axe handles. Out of seasoned hickory he fashioned them, with the help of a drawshave, a chisel, and a supply of sandpaper. Carefully was each handle weighed and balanced. No two of them were exactly alike. The curve must exactly fit the hand and must conform to the grain of the wood. From dawn until dusk the old man laboured. His average product was eight handles a week, for which he received a dollar and a half each. And often some of these were unsaleable—because the balance was not true.

Today you can buy a better axe handle, made by machinery, for a few cents. And you need not worry about the balance. They are all alike – and every one is perfect. Modern methods applied in a big way have not only brought the cost of axe handles down to a fraction of their former cost—but they have also immensely improved the product.

p. 78 […] —for of course it is not the employer who pays the wages. He only handles the money. It is the product that pays the wages […]

p. 79 […] all that is required is that before they [workers] are taken on is that they should be potentially able to do enough work to pay the overhead charges on the floor space they occupy.

p. 80 […] The undirected worker spends more of his time walking about for materials and tools than he does in working; he gets small pay because pedestrianism is not a highly paid line.

pp.84 – 85 A thousand or five hundred men ought to be enough in a small factory; then there would be no problem of transporting them to work or away from work and there would be no slums or any of the other unnatural ways of living incident to the overcrowding that must take place if the workmen are to live within reasonable distances of a very large plant.
[Of course, Ford’s and other factories grew much larger than this.]
p. 92 Now a business, in my way of thinking, is not a machine. It is a collection of people who are brought together to do work and not to write letters to one another.

p. 95 I never met a man who was thoroughly bad. There is always some good in him—if he gets a chance.

p. 99 But the vast majority of men want to stay put. They want to be led. They want to have everything done for them and to have no responsibility. Therefore, in spite of the great mass of men, the difficulty is not to discover men to advance, but men who are willing to be advanced.

p. 105 They do not like changes which they do not themselves suggest.

p. 123 Otherwise we have the hideous prospect of little children and their mothers being forced out to work.

p. 130 If you expect a man to give his time and energy, fix his wages so that he will have no financial worries….paying good wages is the most profitable way of doing business.

p. 136 Get the prices down to the buying power.

p.143 We have found in buying materials that it is not worth while to buy other than for immediate needs. [i.e., ‘just in time’ management]

pp.153 – 154 […] every time you can so arrange it that one man can do the work of two, you so add to the wealth of the country that there will be a new and better job for the man who is displaced. [Why?]
Ford goes on [p.154]:
There are many times more men today employed in the steel industries than there were when every operation was by hand. It has to be so. It is always so and always will be so. And if any man cannot see it, it is because he will not look beyond his own nose.
[Ford has, of course, been shown to be incorrect. This arrogance and certainty is endemic in Ford’s behaviour.]

p. 158 Borrowing for expansion is one thing; borrowing to make up for mismanagement and waste is quite another.

p. 193 The modern city has been prodigal, it is today bankrupt, and tomorrow it will cease to be. [Of course, cities have expanded ever since, and that still continues.]

p. 220 It is failure that is easy. Success is always hard.

Ford on his friend John Burroughs (pp.236-240) [2]

pp. 237 – 238

To get back to John Burroughs. Of course I knew who he was and I had read nearly everything he had written, but I had never thought of meeting him until some years ago when he developed a grudge against modern progress. He detested money and especially he detested the power which money gives to vulgar people to despoil the lovely countryside. He grew to dislike the industry out of which money is made. He disliked the noise of the factories and railways. He criticized industrial progress, and he declared the automobile was going to kill the appreciation of nature. I fundamentally disagreed with him. I thought that his emotions had taken him on the wrong tack and so I sent him an automobile with the request that he try it out and discover for himself whether it would not help him to know nature better. That automobile—and it took him some time to learn how to manage it himself—completely changed his point of view. He found that it helped him to see more, and from the time of getting it, he made nearly all of his bird-hunting expeditions behind the steering wheel. He learned that instead of having to confine himself to a few miles around Slabside, the whole countryside was open to him.

Out of that automobile grew our friendship, and it was a fine one.

p. 240 John Burroughs, Edison, and I with Harvey S. Firestone made several vagabond trips together. We went in motor caravans and slept under canvas. [3]

p. 247

An educated man is not one whose memory is trained to carry a few dates in history—he is one who can accomplish things. A man who cannot think is not an educated man however many college degrees he may have acquired. Thinking is the hardest work any one can do—which is probably the reason why we have so few thinkers.

Most after this point in the book is a poorly educated, ignorant and narrow-minded rant on society. As such, it is too boring to be instructive. Sufficient to grasp the idea is included above.

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From Today and Tomorrow

First published 1926 (273 pages + a short index.)

This book has much about the building of the Ford business empire.

p.6 Up to December 1, 1925 we had, through cars and tractors, added to the world nearly three hundred million mobile horsepower, or about ninety-seven times the potential horsepower of Niagara Falls. The whole world uses only twenty-three million horsepower, of which the United States uses more than nine million.

p.17 This page outlines methods of reducing prices to build business.

p.26 […] if you shovelled a building full of dollars, you would not have the same capacity for production and use as you would have if you filled that same building with machinery and an organization of human skill.


[…] A business which can bring itself to the point where it attracts the attention of money should be able to continue on its own feet without being financed.

Another rock on which business breaks is debt. Debt is nowadays an industry. Luring people into debt is an industry. The advantages of debt have become almost a philosophy. Possibly it is true that many people, if not most, would bestir themselves very little were it not for the pressure of debt obligations. If so, they are not free men and will not work from free motives. The debt motive is, basically, a slave motive.

When business goes into debt it owes a divided allegiance. The scavengers of finance, when they wish to put a business out of the running or secure it for themselves, always begin with the debt method. Once on that road, the business has two masters to serve, the public and the speculative financier. It will scrimp the one to serve the other, and the public will be hurt, for debt leaves no choice of allegiance.

p.50 […] one’s own workers ought to be one’s own best customers […]

p.51 We do not make changes for the sake of making them, but we never fail to make a change once it is demonstrated that the new way is better than the old way.

p.62 […] our method is essentially the Edison method of trial and error.

p.89 If one used nothing then one would waste nothing. That seems plain enough. But look at it from another angle. If we use nothing at all, is not then the waste total? Is it conservation or waste to withdraw a public resource wholly from use? If a man skimps himself through all the best years of his life in order to provide for his old age, has he conserved his resources or has he wasted them? Has he been constructively or destructively thrifty?

p. 99

We have no patience with the kind of management that shouts orders and interferes with instead of directing the men at their work.

Then there follows much on the detailed working of the plants.

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Some comments from media and others
[These quotes come mostly from D.L. Lewis.]
pp. 104 – 107

In 1916, Ford had sued the ‘Chicago Tribune’ for a fairly trivial editorial headed ‘Ford is an anarchist’. Eventually Ford, after being shown up as considerably ignorant on the witness stand, won the case but was awarded a derisory 6 cents in damages. Here is some commentary made after the case:

“[…] the mystery is finally shattered. Henry Ford is a Yankee mechanic, pure and simple; quite uneducated … but with naturally good instincts and some sagacity.… He has achieved wealth but not greatness; he cannot rise above the defects of education, at least as to public matters.” [the Nation]

“The Ohio State Journal […] after admitting that the industrialist was ignorant, remarked, “We sort of like old Henry Ford, anyway.” ”

“What he thinks about history does not matter so long as he confines himself to the manufacture of hardy little vehicles.”[Cleveland Plain Dealer]

Unfortunately he did not so confine himself as you will note elsewhere.


From the Detroit Times [14th January 1919], of the Dearborn Independent,
“the best periodical ever turned out by a tractor plant”.

Ford used to force his dealers to sell (or give out) the publication.

The terrible effects of Ford’s ramblings in the Dearborn Independent have been mentioned elsewhere. To cover these selectively would not present the full horror, and would trivialise the scope and reach of Ford’s influence on Nazism. This socialist cult has echoes which are repeated to this day in a subterranean world of the uneducated and poorly informed. As can be seen in studying Ford, ignorance carries its own considerable costs. Ford was a critical causal link in the march towards national socialism.


Von Shirach, leader of the Hitler youth movement, declared at the post-war Nuremburg war crime trials he had become an anti-Semite at the age of seventeen after reading [Ford’s ravings.] “You have no idea what a great influence this book had on the thinking of German youth. [...] The younger generation looked with envy to the symbols of success and prosperity like Henry Ford, and if he said the Jews were to blame, why naturally we believed him.”

As, of course, I believe did Hitler.

Such is a grave problem with hero worship with its inevitable lack of critical judgement.

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end notes

  1. However, it is also common for people to attempt to innovate without studying the past, eg the large number of fine flat roofs in a more modern style not suitable for northern climates where they often quickly leak

  2. Burroughs, John
    b. April 3, 1837, near Roxbury, N.Y., U.S – d. March 29, 1921.
    American essayist and naturalist who lived and wrote after the manner of Henry David Thoreau, studying and celebrating nature.
    The John Boroughs Association website

  3. Link to 3 pages of pictures of these rather luxury camping trips, usually accompanied by media. click to return to the start of the page

Related further reading

marker at abelard.orgHenry Ford, ignorant genius - introduction
marker at abelard.org Henry Ford, ruthless business manipulator
marker at abelard.org Henry Ford, mechanical man - Model T, modern times
marker at abelard.org Quotes by and about Henry Ford

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