Driving Force: Henry Ford

He produced an affordable car, paid high wages and helped create a middle class. Not bad for an autocrat

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It was Henry Ford II who rescued the legacy. He played down his grandfather's antics, and he made amends with the Jewish business community that Henry Ford had alienated so much with the racist attacks that are now a matter of historical record. Henry II encouraged the "whiz kids" like Robert McNamara and Arjay Miller to modernize management, which put the company back on track. Ford was the first company to get a car out after the war, and it was the only company that had a real base overseas. In fact, one of the reasons that Ford is so competitive today is that from the very beginning, Henry Ford went anywhere there was a road--and usually a river. He took the company to 33 countries at his peak. These days the automobile business is going more global every day, and in that, as he was about so many things, Ford was prescient.

Henry Ford died in his bed at his Fair Lane mansion seven months after I met him, during a blackout caused by a storm in the spring of 1947. He was 83. The fact is, there probably couldn't be a Henry Ford in today's world. Business is too collegial. One hundred years ago, business was done by virtual dictators--men laden with riches and so much power they could take over a country if they wanted to. That's not acceptable anymore. But if it hadn't been for Henry Ford's drive to create a mass market for cars, America wouldn't have a middle class today.

Lee Iacocca was president of Ford, later chairman of Chrysler and last year founded EV Global Motors

Cars That Mattered
By Joseph R. Szczesny / Detroit

The automobile is one of the inventions that defined the 20th century from start to finish. Hundreds of companies have produced millions of cars over the past 100 years, but a handful of models stand out for their technical, cultural or commercial significance:

1) Ford Model T Henry Ford used a single design and inexpensive, mass-produced parts to make his pioneering vehicle affordable to millions.

2) Volkswagen Beetle The people's car became a 20th century icon as well as a huge commercial success, despite its provenance as a project of Hitler's. The Bug slowly caught on in the '50s among practical-minded buyers, and then in the '60s became a groovy symbol of peace and love.

3) Willys Jeep The general-purpose vehicle that carried G.I.s during World War II created the off-road market. Then came Jeep's renaissance as the progenitor of the sport-utility vehicles favored by suburbanites.

4) 1966 Toyota Corona This was the forerunner of the Corolla, which has become one of the best-selling cars ever. Its durability and economy made it the first Toyota popular with Americans.

5) 1912 Cadillac The first car equipped with an electric starter opened up the road for women. Cadillac president Henry Leland pressed engineer Charles Kettering to devise the starter after a friend was killed trying to crank a car by hand.

6) 1960 Corvair The novel car with its rear-mounted engine is prized by collectors, but its glaring deficiencies helped launch the automotive-safety movement, leading to seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes.

7) 1934 Citroen 7CV This was the first successful front-wheel-drive car, a revolutionary feature adopted for an American auto in 1966 for the Oldsmobile Toronado and now standard on most cars.

8) 1934 Chrysler Airflow It was the first car designed with the help of a wind tunnel and the first with a fully streamlined body. Chrysler put the engine over the front axle and moved the passenger cabin forward to create a more comfortable ride, a design still used in today's sedans.

9) 1914 Dodge Touring Car This was the first car with a steel frame, which meant the car could hold the road better under all kinds of conditions.

10) 1949 Cadillac The first postwar car with fins and V-8 power set a mood of exuberance that reached its peak with the shark-finned Caddy of 1959.

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