Behavior: A Model-T Neurosis

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"He had his hands in his pockets, and he walked around that car three or four times, looking at it very closely. Finally he gets hold of the door, and bang! He ripped the door right off! God! How the man done it, I don't know! He jumped in there, and bang goes the other door. Bang goes the windshield. He rips the top with the heel of his shoe. He wrecked the car as much as he could."

—A Ford Motor Co. worker, 1912

Henry Ford was angry: his engineers had presumed to design a replacement for the already obsolescent Model T. They could not comprehend that the Model T was sacrosanct. Neither could they understand why Ford had pursued the idea of a car for the masses so singlemindedly, nor why it meant so much to him that he allowed no important change in it until 1927, after it had been overtaken by competitors. They never knew, either, why success turned him mean and vindictive. Now Anne Jardim, a social psychologist, has attributed this strange behavior to Ford's unwarranted conviction that his father did not love him enough. Indulging in the popular intellectual pastime of retrospective psychoanalysis, she explains that the Model T was Ford's symbolic device for expiating the fantasied wrongs he had done his father; his own hatefulness was retaliation for the imagined wrongs his father had done him.

Dr. Jardim's conclusions, reached after long study under the auspices of Harvard's Research Program in Applied Psychoanalysis, have just been published in The First Henry Ford: A Study in Personality and Business Leadership (MIT Press; $6.95). For starters, she demolishes "a dominant myth in Ford's life"—that his father was angry at him for giving up farm life. On the contrary, the older Ford found Henry his first off-farm job and offered him money to develop his first car. Writes Dr. Jardim: "The ill feeling between father and son was of the son's own making;" he needed "to create a harsh, punitive father where none existed."

The need originated in Ford's excessive longing for his father's love. When the love he got did not match his impossible fantasies, he was disappointed and eventually began to feel that his father had abandoned him. That feeling stirred up anger, and the unjustified anger opened the door to guilt. Hence the need for restitution. "Ford's fixation on the car," says Author Jardim, "can mean only that it had come to symbolize for him a means of expiation. The Model T was the farmer's car, durable, bereft of frills, and cheap." And the farmer for whom it was built was in reality the elder Ford, whose heavy labors his son had observed from childhood. "To lift farm drudgery off flesh and blood and lay it on steel and motors has been my most constant ambition," Henry once said.

That ambition achieved, Ford could not bear to change his car because it represented more than a car. Yet, "it had not achieved the objective he had unconsciously set for it"; it had not relieved his guilt. So Ford shifted from restitution, the first of the twin themes in his life, to retaliation. The rage toward his father that had been sublimated in creativity was turned on people who, in fantasy, stood for his father.

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