Henry Ford: A Difficult History

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Megan Nollet and Bruce Gulland talk about the man who revolutionized the auto industry in America. But they also talk about a something in his past that sheds a different light on his life.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Megan Nollet.

Voice 2

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

It is the year 1910. A man walks along the floor of a factory. He wears a clean suit and tie. All around him, men work on conveyor belts. These moving tables bring pieces of machinery to the men. They build the machines together. Soon the machines begin to take shape. They are cars.

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The man in the suit smiles. He has many reasons to be happy. His name is Henry Ford, and this is his factory. His cars have made him one of the most successful men in the United States. People all over the world know his name. But Henry Ford also has a secret. He is an anti-Semite, a person who hates the Jewish people. Henry Ford will always be known for his success. In some ways, he changed the world. But his views also hurt many people. These views will forever change how people see him for the worse. Today’s Spotlight is on the complicated legacy of Henry Ford.

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Henry Ford was born in 1863 in the United States to a family of farmers. His parents were not wealthy. And, Ford did not complete much schooling. Instead, his family expected him to work on the farm.

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But Ford believed his life could be different. He soon saw that he had a talent for working with machines. He especially loved working on cars. He even began building his own. These cars were so successful that he was able to start his own company.

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But soon Ford saw that there was a problem. During that time, cars took a very long time to build. And, there was no single way of making them. Each car was different, and every part was special to each car. This made cars cost a lot of money.

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Ford believed that he could make cars more quickly, without spending as much money. Instead of building cars one at a time, he would make car parts. Any part would work in any of his cars. And the parts would fit together easily. This would save his workers time and make the job easier.

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Ford also invented the assembly line. The assembly line is a method of working. In an assembly line, workers stand along moving tables. These slow-moving platforms bring parts to the workers. They put put parts together as these come down the line. So they do not have to spend time carrying the parts around.

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Ford’s methods were very successful. Soon he was able to create the Model T. At the time, the Model T cost less money than any other car in the world. Even poorer people could buy one. So, Ford sold many more than other car companies. Soon, the Ford Motor company was the biggest car company in the United States. And everyone began to copy Ford’s methods. Even today, companies use methods like those invented by Henry Ford.

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By the end of 1915, Henry Ford was one of the wealthiest people in America. He was also one of the most popular. People used him as an example of the American Dream. This is the belief that anyone in the United States, no matter how poor, can become a success.

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But Ford also believed many false and dangerous things. In the 1910’s, he read a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This false document claims to be a Jewish plan to secretly take over the world. It was created in Russia to justify Jewish persecution. But Ford did not know this writing was not true. He believed what he read. And he began to spread his beliefs to other people. For example, he went on a camping trip with several friends. During that time, he spoke a lot about his antisemitic beliefs. One of his friends wrote about it in his personal notes.

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“He blames all evil on the Jews or the Jewish business owners. The Jews caused the war. The Jews caused an increase in stealing all over the country. The Jews caused the navy to perform poorly.”

Voice 1

Henry Ford began to blame the Jewish people for everything in the world that he did not like. He even blamed them for jazz music and some popular clothing styles. He had no evidence. But he was sure he knew something no one else did. And soon, he began to tell the world. In 1918, he bought a newspaper company. It was called the Dearborn Independent. He used the newspaper to spread his antisemitic beliefs. He encouraged many of his workers to buy copies. The places that sold his cars gave them away. He published a book called The International Jew. And some people began to listen. Hasia Diner is a teacher of American Jewish history. She spoke to PBS about why this was so dangerous.

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“What Henry Ford says, people stop and listen. There are people who wanted him to run for president in the nineteen twenties. If some local food server says something antisemitic, well, nobody cares. Somebody may listen. They may repeat it. But it will not spread far. But Henry Ford was able to gain a national audience with his words. This made him a very dangerous person.”

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Henry Ford’s words caused bad things to happen. And they spread farther than the United States. Adolf Hitler was the leader of Nazi Germany. He was also an anti-Semite. And, he believed many of the same things as Ford. He is also to blame for the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the deaths of over six million Jewish people and five million others hated by the Nazis. In nineteen twenty-five, Hitler wrote a book. It was called Mein Kampf, or My Struggle. In the book, he called Ford’s work very important. The International Jew gave him and many other Nazis hate-filled ideas. Ford did not kill any Jews himself. But people used his work to make a case for murder.

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Today, people still read The International Jew. The book is not based on facts. But people still believe it. The book says it is right to hate the Jews. When times are difficult, the book gives them someone to blame. Bill McGraw is a writer at Bridge Magazine. In 2019, he wrote about Ford’s antisemitism.

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“The internet age has given Ford’s antisemitic literature a strong new life. It has been a century since Ford bought the Dearborn Independent. It has been over 72 years since his death. But his hate is stronger than ever. It grows on websites where people who hate Jews talk to each other.”

Voice 2

By the end of his life, Henry Ford denied his antisemitic beliefs. He saw pictures of the Holocaust. And he could not continue to hate the Jews. He stopped publishing the Dearborn Independent. And his children used much of his money to fight hate. Yet, Ford is a difficult person to talk about. Today, the Ford Motor Company is one of the largest vehicle companies in the world. And Ford created modern manufacturing. Henry Ford helped create some the good things in the modern world. But he also helped create an evil that continues to this day. And it may not be possible to separate the two.

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History is filled with people with complicated pasts. How should we think about them? Is the good they do worth more than the bad? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from The United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called, “Henry Ford: A Difficult History”

Voice 1

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official Spotlight English app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

History is filled with people with complicated pasts. How should we think about them? Is the good they do worth more than the bad? 

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9 comments
  • At the beginning we should think about what they had provide us with and how they tried to make progress in their fields and how they tried to make the world easier for us.
    And the bad side we should try to heal but i think the best to way to prove his wrong thinking the Jews themselves must prove it
    But I think every minute pass the Jews prove he is right so i think you mustn’t say he think bad or good but you must leave it for the people who suffer from Jews and still

  • This is program very good , i am lisatn the program every day and i like the program so much , thank you .

  • I think we take the god thing and leave the bad past.Because people like ford make the stronger and the most beautiful cars company in the world so i think rememper the nice thing

  • Dear
    This is a very good historical topic, and as I often think, history must to be truthful, although Henry Ford is a talent and all over the world need thank him, but he is a human also, he thought about a sirious problem cause hurt to another people, even though the people are not Jews. We hope, eliters have many idea to help people more and more better rather than hurt to everyone,
    Thanks

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