History of Ford Motor Company, Part 2

With a new company president, Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, in 1919, Ford Motor Company moved ahead, acquiring the Lincoln Motor Company, introducing the world’s first pickup truck and opening a plant in Germany.

By 1932, when Ford introduced the V-8 engine, the car market was changing. Slipping to third place behind competitors General Motors (GM) and Chrysler (both since nationalized by the government), Ford capitalized on the Lincoln acquisition and rolled out its first moderately priced automobile, the Lincoln-Zephyr, in 1935. The Mercury, another mid-range market vehicle, was not far behind. Soon, production began on the upscale, custom-made Lincoln-Zephyr Continental.

But a man named Adolf Hitler had been elected by the people of Germany and the Nazi government seized German industry, nationalizing banks and businesses—including Germany’s automotive industry—and Nazi Germany went to war with America’s allies. Ford’s war production started in 1941, the year its first union contract, with United Auto Workers (UAW), was signed. Ford made a military vehicle that became known as a general-purpose "jeep" and went into full military production in 1942.

Then, at the age of 49, Edsel Ford died of cancer. His father, Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, who was in his 80s, returned to run the company. Ford’s civilian production resumed, and, on September 21, 1945, Henry Ford resigned, recommending to the Ford board of directors that his eldest grandson, Henry Ford II (Edsel's son), be named as president. With the young man having been released by the United States Navy, Ford Motor Company accepted the recommendation.

The man who had created Ford Motor Company and built an American automotive industry died on April 7, 1947. With the late Henry Ford’s young namesake, Henry Ford II, running the company he founded, the company would survive the bloody 20th century. Henry Ford II began changing Ford as soon as he took the wheel; his legacy is America’s only major carmaker not controlled by the U.S. government.

In Part 3, we’ll take a final look at Ford’s rich history, from the 1950s through the 21st century.

[Sources: “A History of the Ford Motor Co.,” by Mike Davis, Ward’s AutoWorld (2003), National Public Radio, Ford Motor Company]

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