Ford in Print: Paying Props to an Icon
The Ford Century in Minnesota Reveals Fascinating Secrets About Iconic Automaker and its Influence on World History
Built tough? We all love our mighty Ford trucks, but we learn just how tough industrialist Henry Ford and his automotive company were in The Ford Century in Minnesota, a fascinating new book by historian Brian McMahon. Published by University of Minnesota Press, as the title suggests the tome is a comprehensive chronicle of Ford Motor Company’s history in Minnesota.
First-person accounts of more than 40 retired auto workers detail experiences of working at Ford. The book covers its history from the early years at the 1913-vintage Minneapolis plant to the final hours of the Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul. McMahon uses extensive research and documents the company’s transformation. He traces it through the Depression, the rise of the United Auto Workers Union, World War II, women joining the workforce, competition from imported cars, globalization, outsourcing, and the closing of the plant.
‘Henry Ford wanted a dealership on every corner so they would be cutthroat…and help keep prices down.’
“Henry Ford was extremely harsh with dealers,” McMahon tells the Star Tribune. “He wanted a dealership on every corner so they would be cutthroat…and help keep prices down. He begrudged the dealers.”
Henry Ford took a rare personal interest in the search for the manufacturing plant. He selected a 125-acre parcel in St. Paul overlooking the then-newly-built High Dam on the Mississippi River. The strategic location allowed for navigation and hydroelectric power.
After the Great Depression, Ford got tough with workers. “[Henry Ford] opposed labor unions and it was a brutal work environment,” says McMahon. “He was the last of the ‘Big Three’ automakers to sign with the United Auto Workers. He wouldn’t have done it without an ultimatum from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. …FDR threatened to [nationalize Ford]. Ford was needed to produce [trucks and tanks] for World War II. GM and Chrysler were already unionized.”
The Twin Cities Assembly Plant would go on to manufacture millions of cars, trucks, tractors and military vehicles until its closure in 2011. Dallas Theis, a 53-year plant employee, drove the last of the Ford Ranger trucks out the door.
Wish our history classes in high school were this interesting!
Photos: Minnesota Historical Society