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Jim's Jottings


Henry Ford got into ships railroads and hospitals



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December 01, 2010 - This is the fourth in my series on Henry Ford, recounted from the 1938 Detroit Free columns by Iffy the Dopester (aka Malcomb Bingay.)

Titled "Who does Henry Ford think he is?" I first repeated the story of Ford rejecting the New Dealers early in the century, then came his $5 a day plan, then he won the fight with Seldon Company over rights to the gasoline engine. Now, back to Iffy's column.

* * *

Then there was the time Henry bought a railroad, and that gave everybody a laugh, since neither he nor anyone in the organization knew much about railroads.

Henry reasoned, "All there is to railroading is picking up a load of something here and delivering it there in the best possible manner and at the lowest possible cost."

He took the old dilapidated Detroit, Toledo and Ironton railroad and made it into a bang-up system. Then the government said he couldn't own a road and be his own best customer, he sold it and made a good many million profit.

. . .They laughed at him too when he announced he was going to build and run a hospital, but they all have to admit now that the Ford Hospital in Detroit is one of the great medical centers in the United States.

Henry spent millions of his own money financing researchers to develop products out of peanuts, soy beans, etc at the dawning of the biochemical age.

And one time Uncle Sam wanted to sell Henry a fleet of ships. A naval officer came here to sell the ships. Henry said he'd buy $4 million worth. His engineers thought for weeks trying to find a purpose for the ships.

They didn't have an answer. Henry said, "All they thought about was using them for ships. I'm buying them for scrap iron."

"You see, there's a corner on the scrap iron market and we have to use scrap iron in this business. But we're paying three times the price it is worth. Now, I'm going to cut up, after the engines have been salvaged, and I will have the biggest mountain of scrap iron on the continent."

He made over a million profit on the deal.

Henry was fooling around with water power long before the Government thought of the Tennessee River Valley experiment with taxpayer money.

He had dams built through southern Michigan (one in Clarkston) and was running branch factories by water power, testing out the ideas with his own cash.

There was a time the whole nation swore that Henry must be absolutely insane because he refused to let General Hugh Johnson of the NRA bluff him into signing a code that would let the Government run his business for him. That's a funny one.

He wouldn't let Washington run his business any more than he would let Wall Street run it. He was paying his men away beyond any scale in the code, the hours were shorter and their working conditions better.

Henry, you know, didn't get that much schooling. Too busy thinking things out for himself. A lot of book-taught fellers think that means he don't know nothing. Mebbe he don't; it ain't for me to say.

But then Tom Edison never went to school either, and there was a feller named Franklin (Ben) and Abe Lincoln and a whole lot of chaps like that who didn't either.

Mebbe Mark Twain would not have been so great if he had had some college professor teach him how to write.

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(There will be only one more in this series on Henry Ford. That's all Iffy wrote.)

Jim Sherman, Sr. is president of Sherman Publications, Inc. He has penned "Jim's Jottings" since 1955.
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