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Chapters in American Jewish History are provided by the American Jewish Historical Society, collecting, preserving, fostering scholarship and providing access to the continuity of Jewish life in America for more than 350 years (and counting). Visit www.ajhs.org.
Henry Ford, the industrial genius who perfected the mass production of motorcars before World War I and thereby revolutionized the way we live, was a reclusive man who brooked no opposition or criticism. Ford’s determination to prevent unionism at his plants produced strikes and violence, mostly initiated by Ford’s own strikebreakers. He opposed various symbols of social and cultural change around him, including Hollywood movies, out-of-home childcare, government regulation of business, Eastern European immigration, and new fashions in dress and music.
In an age that celebrated industrial heroes, Ford was a true giant. In 1922, he considered running for the presidency. Public opinion polls reflected his widespread support. Despite his desire to occupy the most visible position in the nation, historian Keith Sward described Ford as “inaccessible as the Grand Lama” and an anti-democrat. One of the few individuals Ford trusted was his personal secretary, Ernest Liebold, whom historian Leo Ribuffo calls “an ambitious martinet” who took advantage of Ford’s dislike of paperwork and refusal to read his mail to control access to the great man. Ford would later blame Liebold for his Jewish woes.
In the period from 1910 to 1918, Ford grew increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-liquor, and anti-Semitic. In 1919, he purchased a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. He installed an editor and hired a journalist, William J. Cameron, to listen to his ideas and write a weekly column in his name.
Strangely, Ford came to believe in a Jewish world conspiracy. He blamed Jewish financiers for fomenting World War I so that they could profit from supplying both sides. He suspected Jewish automobile dealers of conspiring to undermine Ford Company sales policies. Ford vented his beliefs about Jewish power public in the pages of the Dearborn Independent. For a year, the editor resisted running Ford’s anti-Jewish articles and finally resigned rather than publish them. Cameron, Ford’s personal columnist, took over the editorship and, in May 1920, published the first of a series of articles titled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.”
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