Premieres Tuesday, January 29th at 8:00pm on WTVP-HD.
(And don't miss the 'The Abolitionists'
airing Tuesdays, January 8-22 at 8pm WTVP-HD.)
– A New Look at the Mercurial Man who Transformed America –
presents a fascinating portrait of a farm boy who rose from obscurity to become the most influential American
innovator of the 20th century. Through his own fierce determination, Ford created the Model T, the most
successful car in history, and introduced the groundbreaking five-dollara-day wage, ushering in the modern
world as we know it. But despite his success, Ford remained restless and driven, always seeking to control
what lay just beyond his grasp. The creator of an urban, industrial age, Ford longed for the simpler era he
had helped destroy. One of the nation’s richest men, he despised the wealthy and blamed Jews for what he
deemed society’s degeneration. A hero to many ordinary Americans, he battled his workers and bullied those
who looked up to him—including, and most tragically, his only son. Directed by Sarah Colt, Henry Ford
will premiere on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on WTVP-Public Media for Central Illinois,
in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Ford’s birth. Part of the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Titans series,
Henry Ford will be followed by the rebroadcasts of
on February 5, 2013 and
John D. Rockefeller
on February 12, 2013.
Henry Ford was born on a Michigan farm in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. A natural-born
tinkerer who loved machines, he hated the drudgery of rural life, setting out as a 16-year-old to pursue
his dreams in Detroit. For more than a decade, Ford worked long hours in one shop after another, forging
a career as an expert machinist. But Ford’s passion lay elsewhere—building a horseless carriage became his
off-hours obsession. With his gas-powered vehicle he named the “quadricycle,” he attracted the attention
of investors and started his first company. Unlike most carmakers at the dawn of the industry who saw the
automobile as a plaything for the rich, Ford believed he could build an affordable vehicle for working
people. His vision ran counter to that of his backers and they pulled the plug on his company. Ford’s
lifelong hatred for the wealthy was born.
Ambitious and driven, Ford was undaunted. He set out to make a name for himself in the new
and dangerous sport of racecar driving. After a series of highly publicized victories, in 1903 he was able
to raise the money to incorporate the Ford Motor Company. Every few months, Ford introduced a new model.
With Ford as their leader, his team experimented with innovative designs for igniting the engine and for
a more flexible suspension system, and made use of steel that was lighter but tougher.
“Why would he create such a violent world of spies and thugs? Why do that?
Well, because he was lashing out against the world that had spun out of control.”
— John Staudenmaier
Finally, in October 1908, Henry Ford introduced his revolutionary Model T. Lightweight,
durable and fast, the Model T could reach speeds of 40 miles per hour, and at a time when the average
car cost more than $2,000, the Model T cost only $850. The response from the public was immediate and
With the unprecedented success of the Model T, Ford declared he would soon be producing
1,000 cars a day. Taking its cue from the meatpacking industry, Ford Motor adopted an assembly line
method. Under the old system, the record time for building a Model T had been twelve hours and thirteen
minutes. Using the assembly line process, it took an hour and 33 minutes. By the fall of 1913, Ford had
established the first automobile assembly line in the world and controlled nearly half of the American
But there was a downside to Ford’s new production process. Many workers found it so
monotonous and physically exhausting, they quit after just a few days. Company managers calculated that
every time they wanted to add a hundred men to the rolls, they had to hire nearly a thousand. Desperate
to retain his workforce, Ford responded with a revolutionary plan that would stun his employees and infuriate
his rivals. In January 1914, he announced his company would double his workers’ pay from $2.34 for a
nine-hour day to $5 for just eight. Not only would his wage increase reduce turnover, Ford predicted,
it would also increase business and propel a new generation of American workers into a shared life of
abundance, leisure, and prosperity. Ford’s announcement turned him into a national sensation
With his newfound celebrity, Ford made clear that his ambitions extended well beyond car
manufacturing. Insisting that self-discipline had been critical to his success—he rose at dawn and exercised
every day, didn’t smoke, never drank and did not allow alcohol in his house—he expected the same from
everyone around him. As one close associate observed, “cars are the by-products of his real business, which
is the making of men.”
Ford designed the five-dollar-a-day wage with strings attached. He required his immigrant
workers, who represented as many as 53 nationalities, to attend the company’s English language school and
sent inspectors from his “Sociological Department” to probe into the most intimate corners of workers’ lives.
If a man failed inspection, he was given time to amend his ways and his additional wages were held for him.
If he failed a second time, he was fired.
Although Ford was now one of the richest men in the world, his hatred for the wealthy elite
only increased. Determined to rid himself of parasitic investors he had eschewed since early in his career,
Ford carried out an elaborate plan to trick his stockholders and take full control of his company. With
increased power, his ego expanded.
Battered by the press after his inarticulate performance on the stand during a libel trial
he initiated against the Chicago Tribune in 1919, Ford became more certain of his allegiance to the common
people of America—shopkeepers, village leaders, farmers. He purchased The Dearborn Independent, his
hometown weekly, to share his incendiary ideas about Jews who he vilified as the power behind Wall Street,
banks and the degeneration of society. He distributed the newspaper through his 2,000 dealerships to spread
his vitriolic anti-Semitic articles nationwide. By 1926, circulation had reached 900,000.
Buying up hundreds of acres in Dearborn, where he and his wife Clara had settled, he set out
to create what became one of the largest factories in the world, known as the River Rouge plant, a massive
industrial complex that included 15 miles of roadways, 93 buildings, and consumed more water per day than
Detroit, Cincinnati and New Orleans combined. No sooner was the Rouge plant complete than Ford began to hate
it. He retreated into a world of nostalgia and created a monument to the past, a living museum he dubbed
“Greenfield Village”. Increasingly, Ford spent more time at the Village than overseeing his company, where
a battle brewed between management and workers over unfair labor practices. Any lingering perceptions of
Ford as a benevolent employer had vanished at the Rouge, which was run by Ford’s thuggish and violent
security chief, Harry Bennett.
Ford’s all-encompassing desire for control was perhaps no more evident than in his relationship
with his only son, Edsel. Although Ford made Edsel president of Ford Motor when his son was just 25, Henry
never allowed Edsel to take the reins, undermining him at every turn. In the 1920s, when Edsel finally stood
up to his father, insisting that the Model T needed to be replaced with a more modern car, Henry never forgave
Henry’s withering cruelty continued until Edsel died at 49—a death many blamed on the unrelenting
stress of trying to please his father. Shattered by Edsel’s death, Henry Ford spent his final years a broken
An absorbing life story, Henry Ford
also offers an incisive look at the birth of the American auto industry with its long history of struggles between
labor and management, and a thought-provoking reminder of how Ford’s automobile forever changed the way we work,
where we live, and our ideas about individuality, freedom, and possibility.
“His Model T represented this modern notion that happiness lay not in self-denial, not in
self-restraint, not in scarcity, but it lay in self-fulfillment.” — Steven Watts
About the Participants
Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a bestselling author
whose books include Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress.
Bob Casey is Curator of Transportation at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Hasia R. Diner is a professor of American Jewish history at New York University.
Beverly Gage is a professor of history at Yale University.
Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and the author of Fordlandia:
The Rise and Fall of Henry’s Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City.
Nancy F. Koehn is a historian at Harvard Business School.
Nelson Lichtenstein is a professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara and
the author of Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit.
John Staudenmaier is a professor of history at University of Detroit Mercy and has written
extensively about Henry Ford.
Steven Watts is a professor of history at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the author
of The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century.
About the Filmmakers
Written, Produced, and Directed by Sarah Colt
Edited by Sabrina Zanella-Foresi
Co-Producer Helen Ryan Dobrowski
Associate Producer Elizabeth Shea
Original Music by John Kusiak and P. Andrew Willis
Narrated by Oliver Plat
Sarah Colt (Writer/Producer/Director) is an independent documentary filmmaker who has been
working in public television for nearly two decades. In addition to Henry Ford, her previous credits
include writing, producing and directing A Nation Reborn and A New Light for Frontline and
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’S special series God in America; The Polio Crusade, a one-hour program
about the development of the polio vaccine for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, and Geronimo, part four of the
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE special series on native history, We Shall Remain. Before starting her own company
in 2008, she worked for David Grubin Productions, where she produced the highly acclaimed biography RFK, and
earned an Emmy award for Outstanding Science, Nature, and Technology for co-producing The Secret Life of the
Brain, a five-part series. In 2004, Colt was awarded an International Reporting Project Fellowship through Johns
Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and traveled to Namibia to report on the racial imbalance of land
ownership in Southern Africa. Colt attended Harvard University where she began her documentary career as a still
Sharon Grimberg (Senior Producer) plays a key role in the origination, development, acquisition,
and editorial oversight of films for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. Since she joined the staff in 2000, films made for
the series have won more than forty honors including Peabody Awards, Primetime Emmys, Writers Guild Awards and an
Oscar nomination. Grimberg was the executive producer of We Shall Remain, a multiplatform mini-series for
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE that looks at U.S. history from a Native American perspective. She also served as supervising
producer of They Made America, a series on innovation based on award-winning writer Sir Harold Evans’ book of the
same title. Previously, Grimberg was a writer for CNN Headline News. She did her undergraduate work at the London School
of Economics and received an M.A. from the University of Michigan.
Mark Samels (Executive Producer) was named executive producer of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, PBS’s
flagship history series, in 2003. Under Samels’ leadership, the series has been honored with nearly every industry award,
including the Peabody, Primetime Emmys, the duPont-Columbia Journalism Award, Writers Guild Awards, Oscar nominations, and
Sundance Film Festival Audience and Grand Jury Awards. Samels also serves on the Board of Governors at the Academy of
Television Arts and Sciences. Prior to joining WGBH, Samels worked as an independent documentary filmmaker, an executive
producer for several U.S. public television stations, and as a producer for the first co-production between Japanese and
American television. A native of Wisconsin, he is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
About AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Television’s most-watched history series, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2013. The series
has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television”
(Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online,
the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present.
Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentaries have been honored with every major
broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 16 George Foster Peabody Awards, one most
recently for the series represented by Freedom Riders, Triangle Fire, and Stonewall Uprising.
Exclusive corporate funding for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Major funding for Henry Ford provided by the National
Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor; and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and
Public Television Viewers. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.
For further information contact Linda Miller, WTVP Vice President of
at (309) 495-0591 or firstname.lastname@example.org