Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Detroit Time Capsule Anthology

After a decade writing 500 Fornology posts,
I'm proud to announce the publication of my fifth book Detroit Time Capsule, which is a collection of seventy-five of my re-edited, best Detroit posts including significant historic moments, biographies of people who left their mark on the city, and memories of media personalities in the early days of Detroit television.

Detroit Time Capsule is a trip down memory lane, which should resonate with nostalgic Baby Boomers and contemporary Detroiters with a taste for learning their town's rich history and heritage.

This anthology makes a great holiday gift for readers who have an interest in easy to digest Detroit history. Most chapters are not tied by a narrative thread and can be read in three to five minutes.

And finally, I want to acknowledge Detroit/Ypsilanti photographer Chris Ahern for his striking photograph of the Monument to Joe Louis, aka The Fist (1986) by Robert Graham.

Detroit Time Capsule Amazon site

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

"We Never Called Him Henry"-- Harry Bennett Polishes His Own Apple--Part Two

Harry Bennett with Henry Ford in Willow Run.

Much of Harry Bennett's "tell-all" memoir of his time with Henry Ford reads like a tattletale, supermarket tabloid about people within the Ford empire and the Ford family. I chose to write about several provocative sections of the book: how Bennett met Henry Ford and the open employment of gangsters at the Rouge plant, Henry Ford's anti-Semitism and ties to Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany, how Bennett was paid, and Bennet's severance from the Ford Motor Company in 1945.


When Harry Bennett first met Henry Ford in 1916, the automobile mogul was fifty-three years old and Bennett was twenty-four. Bennett was on shore leave in New York City between Navy enlistments with a sailor friend. The two young sailors were brawling with some civilians and about to get arrested.

Well-known New York journalist Arthur Brisbane saw the fight and vouched for the sailors telling the police they acted in self-defense after they were set upon. The reporter convinced the patrolmen to release the sailors into his custody. Brisbane was on his way to interview Henry Ford and asked Bennett if he would like to meet the famous industrialist. 

Brisbane introduced Ford to Bennett and began giving an account of the brawl he just witnessed where this five foot-seven inch/145 pound, former Navy boxer handled himself bravely. Ford listened with rapt attention and then offered Bennett a job, "I can use a young man like you out at the Rouge [plant]." 

Bennett remembers refusing because he wanted to re-enlist in the Navy. Civilian life was not exciting enough for him, he told Ford.

"It's a rough lot out at the Rouge. I need some eyes and ears in the plant. I haven't got any policemen out there. Can you shoot?"

"Sure, I can!"

After some further coaxing, Ford convinced Bennett to give the job a try. "But I won't work for the company, I'll work for you." It was that relationship that ultimately caused problems for both men. Ford was looking for someone tough enough to manage plant security, but he also needed someone to protect him and his family from kidnappers, which was a serious problem for wealthy industrialists in the 1920s and 1930s.

"Mr. Ford's grandchildren were pushovers for kidnappers," Bennett wrote. "Mr. Ford told me to take care of the problem and hire anybody I wanted." Bennett justified his open hiring of underworld figures because they gave him "a capacity for protecting Ford and his family from criminal molestation." A number of Mafia dons were granted lucrative Ford concession contracts which were little more than payoffs for protection inside-and-outside of the plant.

Regarding Henry Ford's concern for his personal safety, Bennett says Mr. Ford was a good marksman and always carried a .32 cal pistol on his person. "In the early 1920s, Ford was getting an average of five threatening letters a week. Ford's [bodyguard] driver had a shoulder holster under each arm, and Mr. Ford had two, loaded Magnum revolvers with holsters built into the back seat of his car."

With over 500 former convicts on the Ford company payroll under the guise of rehabilitation, these gangsters were a good source of information forming an extensive intelligence network throughout the plant complex, reporting on United Automobile Workers labor activities and informing on Ford employees.

An additional benefit of having some hired muscle in the plant gave Bennett a ready source of manpower to unleash against UAW organizers when called upon. "Mr. Ford made me his agent with the underworld," he bragged. "I kept them obligated to me but [I was] never obligated to them." It took a bulletproof ego for Bennett to believe that. More likely, Bennett carried around Henry Ford's wallet so why kill off the golden calf?


Another of Bennett's jobs was to protect Mr. Ford from himself when he could, and barring that, it was his job to pick up the pieces from Ford's bad judgements. In May of 1920, a Ford-owned newspaper called The Dearborn Independent began publishing anti-Semitic articles based on the spurious Protocols of Zion written surreptitiously in 1905 by Czarist propagandist Serge Nilus, to incite Russian civil onrest and polgroms against their Jewish population. The four small volumes carried the title The International Jew, each with its own subtitle.

A series of anti-Semitic articles ran ninety-one weeks in the Dearborn Independent, each with a run of 200,000 copies that was distributed and sold worldwide. A copy of the newspaper came with the sale of every Ford car during this period. In March of 1927 when the Independent named Chicago attorney Aaron Sapiro the "Jewish ring leader" and organizer of socialist farm cooperatives to gain control of American agriculture, Sapiro brought a libel suit against Henry Ford for a million dollars.

Typical provocative front page.

Bennett blamed Dearborn Independent editor Bill Cameron and Dearborn Publishing Company general manager Ernest Liebold for "constantly stirring up Mr. Ford" with anti-Semitic slanders and propaganda. Every time Ford had trouble getting a loan, he complained it was a Jewish plot. At first, Ford wanted to fight this case to the finish, but it was a public relations nightmare in the press.

After five days on the stand, Bill Cameron fell on the sword and took responsibility for everything that ever happened in the Dearborn Independent. Cameron testified that Mr. Ford had no connection whatsoever with the editorial policy of the paper.

Ford was subpoened to testify in court the following Monday, but a Ford spokesperson reported to the local newspapers that while driving home on Sunday night, Mr. Ford's car was run off the road by a touring car driven by two men. A FoMoCo spokesperson stated that after the accident, Ford was treated for his injuries at Henry Ford Hospital and released under a doctor's care to his home for recovery.

As soon as Bennett found out about the attempt on Ford's life, he rushed to the Ford residence at Fairlane to see who his vengeance should fall upon. Ford said he felt fine and acted uncommonly calm about the accident. "It was probably kids on a joy ride," he said. "Forget about it, Harry." But Bennett wouldn't let it go, so Ford finally admitted, "I wasn't in that car when it went down the hill."

Then it struck Bennett that Ford was terrified of testifying in open court and the "accident" was a cover story. An earlier court appearance years before for another case revealed in cross-examination that Ford was poorly educated, had a limited vocabulary, was not well-read, and had little grasp of American history. It was humiliating and Ford vowed he would never testify in open court again. He would rather settle the Sapiro lawsuit out of court rather than subject himself to public riducule again.

Mr. Ford's lawyers drew up a formal apology as the basis for a settlement. Ford agreed to cease the publication of "anti-Setimic material circulated in his name, and he would call in all undistributed copies of The International Jew."

The apology further stated that "Mr. Ford had no knowledge of what had been published in his Dearborn Independent and was 'shocked' and 'mortified' to learn about it." The apology was printed on the front page of the Dearborn Independent, which shut down shortly afterwards in 1928. Mr. Ford paid everyone's court costs and stayed in his mansion licking his wounds.

But Henry Ford was a proud and stubborn man. Ten years later, his name became linked with Nazi Germany when he accepted the "Grand Cross of the German Eagle" from two German engineers on behalf of Adolph Hitler's admiration of Ford's industrial achievements.

A propaganda photo was taken in Dearborn, Michigan to commemorate the presentation, with Ford wearing the medal and sash around his neck with the German engineers flanking him on either side. By the next day, the photo appeared in newspapers across the country; by the following day, it was printed worldwide. The timing could not have been worse. In 1938, anti-German sentiment  was growing in America.

On a petty, personal note, Ford had a grudge against Winston Churchill and hated him for a perceived, personal affront at a dinner party in London. On the other hand, Ford was pro-German. He and Adolph Hitler had a shared admiration for one another. After all, they were both poorly educated, self-made men. In addition, FoMoCo had a successful truck factory in Cologne, Germany that was very profitable for the corporation.

Ford went on to say that stories of Nazi brutality against their own people were British propaganda to drive America into another World War. The result of Ford's German diplomacy resulted in a serious drop in Ford sales at home. Mr. Ford did change his views about Herr Hitler after watching battlefront films of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Once again, Ford humiliated himself in the American press and there was little anyone could do about it.


Bennett asserts in his autobiography that he never received a large salary from the FoMoCo, probably low grade executive pay due to his lack of management credentials. But Henry Ford had a private office in the Dearborn Engineering Laboratory where he kept a floor safe with a "kitty" [contingency account] from two million to four million cash dollars that Ford and Bennett would access without any red tape or company oversight.

Henry Ford also paid Bennett indirectly through real estate. Over the years, Ford bestowed upon his righthand man a lodge on Harsen's Island, the castle off Geddes Road in Washtenaw County, 2,800 acres in Clare County, and the Pagoda House on Grosse Ile. among others.

As Bennett tells the story, Mr. Ford had the Pagoda House built in the early 1930s for his family, but Mrs. Ford did not like the swift running current of the Detroit River. She feared for her grandchildren's lives. "Ford was disgusted and asked me if I had a dollar. I said, 'yes.'

"Give it to me and the place is yours."

Bennett did not like the mosquito infested property either. "No matter," he revealed, "I was glad to trade the Grosse Ile property for the ranch [290 acres of Arizona desert].... It was good for my sinus and arthritis."

Bennett made a fortune in real estate speculation to supplement his modest salary. This arrangement was clearly a money laundering scam to funnel money to Bennett for services rendered.


In the opening section of We Never Called Him Henry, Bennett wanted to correct the widespread notion that he was fired by twenty-eight-year-old Henry Ford II, grandson of the man he served for close to thirty years.

In a face-saving move, Bennett writes that young Henry Ford II said to him, "I don't know what I would have done without you. You don't have to leave--you can stay [at Ford's] for the rest of your life." Bennett maintains he always said, "When Mr. Ford retires, so do I." But, his employment records show Bennett did not officially resign from the corporation for weeks after Mr. Ford's death.

Henry Ford II with Harry Bennett in Bennett's office.

Edsel Ford's wife and mother of Henry Ford II, Eleanor Clay Ford, was instrumental in Bennett's departure from Ford. She believed Bennett helped destroy her husband and vowed she would not let him destroy her son. There was a long history of bad blood between the Ford family and Bennett.

The newly christened Ford president's first duty was to fire Bennett. A man who had time for corporate intrigues was little use to the company as an executive. Bennett had to go, but he was the Ford patriarch's partner in crime, so he had to be handled carefully to avoid further scandal. Henry the Second, arranged to get Bennett a $424/month retirement check [not bad for 1945] and a Ford benefits package to simply walk away.

Bennett describes walking away from FoMoCo like "a man being let out of prison." Henry Ford II remembers it differently. Many years later, he told Detroit reporters that "Bennett stole plenty from the company, so I fired him. He was the dirtiest, lousiest, son-of-a [expletive deleted] I ever met in my life, except for Lee Iacocca."

We Never Called Him Henry--Part One

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Harry Bennett "Tell-All" Book About His Boss Henry Ford

Reprinted 1987 paperback edition.

Harry Bennett officially joined the Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo) in 1917 at the Highland Park plant where the automobile assembly line was born. In his almost thirty years with the company, Bennett exercised influence far beyond his station upon Henry Ford, founder and corporation president. In Mr. Ford's later years when his health declined, Bennett was considered the power behind the throne.

Tired of the barrage of bad publicity Bennett received after his unceremonious firing by twenty-eight-year-old Henry Ford II, he began writing his autobiography of his time working for Henry Ford I "to set the record straight." But publishers reportedly would not touch We Never Called Him Henry because it was "dynamite."

Fawcett Gold Medal Books spokesperson Ralph Daigh asked Bennett to rewrite the book to make it "more objective." With the help of former Detroit Times newspaper reporter Paul Marcus, an edited version was released in 1951 by Fawcett in a 25-cent paperback edition. Marcus spent six weeks interviewing Bennett. "I prodded and nagged at his memory and asked countless questions."

The book had a 400,000 copy run and was billed as the "sensational inside story of intrigue within the Ford empire, its gangster connections, and its bloody union wars." But the book is next to impossible to find.

Folklore surrounding this book proports that the Ford family was offended by its publication, so they bought up as many copies as they could in a "capture & kill" attempt to keep it off the market. I contacted the Benson Ford Research Center, but a spokesperson at their archives told me he could neither confirm nor deny the story. 

For my part, I remember coming home from the tenth grade in 1963 and seeing my mother intently reading a grimy, tattered and torn, well-read, Xerox copy of a book held together by a couple of brad tangs along the left edge. I asked my mother what she was reading, and she answered, "A banned book about Henry Ford and his family. A friend in my card club lent it to me." I was fifteen at the time, so I barely took notice. It wasn't until many years later when I was bitten by the history bug and Fordiana that I remembered my brush with this book.

In 1987, thirty-six years after its original publication, We Never Called Him Henry was republished by Paul Marcus with a new cover page by Tor Books for $3.95. Resale copies of this book are also rare and unavailable on Amazon, but I searched other used book retailers in July 2021 and found several copies ranging in price from $30 to $900. I bought an intact but yellowed copy to see what all the fuss was about.

Without going into the specifics of the book, I feel Bennett tries to portray himself as a sympathetic person who only did what Henry Ford asked him to do. He attempts to sanitize his public image by making himself the hero of his own story by blaming others and justifying all the right reasons for doing all the wrong things. Although he takes some roundhouse punches and jabs at the Ford family, the former Navy boxer never lands a punch.

In January 1974, Detroit Free Press feature reporter David L. Lewis convinced Harry Bennett to sit for a profile interview in Las Vegas, Nevada for "Detroit Magazine." The article was a personality piece about Bennett's private life after Ford. When Lewis asked Bennett his opinion of his own book, he answered: 

"I didn't like the book at all. The way it was written made me sound like a 15-year-old-kid. [The book] made it seem like I was ridiculing Mr. Ford. When I first saw the cover, I knew I would be loused up. The picture of Mr. Ford made him look dead.... I got so I didn't like Marcus [the ghost writer] either. The longer he was with me, the more snarly he was."

Original 1951 paperback book cover.

Bennett's response to the book which bears his name is just another example of his tendency towards disassociative behavior when it comes to taking responsibility for his actions.

Harry Bennett--Henry Ford's Fixer