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Old 12-12-2002, 05:09   #1 (permalink)
Mr. Embargo
 
Join Date: May 2001
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Celebrating 'The Ford Century'

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Next summer, the Ford Motor Co. plans to mark its centennial with a series of celebrations.

Fifty Model T Fords will parade from Los Angeles, California, to Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, perhaps picking up some guest cars along the way.

Meanwhile, the company will also attempt to exhibit examples of every model of every car for every year that Ford has been in existence -- more than 10,000 cars.

If you can't get to Ford, Ford can come to you in the coffee-table book version of its history: Russ Banham's "The Ford Century" (Artisan).

Banham, a former finance reporter for the business publication The Journal of Commerce who also wrote a mass-market history of Coors, thinks of his book as the "literary equivalent of a Ken Burns documentary," he said.

In compiling it, he was given access to reams of Ford material and interviewed several Ford historians.

The company's history, he observed, reflects both great vision and narrow corporate thinking.

Henry Ford was a middle-class farm boy who hated chores but loved tinkering. His original plan was "to ease the plight of farmers," said Banham.

Success came to him in middle age, indicating an indefatigable determination, and when he set out to build an affordable car for the masses, he succeeded. He also cared about the land and had a taste for thrift.

"He always had one foot in the 19th century and one foot in the 20th," said Banham. "I think if he lived today he would be exalted as an environmentalist."

But Ford had a dark side. The industrialist was anti-Semitic and published a series of anti-Jewish pamphlets. He employed a brutal strongman, Harry Bennett, who had union activists attacked.

In the early post-World War II era, Ford, the company, hit hard times until Henry Ford II, the founder's grandson, purged the firm of Bennett and his cronies and brought in the "Whiz Kids" to revitalize the operation.

In the past half-century, the company has made its mistakes -- the Edsel, the Pinto, the Firestone controversy -- and had its triumphs -- the Mustang and the Taurus.

The company is currently trying to find a new footing under Ford scion William Clay Ford Jr. (Henry's great-grandson) and design whiz J Mays.

"The Ford Century" is lushly illustrated with hundreds of photos, including a section devoted to 25 vehicles that represent the "heart and soul" of the company.

Banham called writing the book "an honor -- and scary."

"I felt the weight of responsibility," he said. "This is an American institution."

By Todd Leopold
CNN
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