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Old 06-16-2003, 08:28   #1 (permalink)
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U.S. : Ford's Centenary Celebrations

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

It is not quite the works band welcoming Bill Ford, the great grandson of the founder and the current chief executive of the family company, to a birthday party at the River Rouge plant in Detroit.

Rather it is the brass section of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Ford's Rouge Centre hosted Centenary celebrations

The venue for the party is one of the early Ford plants. A century ago, at one end, in would go iron ore brought in by boat across the Great Lakes in Canada, and out would come - two miles later - cars, affordable cars, mass produced with bits added by workers as they moved down an assembly line.

Bill Ford told me this transformed the world.

"If we can go back to 1903, prior to the model T, there were only 144 miles of paved road in the United States.

"Most people never travelled more than 20 miles from home in their entire lifetime.

"An affordable vehicle brought freedom to live where you wanted, freedom to work where you wanted and freedom to vacation and play where you wanted."

Tough leader

Henry Ford also doubled the average wage and that put spending power into many hands, creating a middle class.


He felt that single women should be given the opportunity to work outside the home, outside the farms on which they had largely grown up

Sir Nick Scheele, Ford president

He was a tough man who believed in free enterprise and self-improvement.

But there was another side to him. In the 1920s, he set up a journal, the Dearborn Independent, which was viciously anti-Semitic.

He was sued and eventually - and reluctantly - closed it down and apologised.

Jews at the time were gleeful, a glee reflected in popular, sarcastic song thanking him for his apology.

Lasting legacy

The anti-Semitic side isn't being played big at the celebration - though Henry Ford did help other groups into the labour force, and at the same pay-rates as those for white men, according to Sir Nick Scheele, the company's President.

Mr Scheele told the BBC:

"He set up factories which just employed women. He did that because he felt that single women should be given the opportunity to work outside the home, outside the farms on which they had largely grown up.

"He also was the first to provide jobs for African Americans, and as he did that he gave African Americans the opportunity to buy their homes right here in Detroit."

So the centenary of Ford marks a social and industrial revolution. It is also, of course, a family celebration for Bill Ford.

And that's the difficult bit.

The Ford Motor Company is having a hard time of it, losing truck-loads of money.

Bill Ford says it has now turned the corner. But it is not completely certain that his children, not even out of their teens yet, will get to run an independent company bearing their name.
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