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The Hitler regime honored Henry Ford for his enduring support by bestowing upon him this medal, the 

Verdienstkreutz Deutscher Adler (the Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle).

Henry Ford


1863 - 1947


Henry Ford and His Anti-Semitism


by Robert Mulcahy


            Henry Ford has secured a place in history as a pioneer of the automobile, a man who brought industrial “progress” to a whole generation of people; as an efficient manager and industrialist, who effectively mass-produced cars and made them affordable and available to the American people; and as a man who embodied many so-called “American values”—a “self-made man”: upright, religious, strong in character, a successful businessman and a man of the people with strong ties to nature. These are all qualities that many people desire in an “American hero”—as Ford seems to some Americans to have been.

What is perhaps less known about Henry Ford is that for several years he sponsored the publication of articles in the Dearborn Independent newspaper and was the publisher of several books that attacked and demonized Jews, spreading hatred throughout the American Midwest. One must question the legacy of a man who, on the one hand, so powerfully embodied the success of the “American dream” but who, on the other, also harbored deep-seated prejudices against American Jews and Jews in general.

            After having gone through a devastating Civil War and Reconstruction, the America into which Henry Ford was born near Dearbornville (later Dearborn)/Michigan on 30 July 1863 was one that stood at the dawn of a new era of industrialization and radical social change. Michigan was a part of the nation where the belief in the pureness of nature and the idealization of the farmer remained strong in the face of rapidly sprawling cities. It was a place where a populist movement—which believed that hard work paid off, that one should live a “pure” life devoid of alcohol and tobacco, and which highly valued self-reliance and strength—dominated the political and social landscape.

The main textbook in nineteenth-century schools was the McGuffey Reader, which contained readings heavily influenced by Protestantism, and taught the value of hard work, conformity and success—all based on an unquestionable belief in the truth of the Bible and an omnipresent God. Those who were different from this image were highly suspect. Using “instructional” Biblical stories and scriptures, these readers condemned Jews for not accepting Christianity, often depicted them as being revengeful, greedy moneylenders who were out for Christian blood—as outsiders and urbanites, who were somehow different and “dirtier” than the rest. McGuffey’s New Fifth Eclectic Reader contained a text from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in which Shylock, a Jew and an “unfeeling” moneylender, instead of demanding money from Antonio, who is in his debt, wanted to cut a pound of flesh from the poor man as his collateral.

            Ford’s success brought him from being the son of a farmer near Detroit to running one of the most successful automobile plants in the world. To achieve that position, Ford demonstrated qualities requisite for that kind of monumental achievement: incredible stamina and drive—he knew what he wanted and how to get there. He experimented widely in mechanical devices and eventually designed an engine that would work on a “horseless carriage”, an invention which led to the organization of the Ford Motor Company in 1903. He had a strong belief in helping the “common man”, thus wanting to provide that idealized archetype an affordable and reliable car.

As the head of his company, Ford was known to be a strong authoritarian in relation to his personal staff and workers. As time went on he wanted his workers to live as he thought they should live. He firmly believed that one’s behavior at home greatly reflected on one’s performance at work. In order to improve efficiency, he shifted his workers to an eight-hour day, introduced three shifts instead of two, and increased salaries—all benefits to the workers.

Ford, however, also began to encroach into his workers’ personal lives and to “Americanize” his largely-immigrant workforce by offering English classes and other “improvement” programs, the goal of which was to create a “new American”—one who was encouraged not to dwell on the Old-World past, but rather focus on conforming to the standards of the New. This belief in his own righteousness led Ford to take on a more sermon-like tone with people in telling them how to live. Ford surrounded himself with a very small, tight circle of advisors.  Access to this inner circle was strictly controlled by Ford’s long-time personal secretary, Ernest G. Liebold, who would protect his “Boss” for many years to come. This type of management style may have been conducive for getting things done, but it also alienated Ford from what his workers were thinking and created an isolationism that proved hard to bridge. This sense of “being out of touch” partially explains Ford’s later actions.

            The outbreak of World War I caused the pacifist Ford to speak out vehemently against the war, lashing out against the warmongers and the international bankers, who he thought were financing the war. (He himself gave money to produce tractors for peaceful, agricultural use.) His hatred of the war was the stimulus for his haphazard “Peace Ship” venture, in which he chartered an ocean liner to sail to Europe with a large group of prominent peace supporters to hold a conference with European leaders on ending the war. This failed escapade was plagued by problems and turmoil from the start, and Ford himself left the ship just after it arrived in Europe. This effort, however, was the beginning of Ford’s shift in focus from a man strictly concerned with his business, to one more concerned with public affairs, politics and improving (in his mind) the welfare of the much-touted “common man”. In order to promote his cause and ideas, Ford needed to have an outlet for them, so he acquired a financially-troubled local newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.

             Ford hired Detroit journalist E.G. Pipp to be the managing editor of his new venture, with Liebold as business manager and William Cameron, who became a staff writer and wrote most of what would become the controversial Ford articles. These articles, written by Cameron and approved by Liebold, were published on Ford’s “Own Page,” which was conceived of as a way for Ford to speak directly to the American people, expounding his own opinions on a wide range of subjects. Ford wanted to stir ambition for self-improvement and encourage independent thinking in the so-called common man—glorifying the mythic strength of the working man and his struggle to make a better life for himself and his family. Ford was against large corporations, in that they were seen to undercut the hard-working man. He also wanted respect shown to the returning soldiers from overseas and warned against hidden influences that threatened America—the foremost being Jews and communists, “The Dark Forces—whether political, military or capitalistic…The power that would gamble with men’s lives on the battlefield is the power that always gambles with their lives in industry”. Ford feared that these shadowlike and unnamed individuals could “manipulate certain instincts and passions with a skill which could only emanate from Satan himself.”

Privately, Ford also had said earlier: “I know who caused the war—the German-Jewish bankers! I have the evidence here. Facts! I can’t give out the facts now, because I haven’t got them all yet, but I’ll have them soon.” The first issue hit the newsstands on 11 January 1919, and the articles began to blame the Jews for everything – they caused the war and they were thieves in control of the world’s finances. The paper’s xenophobic bias condemned the assimilation of new immigrants by asserting that “The problem is not…with the pot so much as it is with the base metal. Some metals cannot be assimilated, refuse to mix with the molten mass of the citizenship, but remain ugly, indissoluble lumps. How did this base metal get in?...What about those aliens who have given us so much trouble, these Bolsheviki messing up our industries and disturbing our life?” There was a tangible fear after the 1917 Russian Revolution that communism would quickly spread to other countries, which would bring the nationalization of private property and resources, so dear to capitalistic countries. The Bolsheviks, widely perceived to be mostly Jews, represented a threat to industrialists like Ford, who saw in them an attack on free enterprise.  Nancy Russell, in an article on Ford, wrote “in contradistinction to the war [World War I], the 1917 Russian Revolution and its effect on workers throughout the world was not something to which Ford could adapt.  It was one thing for the Jews to be responsible for the war; for them to be responsible (as Ford saw it) for the seizure of private property, the nationalization of resources and the encouragement of revolutionary movements across the globe was quite another matter.”  Russell goes on to suggest that Ford’s anti-Semitism was in part a reaction to the Russian Revolution and to the growing labor movement both in America and abroad, which Ford vehemently opposed.  Ford vigorously fought the organization of labor unions at his plants, only relenting in the 1940s.

It was around this time that a book, titled The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, was brought to Ford’s attention by Boris Brasol, a Russian émigré. The book contained the supposed minutes of a secret Zionist meeting in Switzerland, where Jews had plotted to take control of the world, with the goal of enslaving all non-Jews, and it warned of an upcoming final battle between Jews and Anglo-Saxons. The book turned out to be a forgery made by the Russian secret police, but that did not alter the effect it had on people already suspicious of Jews and other immigrants. The Dearborn Independent’s articles began to take on a more paranoid tone, regulating the Jews to being the scapegoats of America’s woes—especially responsible for the rising unemployment rate and faltering economy.

The Dearborn Independent had a bad first year, even with Ford’s decree that all Ford dealers buy a subscription to the paper. Ford also implemented a quota system for sales, leading some dealers to factor in the price of an automatic subscription to the Dearborn Independent when selling a Ford car.

            Starting on 22 May 1922, the first of 91 successive articles on “The International Jew: The World’s Problem” was published. Pipp had left the paper by this time, leaving Liebold and Cameron in charge, both of whom had deep-rooted prejudices against Jews specifically and immigrants generally. Ford’s overseas empire had grown enormously and he feared threats to it, as he was convinced that it was in the meddling, “international bankers’” interests to want war (supposedly to be able to sell armaments) and that they desired to control the money flow of various nations. They were gaining too much influence, which added fuel to Ford’s belief that “the Jews caused the war.”

Most of Ford’s comments about the Jews took place behind closed doors, in conversations with dinner guests, at parties and in his inner circle in his office; but through Cameron and Liebold, he had access to a wider public. Even though Cameron largely wrote the articles with Liebold’s blessing, Ford still stood behind the paper: thus, it is hard to believe, despite later claims, that he did not know what was being printed in his name.

In 1920 the Dearborn Independent began to publish the Protocols, then later that year published The International Jew, an anthology of articles that had appeared in the paper (which went on to be translated into sixteen different languages), and which subscribers were “heavily recommended” to buy. By this time, the liberal media and Jewish leaders responded to Ford’s attacks. After a series of personal attacks against him, Ford decided that the articles should shop (tactics such as boycotts of Ford products hit the quintessential businessman in his wallet). So, in 1921—after two years of articles—they ceased (or became more periodic).

            By 1924, however, a second of wave of attacks were launched in response to the activities of Aaron Sapiro, who had organized a farming cooperative that helped farmers sell their products by getting rid of the middleman, thus gaining a higher profit margin. Sapiro, being a Jew, had attracted Ford’s attention; Ford claimed that the Jews were going to take over agriculture, the lifeblood of the American farmer. The Dearborn Independent warned that “a band of Jews – bankers, lawyers, moneylenders, advertising agencies, fruit-packers, produce buyers, professional office managers, and bookkeeping experts – is on the back of the American farmer.” Sapiro brought a lawsuit against Ford, which was eventually settled out of court, but not before bringing much unwanted negative publicity to Ford—so much so that the industrialist was forced to sign a public apology for his articles. In this apology (which the automaker did not write) Ford claimed that he regularly delegated work to others and did not know what they were writing in the articles, and that he did not know the extent to which the Jews had been upset by his articles. He claimed that he had been “deceived” by his editors as to the contents of the articles. The apology was not widely believed and, in any case, many people believed that, as he remained the inspiration behind the articles, Ford simply wanted to clean up his public image. All of this negative publicity, however, did have the effect of shutting down the Dearborn Independent for good on 31 December 1927.

            Ford’s The International Jew had been translated into German and his anti-Semitic ideas provided fertile ground for Germany’s nascent Nazi movement. (The German translator of the text had even gone so far as to add footnotes to Ford’s articles, disagreeing with Ford in several places where he felt that Ford did not go far enough in his opinions about Jews.) Hitler owned a well-marked, personal copy of this book, had a framed photograph of Henry Ford in his office and often cited Ford, who was the only American to be mentioned in Hitler’s Mein Kampf :


            Every year makes them [the Jews] more and more the controlling

masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions;

            only a single great man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence.


Hitler and Ford shared many of the same beliefs—the idealization of the common man, the “traditional values” of home, religion and self-reliance, the maxim that hard work brings success, the desire to improve their respective countries. In the United States, unemployment in the thirties and the Depression led to the flourishing of quasi-fascist and xenophobic groups, who resented the latest wave of immigrants. A large number of Jews had begun arriving from Eastern Europe in the 1870s and were perceived as “dark, Oriental” and “different” from the other Jews who were already in America; ones that people had become accustomed to: the urban, “decent”, “good” Jew that blended into society. There is no proof that Ford ever directly gave money to Hitler’s Nationalsocialist German Workers Party, but there is no doubt that Ford’s articles, available abroad through his book and Ford’s own position as a successful, powerful, influential American businessman had an effect on young Nazi sympathizers.

            The Third Reich regime awarded Henry Ford the Verdienstkreutz Deutscher Adler (the Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle) on 30 July 1938, on Ford’s seventy-eighth birthday. This award was given to him by the German government in recognition of his pioneering work in the auto industry and in making the car available to the masses. Seeming oblivious to the fact that Hitler’s medal was one of an openly belligerent country that desired the conquest of a large part of Europe, the man who launched the “Peace Ship” twenty-three years earlier seemed pleased to receive it. Neil Baldwin later wrote that


Ford told E.G. Liebold when Hitler’s award was first proposed that he would readily accept “anything the German people have to offer.” Having long respected the Germans for their frugal, enterprising and industrious attributes of character, Ford was certain “they were not as a whole in sympathy with their rulers in their anti-Jewish policies.”


Despite his professed pacifist leanings, Ford’s plants in England provided materiel for the British forces in North Africa during the war. His plant in Germany was never nationalized by the Nazi government but was under German management and employed slave labor. In 1942, Ford made yet another so-called apology to the Jews, but it was not widely perceived as being sincere.

Henry Ford died on 7 April 1947, leaving his grandson, Henry Ford II, in charge of the Ford Motor Company and a troubled legacy. Ford often claimed that he was ignorant of the contents of the Dearborn Independent’s articles, but it is more likely that Ford harbored many of the beliefs prevalent in the wider culture at the time and that he was influenced by his close-knit group of friends and advisors, which was not open to a variety of opinions (Ford himself did not read much, was anti-intellectual and ignorant of much of the world around him). World War I made Ford realize and dislike the fact that his business could be beholden to others (in that Ford believed that “international bankers” could start wars which would be detrimental to his sales). Ford sincerely believed that a group of Jewish bankers supposedly were constantly scheming to get their hands on the wealth of countries and Ford simply had his own personal prejudices against a certain group of people.

What makes Ford different from like-minded people, however, is that he actively sought an outlet for his ideas and used his journalistic and publishing power to give voice to his anti-Semitic views. Even if they took the form of ghost-written articles, private comments made under the breath, false apologies with the goal of improving public relations or fake photo opportunities, they were still hate-filled remarks that vilified and demonized a specific group of people as alien, murderous and sub-human. The seeds that were sown then can still be felt today, albeit the hatred and demonization of individuals may be aimed at a different group of “dark-looking foreigners.” If this is the kind of person who has come to be seen as “an American hero” - rising to success through hard work and perseverance and symbolizing what the “model citizen” should emulate, despite having repulsive personal beliefs—then maybe it is time that Americans re-evaluate our definition of “heroism”.



Baldwin, Neil. Henry Ford and the Jews: the Mass Production of Hate. Public Affairs. New York: 2001.

Lacey, Robert.  Ford, the Men and the Machine.  Little, Brown and Company.  Boston-Toronto:  1986.

Logsdon, Jonathan R. “Power, Ignorance and Anti-Semitism” available at:


Russell, Nancy.  “Henry Ford: American anti-Semitism and the class struggle” available at: 



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