Return to site

The Dark Side of Henry Ford

· Henry Ford,Antisemitism,Fine Book Collecting,Ford Motors,American History

During my 40 + years of collecting books, I learnt a lot about books as objects, publishers, characteristics that drive value, such as importance, scarcity, and condition. I learnt a lot about my collecting areas of interest. But in my 4th year as a book dealer, I am learning so much more about the content of books. I buy books that look worthwhile, but on subjects about which I know very little. This is wonderful – researching material on new things. I have many WOW moments, and I have shared many with you, as readers of my musings.

And this is certainly the case on this week’s topic. The volume is called The International Jew and it contains reprints of a periodical that was owned, funded and driven by the industrialist, Henry Ford. He was extremely anti-Semitic. Who knew? All of his Ford dealers knew at the time, because Ford made sure the newspapers were sent to all of them for distribution to customers. As a business person, I was exposed to all of the great innovations of Henry Ford, the introduction of the assembly line, sales and marketing initiatives that greatly reduced the price people had to pay to but one of his Model-Ts. “You can have whatever color you want – as long as it is black!”

What I learned doing the research for The International Jew cast the entrepreneur in a different light. 

The balance of this musing are the pictures and text of my description of the book that was posted onto the internet.

broken image
broken image
broken image
broken image

(look carefully at the photo of The Table of Contents)

The International Jew – The World’s Foremost Problem; Being a reprint of the first Twenty Articles in a Series Now Appearing in THE DEARBORN INDEPENDENT; November, 1920. In 1918, Henry Ford purchased his hometown newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. A year and a half later, he began publishing a series of articles that claimed a vast Jewish conspiracy was infecting America. As with most famous people, Henry Ford was complex and had traits and took actions that were laudatory as well as troublesome.  The most controversial and least admirable aspect of Ford’s career was his descent into anti-Semitism.  Convinced that “bankers” and “the Jews” were responsible for a whole range of things he didn’t like, from the world war to short skirts to jazz music, Ford used his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, to carry on an active anti-Semitic campaign. The series ran for 91 issues. Ford distributed half a million copies to his vast network of dealerships and subscribers. Appearing on the front page every week, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem” examined a purported conspiracy launched by Jewish groups to achieve world domination.  The basis for the articles was an ancient and notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic hoax, first published in Russia in 1903.  There are lots of small town newspapers that publish scurrilous anti-Semitic material, so it wasn't unusual in that way. But what's notable about The Dearborn Independent is that it was also spread through the Ford Motor dealerships. And so that there'd be stacks of them in a dealership in California, a dealership in Massachusetts, a dealership in Iowa. In some places, the dealership would actually put copies of the newspaper in the car, so that when you drove off with your Model T, there you had on the seat next to you a copy of The Dearborn Independent. The rhetoric was not unusual for its content, as much as its scope. As one of the most famous men in America, Henry Ford legitimized ideas that otherwise may have been given little authority. Ford bound the articles into four volumes titled "The International Jew," The first volume, this book, was published in November 1920, as an anthology of articles that had been published in the Independent from May 22 to October 2, 1920. The original print run of the first edition was estimated to be between 200,000 and 500,000 copies. Three additional volumes were published over the next 18 months. A libel lawsuit, brought by San Francisco lawyer and Jewish farm cooperative organizer Aaron Sapiro in response to antisemitic remarks, led Ford to close the Independent in December 1927. News reports at the time quoted him as being shocked by the content and having been unaware of its nature. During the trial, William J. Cameron, the editor of Ford's "Own Page", testified that Ford had nothing to do with the editorials even though they were under his byline. Cameron testified at the libel trial that he never discussed the content of the pages nor sent them to Ford for his approval. Investigative journalist Max Wallace doubted the veracity of this claim and wrote that James M. Miller, a former Dearborn Independent employee, swore under oath that Ford had told him he intended to expose Sapiro. 

According to Michael Barkun, "That Cameron would have continued to publish such controversial material without Ford's explicit instructions seemed unthinkable to those who knew both men. Mrs. Stanley Ruddiman, a Ford family intimate, remarked that 'I don't think Mr. Cameron ever wrote anything for publication without Mr. Ford's approval. Ford's International Jew was translated into German in 1922 and cited as an influence by Baldur von Schirach, one of the Nazi leaders, who stated "I read it and became anti-Semitic. In those days this book made such a deep impression on my friends and myself because we saw in Henry Ford the representative of success, also the exponent of a progressive social policy. In the poverty- stricken and wretched Germany of the time, youth looked toward America, and apart from the great benefactor, Herbert Hoover, it was Henry Ford who to us represented America. Ford is the only American mentioned in Hitler's Mein Kampf, but he is only mentioned once in one sentence, where Hitler writes "Every year makes them [American 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. And Ford is just about the most popular American, certainly one of the wealthiest; here's the person whose money and whose influence commands tremendous attention, spewing stuff that's no different than what Hitler is saying in his beer hall meetings in Munich at the same time. Henry Ford's anti-Semitic views echoed the fears and assumptions of many Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hitler was very aware of Henry Ford, of Henry Ford's writings, and praised them. He turned to the same documents. There's a common thread. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a cherished text for both. And there were certainly business connections between Ford Motors and the Nazi regime. In 1938, Ford received an award from the Nazi regime called the "Grand Cross of the German Eagle. A close friend recalled a camping trip in 1919 during which Ford lectured a group around the campfire. He "attributes all evil to Jews or to the Jewish capitalists," the friend wrote in his diary. "The Jews caused the war, the Jews caused the outbreak of thieving and robbery all over the country, the Jews caused the inefficiency of the navy.” Throughout The Dearborn Independent, Ford published articles that would refer to Jews in every possible context as at the root of America and the world's ills. Strikes: It was the Jews. Any kind of financial scandal? The Jews. Agricultural depression? The Jews. So "the Jew," in a way, became the symbol of a world that was being manipulated and controlled. The publication of “The International Jew” caused an uproar.  In some quarters, such as anti-immigrant and nativist groups, the series confirmed their own beliefs.  Others were appalled by the series, published demands for a retraction, removed the paper from public libraries, and promoted a boycott of Ford automobiles.  Some Ford dealers refused to carry the paper.  Responding to this pressure, Ford halted publication of the anti-Jewish series in January 1922, only to start it up again less than a year later.   

In April 1924, The Independent initiated a new series of attacks on attorney Aaron Sapiro, accusing him of exploiting farmers’ cooperatives.  When Ford refused to print a retraction, Sapiro sued him for libel.  The case finally came to trial in March 1927 and quickly turned into a media circus.  Shortly before Ford was scheduled to testify, he ordered the closing of the Dearborn Independent (it closed at the end of 1927) and explored an out-of-court settlement with Sapiro.  After negotiations with U.S. Representative Nathan D. Perlman, a vice president of the American Jewish Congress, and Louis Marshall, president of the American Jewish Committee, Ford agreed to release a formal apology, written by Marshall, and to make a cash settlement with Sapiro. 

This book, volume 1 of the series, 235 pages bound in green cloth, is in fine condition. This is a very scarce volume that speaks loudly about discrimination and fear in the early decades of the twentieth century.