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Posted 07.25.05

Biography Sheds New Light on Auto Icon Henry Ford

COLUMBIA, MO -- Known for creating the assembly line, the Model T and the $5-workday, Henry Ford is perhaps one of the best known businessmen in the world. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia professor has published a new book on Ford, highlighting new aspects of the man who made automobiles available to the masses and revolutionized industry around the world.

"No one had really published anything on Ford since the 1950s," said Steve Watts, professor and chair of the MU history department. "I saw an opportunity to publish some newer material."

While doing research for his previous book on Walt Disney, Watts came across information on one of Disney's idols, Henry Ford, which piqued his interest in writing a book on Ford. His book, The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, focuses on Ford's often conflicting personal and professional philosophies.

For example, although Ford considered himself a man of the people and worked to improve conditions in his factories, he vehemently opposed labor unions. In addition, Watts examined Ford's motivations for raising his workers' wages, an act that helped Ford gain favor with his workers and the media in the early part of the 20th century.

"Ford really was the first American businessman to understand that a consumer-driven economy was the wave of the future," Watts said. "He realized early on that mass production was based on mass consumption."

Watts points to Ford's increasing his workers' wages as evidence of this philosophy. Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford their own Model Ts, so he paid them more money. Watts said he was most intrigued by Ford's status as a folk hero, which was unusual for a successful businessman.

"He served as a bridge between the 19th and 20th centuries," Watts said. "At the same time he was building the world's largest factory and doing all these cutting edge things, he had a deep reverence for the past and how he grew up. People of his generation were unsettled with all the societal and technological changes facing them, and he was a prophet of the new while being a defender of the old."

Watts' book will be available in August, and he will embark on a nationwide book tour.

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