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Henry Ford's Undoing

Henry Ford is one of the biggest names in American life. His use of mass production in manufacturing the Model T automobile shaped not only the economy and industry, but the values of 20th century America.

A 2005 biography of Ford tells the story of the man who achieved incredible fame and fortune, and describes how, in the end, this "gifted man was undone by his own success."

Ford loved the ordinary folk and they loved him back. By 1920, half of all cars on US roads were Fords. But it wasn't just cars that Ford was selling. He preached a new gospel to a public raised on Puritan ideals of delayed gratification and self-control. Ford believed that money was for spending, and that workers should use their income to buy products that would improve their lives—products like his Model T.

Seen as a hero for making it possible for the average family to own a car, Ford's opinion was sought out for every area of life, from world peace to marriage and child care.

The adulation of others ultimately convinced Ford that he was infallible and led him to ruinously bad decisions. It blinded him to his own hypocrisy as he preached family values and old-fashioned virtue and yet kept a mistress. It may also have driven him to destroy his only child…. The older Ford—offended by his son's gentle style and superior education—ruthlessly undercut him at every turn, only then to mourn grievously when Edsel died young…. Ford's last days were sorrowful. On a visit to the house where he had lived as a newlywed, he told his chauffeur, "I've got a lot of money, and I'd give every penny of it right now just to be here with Mrs. Ford."

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