Henry Ford -- warts and all
He was a celebrity of his day - a rich man bent on improving the world and a crusader ever ready to challenge the rules.
The fact that he thought persecuting Jews was the way to accomplish that was only one of his weak spots.
He also had disdain for Catholics, and despite the fact that Henry Ford recognized a place for African Americans in his factories, he wanted them kept out of his company town of Dearborn, Mich. He wanted them segregated in the outlying area of Inkster.
Biographers tend to blame his views on his limited education. Ford, a farm boy born in the middle of the Civil War, was not remarkably different from others of his day. His formal education ended in seventh grade. After his rise to industrial fortune, he still considered book learning - history in particular - to be "bunk."
In the midst of a libel lawsuit against the Chicago Tribune, which had labeled Ford an "ignorant anarchist," Ford revealed an impoverished knowledge of civics history. As he sat on the witness stand scraping mud off his shoes with a pocketknife, Ford meekly guessed wrongly at the identity of Benedict Arnold and placed the American Revolution in the wrong century.
Yet Ford had dabbled in politics, running for the U.S. presidency in 1916, and found himself surprisingly popular in early primaries. In 1918, he ran for one of Michigan's U.S. Senate seats, losing by just 4,500 votes.
But his cantankerous nature worsened with the years. In the 1920s, Ford had a nervous breakdown. He developed the habit of surprising assembly workers on the graveyard shift, popping up behind them as they worked at 2 a.m. to question them about their supervisors.
On the light side, he sought to encourage country music by hosting barn dances and sponsoring national fiddling contests. He worked with the Audubon Society to create bird sanctuaries and introduce more songbirds into the local countryside. He sometimes was found walking in the woods, warbling bird imitations.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.