Nothing in the boyhood of Henry Ford suggested that he would become an industrial superman.
Born on a Dearborn, Mich., farm in 1863, Ford had eight years of schooling.
Even Ford's sister, Margaret, said that those closest to him failed to find 'some early sign' that he was 'set apart for some special work in the world.'
Ford was far more than an automaker. He also became a folk hero, an incessant crusader and the first large employer to provide jobs of equal pay to those with disabilities and African Americans.
Controversial, paradoxical, colorful, Ford was an enigma.
An idealistic pioneer in some respects, he was a cynical reactionary in others. He had a selfish, mean, even cruel streak, yet often was generous, kindly and compassionate. He was ignorant, narrow-minded and stubborn. Yet at times, he displayed remarkable insight, vision, open-mindedness and flexibility.
His chameleonlike, mercurial personality kept his associates on constant edge.
MAN OF CONTRADICTIONS
'History,' he proclaimed, 'is more or less bunk,' and he went on to build a great depository of Americana. He constructed the world's biggest factory, yet found delight in building waterpower plants that employed as few as 11 workers. Highly sympathetic toward African Americans, he was known as a persecutor of Jews. He did not believe in organized charity, yet gave millions to good works.
How did such a man rise to such heights?
Ford had native intelligence and common sense, even though the latter occasionally failed him; an intuitive mind that leaped beyond the present; a special engineering talent that combined creativity with practicality; a remarkable memory, and a missionary's zeal.
He also had a lifelong capacity for hard work, especially thinking, which he termed 'the hardest work there is,' adding, 'that is why so few engage in it.'
Ford was admired, despite his great wealth, for having retained the common touch and mixing easily with those who worked with their hands.
Asked on his 50th birthday to cite the greatest handicap of the rich, the industrialist replied, 'For me, it was when Mrs. Ford stopped cooking.'
He shunned the conventional vices, although circumstantial evidence suggests that he fathered an illegitimate son in 1923.
Ford also had, or made, his share of good luck.
His entry into automaking and the introduction of his Model T were perfectly timed.
He was teamed, by accident, with James Couzens, later a Detroit mayor and U.S. senator, who contributed as much as Ford to the Ford Motor Co.'s early success.
In addition, Ford married a woman who understood and complemented him.
Clara Bryant, like Henry, was reared on a farm in the Dearborn area. Three years younger than her husband, she was convinced from the time they were married in 1888 that her husband would accomplish something notable. Ford called her 'the Believer.'
By preaching high-volume production, low prices and universal consumption, Henry Ford became the key figure in a far-reaching revolution that remolded the world according to his vision.
Ford did not seek glorification in his death, as did his early partners, John and Horace Dodge and James Couzens, whose remains occupy two of the largest mausoleums in the Detroit area.
Ford is buried beneath a simple stone slab in the tiny Ford family cemetery on Joy Road near Greenfield Road in Detroit.
His smallest and perhaps most poignant memorial is a 4-foot tall stone alongside tiny Springwells mall at Rotunda Drive and Greenfield Road in Dearborn. Atop the stone is a metal strip with five words, 'The Shadow Passes, Light Remains,' a gentle reminder that Henry Ford lives on.