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Henry Ford and the World War I Era

Ford opposed war, which he thought was a terrible waste. Ford became highly critical of those who he felt financed war, and he tried to stop them. In 1915, the pacifist Rosika Schwimmer gained favor with Ford, who agreed to fund a peace ship to Europe, where World War I was raging. He and about 170 other prominent peace leaders traveled there. Ford’s Episcopalian pastor, Reverend Samuel S. Marquis, accompanied him on the mission. Marquis headed Ford’s Sociology Department from 1913 to 1921. Ford talked to President Wilson about the mission but had no government support. His group went to neutral Sweden and the Netherlands to meet with peace activists. A target of much ridicule, Ford left the ship as soon as it reached Sweden.

Ford plants in Britain produced tractors to increase the British food supply, as well as trucks and aircraft engines. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917 the company became a major supplier of weapons, especially the Liberty engine for airplanes, and anti-submarine boats.

In 1918, with the war on and the League of Nations a growing issue in global politics, President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, encouraged Ford to run for a Michigan seat in the U.S. Senate. Wilson believed that Ford could tip the scales in Congress in favor of Wilson’s proposed League. “You are the only man in Michigan who can be elected and help bring about the peace you so desire,” the president wrote Ford. Ford wrote back: “If they want to elect me let them do so, but I won’t make a penny’s investment.” Ford did run, however, and came within 4,500 votes of winning, out of more than 400,000 cast statewide.

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

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