Harry Bennett

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Harry Bennett (1892-1979), a former boxer and ex-Navy sailor, was an executive at Ford Motor Company during the 1930’s and 1940’s. His reputation of doing Henry Ford's "dirty work" is what most people remember, and his Bennett's Lodge was built with some strange additions. He is best known as the head of Ford’s Service Department, or Internal Security. While working for Ford, his union busting tactics, of which the The Battle of the Overpass was a prime example, made him a foe of the United Auto Workers. He was fired in 1945 by Henry Ford II, and died in 1979 of natural causes. He had various residences in Michigan, including Scouting in Michigan near Farwell, Michigan and Bennett's Castle located on the Huron river in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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Background


In the early days of Ford Motor Company there existed a security department of sorts called the Ford Service Department. The job of the Service Department was to deal with the growing labor unrest and the labor unions that were starting to form. Ford had instituted a policy called "speed up" by which the speed of the assembly lines were increased slightly every week and employees were feeling the strain.

The head of the Service Department was Harry Bennett. At 5 feet, 6 inches he was in great physical shape due to his years of boxing.

Legend traces Bennett's relationship to Ford Motor Company back to a brawl in the streets of New York. Bennett was a sailor, just off ship, and was saved from being thrown into jail by an acquaintance of Henry Ford who happened to witness the fight. The police were convinced by Ford's friend that Bennett wasn't at fault and he was released.

By further coincidence, Henry Ford's acquaintance was on his way to a meeting with Ford and decided to take Bennett along with him. At the meeting, Henry was more interested in the tale of the street fight than the business at hand and offered Bennett a security job at the Rouge plant.

Rumor has it that Bennett's interview for the job was short. He was asked only one question by Henry as to his capabilities. "Can you shoot?" asked Henry.

Bennett liked to talk and act tough. He had a target painted on one of the filing cabinets in his basement office at the Rouge. Visitors and co-workers were puzzled by the muffled sounds of Bennett's air pistol when he took to bouts of inter-office target practice.

Bennett furthered his tough guy image by keeping lions and tigers as pets. They roamed his western-style ranch that he built in Ann Arbor. Many Ford workers were surprised when Bennett would show up at the plant with a lion or a tiger on a leash and tour the plant.

It didn't take Bennett long to assemble a collection of football players, boxers, wrestlers and even Detroit river gang members as Service Department employees. Bennett possessed no car making skills at all. His success with the company came solely from his close relationship with Henry Ford and his ability to get things done. All Henry had to do was ask, "Can you take care of that Harry?" and it was done.

Bennett was so loyal to Henry Ford that during a newspaper interview a journalist asked Bennett, "If Henry Ford asked you to black out the sky tomorrow, what would you do?" Bennett thought for a moment as said, "I might have a little trouble arranging that one but you'd see 100,000 workers coming through the plant gates with dark glasses on tomorrow." Harry Bennett drove over to Henry Ford's Fairlane mansion every morning just to ask his boss if there was any place he could drive him to today. By the time the Model A production was in full swing, the morning meetings were a regular habit. For the best part of 20 years, Harry Bennett either picked up Henry Ford in the morning or took him home at night.

Eventually Harry Bennett rose to the highest ranks of Ford Motor Company as Henry Ford's selection for president of the company. This did not set well with Ford family members. In 1945 Henry Ford II was summoned to Henry Ford's office and informed that he was going to be the new president of Ford Motor Company.

In one of Henry Ford II's first acts, he walked down to Bennett's basement office and told Bennett his services were no longer required. Tough talking Bennett got in a parting shot by telling Ford, "You're taking over a billion-dollar company that you haven't contributed a thing to." That afternoon, Bennett burned all of his company records.

The bizarre and ruthless Bennett era was finally over. Afterwards, Henry Ford II went to Henry Ford to inform him of his first executive decision: "I went to him (Henry Ford) with my guard up. I was sure he was going to blow my head off." Henry Ford, quite nonchalantly said "Well, now Harry is back on the streets where he started."

Memoir


  • Bennett, Harry; with Marcus, Paul (1951), We Never Called Him Henry, New York: Fawcett Publications, Library of Congress Control Number 51-036122 

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