Edsel Ford

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Edsel Bryant Ford
Edsel Bryant Ford.jpg
BornNovember 6, 1893(1893-11-06)
Detroit, Michigan
DiedMay 26, 1943 (aged 49)
Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan
Spouse(s)Eleanor Lowthian Clay
ChildrenHenry Ford II
Benson Ford
Josephine Ford
William Clay Ford, Sr.
ParentsHenry Ford & Clara Jane Bryant

Edsel Bryant Ford (November 6, 1893 – May 26, 1943), son of Henry Ford, was born in Detroit. He was a president of Ford Motor Company from 1919 until his death in 1943.[1] [2]

Life and career

As the Fords' only child, Edsel was groomed to take over the family business, and had grown up tinkering on cars with his father. He became secretary of Ford in 1915 and married Eleanor Lowthian Clay (1896 - 1976), niece of department store owner J. L. Hudson, on November 1, 1916.[3][4] Together they had four children: Henry Ford II (1917 - 1987), Benson Ford (1919 - 1987), Josephine Clay Ford (1923 - 2005),[5][6] and William Clay (* 1925).[7][8] They made their home at 2171 Iroquois St, in the Indian Village neighborhood of Detroit.[9]

The younger Ford showed more interest than his father in flashier styling for automobiles. He indulged this proclivity in part with the purchase of the Lincoln Motor Company in 1922. His affinity for sporty cars was demonstrated in his personal vehicles: Edsel bought the first MG motorcar imported to the United States. In 1932 he had a V-8 boat-tailed speedster custom-designed for him, and two years later had another car designed, this one a low-riding aluminum-bodied speedster. The latter two cars he kept for the remainder of his life and inspired the design of the Lincoln Continental.

After becoming president of Ford, Edsel long advocated the introduction of a more modern automobile to replace the Model T, but was repeatedly overruled by his father. Flagging sales and dwindling market share for the company, however, finally made introduction of a new model inevitable.

During the design phase for the Model A, Henry Ford assured mechanical quality and reliability, leaving it to his son to flesh out the body design. This the younger Ford accomplished with the help of designer József Galamb. Edsel also prevailed upon his father to allow the inclusion of four-wheel mechanical brakes and a sliding-gear transmission on this model. The resulting Model A was a commercial success, selling over four million during four years of production.

As president, Edsel Ford often disagreed with his father on major decisions, but he nevertheless managed to accomplish several lasting changes. Edsel Ford founded and named the Mercury division, and significantly strengthened Ford Motors' overseas production. He was also responsible for the Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln Continental.

Death and legacy

Edsel Ford died in 1943 in Grosse Pointe Shores of cancer at age 49.[1] His father, Henry, resumed the presidency of the company and all of Edsel Ford's nonvoting stock was donated through a codicil in his will to the Ford Foundation, which he had founded with his father seven years earlier. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Each Ford child inherited a large number of shares in the Ford company and the three sons all worked in the family business. Henry Ford II succeeded his grandfather as president of Ford on September 21, 1945.[10] He is generally credited with rescuing the company after World War II.

Edsel Ford was one of the most significant art benefactors in Detroit history. As president of the Detroit Arts Commission, he commissioned the famous Diego Rivera Detroit Industry mural contained within the Detroit Institute of Arts. He was an early collector of African art and his contributions became part of the core of the original DIA African art collection. After his death his family continued to make significant contributions.

Edsel Ford also helped to finance exploratory expeditions, including Admiral Richard Byrd's historic flight over the North Pole in 1926. Byrd, in his Antarctic expeditions, also financed by Edsel, in gratitude named the Edsel Ford Range of mountains for him. Other Antarctic homages include Ford Massif, Ford Nunataks, and Ford Peak.

Edsel Ford's name continues in two of the three local high schools in Dearborn: Edsel Ford High School and Fordson High School. Fordson was the brand name of a line of tractors and was originally started as a separate company, Henry Ford & Son, later absorbed into the Ford Motor Company. Interstate 94 in the Detroit Metropolitan Area is named the Edsel Ford Freeway.

In 1958 Ford started a new car division called Edsel. The Edsel is remembered as an enormous failure, even though the car sold moderately well in its first year. The Edsel line was discontinued after the 1960 model year.

Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

Main article: Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

In 1929 the Ford family moved into their new home, designed by Albert Kahn on shores of Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores. Edsel Ford died in this house in 1943 and his wife lived there until her death in 1976. It was her wish that the property be used for "the benefit of the public." The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is now open to the public for tours. Located on 87 acres (350,000 m2) at 1100 Lake Shore Road Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan 48236, the house has a fine collection of original antiques and art, and beautiful lakefront grounds. The house currently hosts special events, classes and lectures, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[11]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Edsel Ford Dies in Detroit at 49. Motor Company President, the Only Son of Its Founder, Had Long Been Ill.". Associated Press. May 26, 1943, Wednesday. "Edsel Ford, 49-year-old president of the Ford Motor Company, died this morning at his home at Grosse Pointe Shores following an illness of six weeks." 
  2. "Edsel Agonistes". Time (magazine). September 7, 2007. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1659758,00.html. Retrieved on 21 August 2007. "Edsel was a first name before it was ever a car name. But it was never a very popular thing to call a child: according to the Social Security Administration--which has time for this sort of thing--the name Edsel has ranked only as high as 400th on the top 1,000 names for boys, and that was in 1927. More popular names that year included the soaring Kermit, Buford and Elvin." 
  3. "Henry Ford Estate: The Ford Family". HenryFordEstate.org. http://www.henryfordestate.org/. Retrieved on 2007-04-11. 
  4. "Henry Ford's Only Son Marries.". New York Times. November 2, 1916, Thursday. 
  5. "Josephine Clay Ford, 81, a Philanthropist, Dies". Associated Press. June 3, 2005. "Josephine Clay Ford, a philanthropist who was the sole granddaughter of the automotive pioneer Henry Ford, died on Wednesday. She was 81 and lived in suburban. Her death was announced in an e-mail message to Ford Motor Company employees by the company chairman, Bill Ford Jr., a nephew. The message did not give a place or cause of death. Mrs. Ford, known as Dody, established a foundation with her husband that donated millions of dollars. Mrs. Ford was born in 1923, the third of Edsel and Eleanor Ford's four children. Edsel was Henry Ford's only son. Grosse Pointe Farms." 
  6. "Josephine C. Ford is Wed in Michigan. Granddaughter of Founder of Motor Company Is Married to Walter B. Ford 2d, U.S.N.R.". New York Times. January 3, 1943, Sunday. 
  7. 1930 US Census for Detroit, Michigan
  8. "Martha Parke Ford Makes Debut". New York Times. June 17, 1967, Saturday. "Martha Parke Ford, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Clay Ford, made her debut tonight at a reception at the Ford home on Lake Shore Road in nearby Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan" 
  9. Zena Simmons. "Detroit's historic Indian Village". Detroit News. http://info.detnews.com/history/story/index.cfm?id=208&category=locations. Retrieved on 2007-04-11. 
  10. "Henry Ford & Family". Ford Motor Company. http://www.ford.com/en/heritage/fordFamily/default.htm. Retrieved on 2007-04-11. 
  11. "Edsel and Eleanor Ford House". National Park Service. http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/detroit/d2.htm. Retrieved on 2008-06-11. 

Further reading

  • A&E with Richard Guy Wilson, Ph.D.,(2000). America's Castles: The Auto Baron Estates, A&E Television Network.
  • Bak, Richard (2003). Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire. Wiley ISBN 0471234877
  • Bridenstine, James (1989). Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814321615. 

External links

Business positions
Preceded by
Henry Ford
Chief Executive Officer of the Ford Motor Company
Succeeded by
Henry Ford
  1. "Henry Ford". http://www.ford.com/en/heritage/fordFamily/default.htm. Retrieved on 2007-02-14. "The years between the world wars were a period of hectic expansion. In 1917, Ford Motor Company began producing trucks and tractors. In 1919 a conflict with stockholders over the millions to be spent building the giant Rouge manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Michigan led to the company becoming wholly owned by Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, who then succeeded his father as president. After Edsel Ford passed away in 1943, a saddened Henry Ford resumed the presidency. Henry Ford resigned for the second time at the end of World War II. His eldest grandson, Henry Ford II, became president on Sept. 21, 1945. Even as Henry Ford II drove the industry's first postwar car off the assembly line, he was making plans to reorganize and decentralize the company to resume its prewar position as a major force in a fiercely competitive auto industry. Henry Ford II provided strong leadership for Ford Motor Company from the postwar era into the 1980s. He was president from 1945 until 1960 and chief executive officer from 1945 until 1979. He was chairman of the board of directors from 1960 until 1980, and remained as chairman of the finance committee from 1980 until his death in 1987."