Henry Ford II: Not a Chip Off the Old Block
The notorious antisemitism of Henry Ford is as well-known as the philosemitism of his grandson, Henry Ford II, is little-known.
Everything negative said about Henry Ford is true — except the conventional wisdom that Ford’s antisemitic fury was spent by 1927. Ford was frightened by a $1 million libel suit brought against him by Aaron Sapiro, and eventually closed down his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.
Yet Ford’s antisemitism was not done. In 1938, at the time of the Anschluss between Nazi Germany and Austria, Ford accepted a 75th birthday gift from Hitler’s consulate in Detroit: the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle. Ford and Hitler had admired each other since the 1920s. Ford also privately became a fan of rabble-rousing antisemitic preacher Gerald L. K. Smith. In 1940, he confided that he was sure Jews were conspiring to manipulate the US into a new world war.
The story of Henry Ford’s grandson and namesake was very different. During World War II, young Henry (nicknamed “Hank the Deuce”) was a young naval officer in the Pacific. In 1943, when his father Edsel died, his grandfather resumed command of the company, despite showing signs of senility. Only in 1945 did Henry Ford II become president.
Among his first acts was to hire the younger generation of executives, the “Whiz Kids,” including Robert McNamara, who turned Ford Motor around. He alone healed Ford’s relationship with the Jews.
In 1949, when the Truman White House received a fleet of Lincoln limousines, the last produced went to Chaim Weizmann, whom Ford II met during the Israeli president’s tour of the US. In 1950, Hank the Deuce made a $50,000 contribution to the United Jewish Appeal’s Christian Committee Campaign for Israel. Around the time of the Six-Day War in 1967, Ford II without fanfare gave his friend, oil executive Max Fisher, a hand-written note with a $100,000 check for the Israel Emergency Fund.
Ford built his first-ever assembly plant in Israel. In 1968, the first Ford Escorts came off the Nazareth assembly line. The plant soon was assembling Ford trucks and buses for sale to Israel’s African market. Henry Ford II visited Israel in 1972, feted by Prime Minister Golda Meir.
Maintaining his business with the Jewish state after 1973, he refused to give in to boycott threats, despite losses across the Arab world. Ford defied the boycott while companies like Pepsi Cola, with heavy Jewish investment, capitulated. During the Yom Kippur War, when a Jewish engineer told him that Israel needed tank carriers, the Deuce supplied them at a critical juncture.
Billy Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford’s great-grandson, visited Israel in 2019 to inaugurate the new Ford Research Center in Tel Aviv. Earlier, he appointed Mark Fields, a Jew, to be Ford’s Chief Operating Officer.
Information on Henry Ford II came from — and can be read in — Henry: A Life of Henry Ford II by Walter Hayes.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).