Ford And Postwar America
After Edsel's death business affairs were neglected, poor investments made and Ford's dominance in the industry had faltered. In 1945 Henry appointed his grandson Henry II to the presidency, with Harry Bennet (Henry's much-hated, long-time business associate) taking a seat on the board. Henry Ford II was released from the Navy by President Roosevelt in order to take control of the company.
Henry Ford II was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 4, 1917. After graduation from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, in 1936, Henry entered Yale University, where he specialized in sociology, a study that evidently influenced him a great deal. He lacked sufficient credits to graduate but left college anyway in 1940 to marry and begin work at the Ford Motor Company. He was drafted into the Navy in 1941 and served at the Great Lakes Naval Training School until his release in 1945. He was 25 years old when he took control of Ford.
Henry II's understanding of social issues made up for his lack of business experience. He immediately started recruiting an expert management team for the company, realizing that the post-war period would be a make-or-break period for any automobile manufacturer. By 1949 the company had been revitalized and restructured, and it had produced an all-new car that was, for its time, comparable to the Model T and A. The 49-51 Fords brought the company solidly back into 2nd place in the industry and generated the necessary profits to propel the company into the second half of the century. They featured "slab sides," (no more separate fenders) and independent front suspensions in addition to a number of other styling and engineering advances.
Ford led the styling race during the mid-1950s with the introduction of the 1955 Thunderbird. The 2-seat "personal luxury car" from Ford drew millions to showrooms and to this day is one of the most recognizable classic cars in automotive history. Along with the T-Bird came an opportunity for the public to own shares in Ford, as the company went public in 1956. Ford continued to introduce dramatic new products during the remainder of the decade including: the Lincoln Mark II; retractable hardtop sedans and the much-maligned Edsel.
Trivia Note: The Edsel was not, contrary to popular myth, a bad car with horrible mechanical problems. It was, in fact, a very good car that featured a number of innovative designs. It failed because there was no real market for it, combined with a deep recession in 1958.
While at the helm of Ford, Chairman Henry II brought in Lee Iacocca as President. Iacocca was a sales genius who quickly overcame the Edsel fiasco and pushed a wide range of models onto showroom floors. From the Falcon to Fairlane to the Galaxie, dealerships had something for everyone by the early 1960s.
Iacocca also believed in high performance, famously saying "Race on Sunday, sell on Monday." He managed to get Ford back into international racing by initially building 5 Falcons to run the 1963 Monte Carlo Rallye and then assisting Carroll Shelby with the AC Cobra's. These successes eventually led to the Grand Prix campaigns of the legendary GT 40 and "Powered by Ford" emblems on a host of domestic and European racecars. Iacocca is most famous for his decision to produce the Mustang, one of the most successful single products in the history of automobiles.
The Ford Motor Company was tremendously successful during the 1960s and, 20 years ahead of the European Economic Community's arrival, established Ford of Europe in 1967. The company established its North American Automotive Operations in 1971, consolidating U.S., Canadian, and Mexican operations.
The early 1970s presented new challenges to the auto industry. Pollution, international trade, oil crises, foreign imports and labor relations converged to choke the profits and reduce market shares of the Big Three. Ford reacted to the pressures much the way GM and Chrysler did, attempting to produce small, fuel-efficient cars and making engineering "patches" to obsolete drivetrains. The Pinto, Granada, Fairmont and other products sold in large numbers but were fraught with driveability and reliability problems. It would take nearly 20 years for Ford and the other domestic manufacturers to adjust to these pressures, only to face new ones in the 90s and beyond.
Henry II never lived to see how the industry responded to the changes. He died in 1987.