Henry Ford was an innovator. He brilliantly navigated the difficult task of building not just a car but a new industry. In his early and best days, he was open-minded and an egalitarian. He championed the needs of his workers to earn a decent wage. Despite popular lore, he didn't invent the assembly line. He hired the best people he could to help him make production more efficient so that his cars could be produced at a lower cost and be affordable to more people. They developed the automobile assembly line...an adaptation of many earlier automation efforts including the automation in meat packing plants.
Ford recognized that his accomplishments were a function of his time and his timing. I love this quote from Ford about his role in invention:
I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work...Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.
Some might say that Ford changed the world. Ford might say that he was there when the world changed and he took advantage of that tectonic shift in the industrialization of America.
Ford's later life is a much more troubled and troubling story. But perhaps we should remember him for what he did best. I think we would all like to be treated similarly.
[Image of Ford from Wikipedia]