Douglas A. Fraser is unusual among American union leaders of this generation. He started out as a worker, not as a professional union man, during that fervid time of union organization, the Great Depression, and witnessed the founding of his own union. When Fraser retired from the presidency of the United Automobile Workers in 1983, it marked the end of an epoch in the UAW and in American trade unionism. Almost alone among modern union leaders, Fraser knew firsthand what working was like before the union and what it was like after.Read more »
Hollywood ordinarily leaves American history well alone. But two of the winter’s big movies turn out to be meditations on early twentieth-century America. Ragtime , drawn from E. L. Doctorow’s novel, is set in the period from 1906 to 1908; Reds , based on the lives of John Reed and his wife, Louise Bryant, from 1915 to 1920.Read more »
A little late for Christmas, the February, 1951, issue of Popular Mechanics featured an ideal gift for mechanically minded, travel-loving Americans: a two-seat, jet-powered helicopter. The cover of the magazine offered a glimpse into our aerial future—a man in hat and overcoat pushing a sleek little yellow helicopter into the garage of his suburban home. A red one hovered over his neighbor’s house. In only two hours, the magazine reported, virtually anybody could learn to fly these machines.Read more »
The whole curious enterprise puzzled Americans in the 1920’s. Here was mighty Henry Ford, the man who said history was “more or less bunk,” collecting on a titanic scale every jot and tittle of the American past that he and his emissaries could lay hands on—four-poster beds, banjo clocks, cigar-store Indians, old boots, gas lamps, rusty old threshers, and wooden flails.Read more »
A scrappy and reckless farm boy from Ohio became America's most legendary race car driver, and his widely publicized victories in Henry Ford's racing cars helped the aspiring entrepreneur launch Ford Motor Company
“Who the hell do you think you are—Barney Oldfield?” That was the motorcycle cop’s standard question for fifty years, and even today you can hear it once in a while if you get caught speeding. For Oldfield’s name still holds the dim thunder of the huge, primitive racing cars that slammed through the dust at the murderous dirt-track meets of the turn of the century. Barney Oldfield was not the best driver in that reckless era; his rival, Ralph De Palma, for instance, handled a car better. But of all the early racing men, only Oldfield became legendary.
It was midsummer of 1929, and all seemed right with the world. Herbert Hoover was in the White House, riding high on a tide of prosperity and popularity. A few critics muttered that stocks were dangerously overpriced, but to most Americans such foreboding seemed no more worrisome than a small cloud on a distant horizon.Read more »
For four decades Henry Ford was one of America’s most original crusaders. At one time or another he was protecting birds, chartering a peace ship, proclaiming that every criminal was “an inveterate cigarette smoker,” exposing a scheming but fictitious character called the “international Jew,” declaring that he would stop making cars “if booze ever comes back,” or insisting that only a diet of soybeans, carrots, or wheat could insure good health.Read more »
“We’re going to try to get the boys out of the trenches before Christmas,” the confident automaker said. “I’ve chartered a ship, and some of us are going to Europe.” This much-ridiculed attempt to stop the European war in 1916 is given a fresh, impartial evaluation in the second of a definitive series of books on Ford, recently published by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
One of the most remarkable facts about Henry Ford is that his fame and the Ford legend were born almost simultaneously, and born full-grown. Both came late in life, when he was fifty. The industrialist, we may say without exaggeration, was little known until he suddenly became a world celebrity. He was tossed into international eminence on January 5, 1914, when the Ford Motor Company startled the globe with its “Five Dollar Day.”Read more »