- Historic Sites
Henry Ford And His Peace Ship
American Heritage Book Selection -- Ford: Expansion and Challenge, 1915-1933
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
With more justification, the delegates resented the persistent levity and ridicule which marked many reporters’ dispatches, and the downright falsehoods occasionally perpetrated. “The expedition has been hampered at every step by the direct and indirect influence of the American press, by the Atlantic seaboard press,” declared one of the party who returned to write about it while its work was still going forward. Lochner in his book fully agreed. He tells how Captain J.W. Hempel of the Oscar II, who read everything sent out by wireless from his ship, brought some of the more obnoxious dispatches to Ford, asking if they should be sent. Ford replied, “Let them send anything they please. They are my guests. I wouldn’t for the world censor them.” Later he insisted: “Our work will speak for itself.” Some reporters repaid this courtesy by forcing their way into Ford’s stateroom during his illness to see if he were actually alive!
The ship approached the British Isles by the northern route above Scotland on its way to Norway. As Ford, exhausted and suffering from his cold, kept to his cabin, the position of Madame Schwimmer became somewhat clearer to the correspondents, but also a matter for suspicion. Was she tampering with their dispatches? What was in her little black bag? Schwimmer finally agreed to show them, then became angry at some disparaging comment, and called the exhibit off. Again, she accepted an invitation to tea, only to become incensed at some new report and to send word that she refused to meet with persons who had insulted her. The journalists remonstrated: they had done nothing of the sort, wanted to be friends, and she should come. She did, to be greeted by hearty applause as she entered the room. “Don’t be hypocritical!” she snapped, effectively quashing any good will. She completed the job by accusing the reporters of telling Ford that she listened at keyholes!
The delegates looked forward to their landing in Norway, where Schwimmer promised them a rousing reception. Doubtless many, like Mary Alden Hopkins, were stirred by soaring hopes:
“One hundred and fifty everyday people have been brought face to face with a great idea—the thought of world disarmament. There’s no escaping it, short of jumping into the sea. The idea pervades the ship. Groups talk of it. … Reporters are nervous lest there’s no news value in it. … At times the vision comes to all of us—mystic, veiled, and wonderful. Then common sense revolts. Yet we dare not treat the vision with contempt. A ship of fools crossed the Atlantic in 1492. A ship of fools reached Plymouth in 1620. Can it be that in this ship of common fools, we bear the Holy Grail to the helping of a wounded world?”
Norway appeared, rocky, snowbound, forested. As they ran along the coast the delegates stood on the deck, and “for a while there was sublime peace, even on the peace ship.” Now the time had passed for aspirations alone; henceforth salvation must be won by works as well as by faith.
It was 4 A.M. on December 18, with the temperature twelve degrees below zero, when the ship docked at Oslo. Later that morning a few Norwegians appeared to welcome the expedition, but there was no reception such as Schwimmer had promised. After breakfast, the delegates took an electric train to a city park, where they enjoyed several hours of sun, fresh air, and crisp snow—their first touch of earth for two weeks. That afternoon they attended a reception by the Women’s International Peace League, and in the evening a meeting at the University of Christiania.
The crowd had gathered partly to see Henry Ford and was disappointed; for he, after insisting on walking from the boat to his hotel, had collapsed and gone to bed. He was never to appear in public while in Norway. According to Bullitt, the meeting was unsuccessful in other respects. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, after beginning with a pretentious “Hail, Nor-rrway! Hail, Nor-rrway!” bored the intelligent audience with platitudes, and ensuing speakers showed a similar tendency. Fortunately Lochner, clearly outlining the proposed activities of the pilgrims, pleased the Norwegians.
On December 20 the five newspapers of the capital indicated the attitude of the public. Two favored the expedition, and three frowned upon it (one was later to become friendly). The Tidens Tegn, the most influential, ridiculed the party but praised Ford. “He is a Tolstoi in a modern edition. He has a personality which we shall remember long after the expedition is forgotten.” Unquestionably one unhappy influence upon the Norwegians was the leadership of Rosika Schwimmer. The Norse thought it wholly unfitting for a citizen of a belligerent power to direct the peace mission of a neutral country. Finally, the Norwegians were in general pro-Ally and felt that a just peace could be concluded only after the German military position had worsened.