Power Is The Prize

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As late as May, 1945, one zone of friction remained—the Rouge. As the termination of the bomber contract approached, Mead Bricker, in charge at Willow Run, ordered his aide Logan Miller to return to the Rouge. “There,” states Miller, “I more or less wandered under special assignment.” Rausch still assumed that he was in control of the Rouge, and arrogantly acted on that assumption. From all appearances, Bricker had little authority there and Miller still less. But Rausch unquestionably knew, when on June 2 Henry II announced design changes in the cars for 1946, just where supreme power lay. A significant incident brought matters to a head. Bricker one day gave Logan Miller an urgent weekend task in the toolroom, which was supervised by one of Rausch’s subordinates, Joe Durling. Durling of course took word of the job to Rausch, and after his own and Bennett’s pattern of conduct Rausch told Miller, “Forget it!” Thereupon Miller reported the cancellation of the assignment to Bricker and added a resentful question: “If you have no authority around here, what are you kidding me about?”

The sequel, as he relates it, was dramatic. “I saw Mr. Bricker go into Mr. Rausch’s office, where a few men were sitting. The double door closed. Finally those doors flew open and out came the group of men as though somebody had exploded a bombshell. That to me indicated that somebody else was taking charge at the Rouge plant in place of Rausch. I never asked where Bricker received his authority.” He did not need to ask; Henry II stood behind Bricker. Soon after June 27 the last B-24 rolled off the Willow Run line, and Bricker was fully established as production chief of the great Rouge plant, displacing Rausch, who, however, still remained in the company.

By force of character, brains, and toilsome attention to detail, Henry II had fairly established his mastery over the company business. Meanwhile, Clara Ford had labored to convince old Henry that the time had come to transfer the presidency to his grandson. He was peevishly reluctant. Finally Mrs. Edsel Ford, according to her brother-in-law, took decisive action in support of Clara. “If this is not done,” she proclaimed, “I shall sell my stock!”—and the old man gave way. He summoned young Henry to Fair Lane for an interview. There he announced that he was ready to step aside and let his grandson assume the presidency.

“I told him I’d take it only if I had a completely free hand to make any changes I wanted to make,” Henry II said later. “We argued about that—but he didn’t withdraw his offer.” The young man went at once to the administration building, where he bade Frank Campsall to prepare his grandfather’s letter of resignation and to call a meeting of the board of directors the following day to act on it.

That day, September 21, 1945, the board held one of the most important sessions in its history. Henry Ford, now a mere adumbration, was present; so were Henry II, Bennett, Bricker, Craig, and Mrs. Edsel Ford. Campsall had the elder Ford’s resignation ready, and delivered it.

As the paper was unfolded, Bennett, who knew what had been decided, watched with bitter chagrin. He rose abruptly as Craig finished the first sentence, hurled an angry word of congratulation at Henry II, and started to bolt for the door; but others prevailed on him to stay until the decisive vote was taken. “Before the directors’ meeting had completely broken up,” writes an informed journalist, “young Henry strode down the mahogany panelled corridor to Bennett’s office. He was inside alone with Bennett for several minutes; when he came out Bennett was no longer the boss of Ford, though he was allowed a face-saving directorship for another month.” According to Bennett, the meeting took place in young Henry’s office. Whatever the scene, Bennett made a last venomous speech to the new president: “You’re taking over a billion dollar organization here that you haven’t contributed a thing to!” He could have offered no better revelation of his character and aims.

The central figure of this gathering, in the historical view, was not the triumphant and vigorous new head, and not the plotter so decisively worsted, but the broken old man who was led from the directors’ room, all his glories ended. Already people were referring to Henry Ford in the past tense. A participant in a Detroit program in his honor had written his speech as if Ford were dead, and had frantically changed his tenses at the last moment. What decisively ended in the board room was old Henry’s presidency; what had already begun to end was the Ford legend that had been born with the efflorescence of the Model T nearly four decades earlier, and the proclamation of the five-dollar day seven months before Europe broke into flames in 1914. An era terminated as he stepped out of the room.