Flashback Friday: the Ford myth vs the Dodge Brothers reality

Henry Ford famously increased his pay to a high $5 per day, saying everyone should be able to buy the cars they made. …

But did he actually do it? It turns out that Henry Ford only paid a small number of people that high wage; the rest of his employees had to make do with below-industry-standard pay, horrific working conditions, and a gang of company-paid thugs whose duties ranged from ruthlessly beating anyone who thought they should have higher pay or safer work, and literally tossing injured employees out the back door.

Dodge Brothers cars
Tom Buss photo

The Dodge Brothers were not happy about Henry Ford’s methods. In their own factory, which originally made parts largely for Ford (whose car they largely redesigned so it would not flop like the first two Ford cars had), they treated (and paid) people far better. Indeed, Dodge Brothers was likely the best of the mass-production automakers to work for.

Some of the differences between the two automakers were quite stark. Henry Ford believed injured workers should be disposed of immediately; he needed a long line of new applicants at the door to take their place, which is why he promised a wage nearly no employees could earn (among other things, they had to have a great deal of tenure at the company; attend the correct church without fail; and have a family). The Dodges had a fully staffed medical area for injured workers, with doctors and nurses. They also provided a free $200 insurance policy to any employee who worked for at least a year; and, for the next five years, they added $100 per year to the value of the policy. (With $5 per day seen as a high salary, a $200 would last a widow for a decent time; the maximum policy of $800 was far more generous.)

The Dodges provided beer on hot days; Ford’s Sociological Department provided spying and general thuggery. Robert Lacey’s 1986 book on Ford described a Dodge Brothers employee who left for the $5 per day wage; he came back quickly, returning to the Dodges’ $3, calling Ford a “hell on earth that turned human beings into driven robots.” He also claimed that Ford “exploited its employees more ruthlessly than any of the other automobile firms, dominating their lives in ways that deprived them of privacy and individuality.”

The differences went to the basic philosophy of the people involved. The Dodges were by all accounts a happy, fun-loving pair, partying hard and working hard—and doing it all together, as one unit. Henry Ford pined for the good old days which had never existed, reassembling certain parts of them later on in his life at a car-free park which is still a major regional attraction; he shamelessly kissed up to the super-celebrity (and actual genius) Thomas Edison, the first to create power stations and the inventor of parallel circuits and R&D; and, most harmfully, spread his ideas about an imaginary evil Jewish conspiracy. Adolph Hitler, during Ford’s lifetime, credited Henry Ford with his entire scheme of blaming Jews for all the world’s ills, and for his “final solution”—one which Ford himself advocated through his publications.

Today’s Ford is not the one run by Henry Ford, any more than today’s Dodge is the one run by the Dodge Brothers, who died far too young during a flu epidemic. But it’s interesting to dredge the propaganda out of the way and look at the reality of how they began, and to wonder if any of those threads kept on going over time.

Source: Motales, “Dodge Brothers vs. Ford: Opposite Employers

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