Richard Snow’s soon to be published book on Henry Ford is not just about the successes, failures, and personalities of both Ford and those he teamed up with and those he opposed in the path to the establishment of the massed produced automobile that was truly established with the development and production of the Model T. This book, I Invented the Modern Age, is a detailed look at the literal, figurative, and business starts and stops of the iconic American automobile – the Model T. It is a book (as Snow notes in the acknowledgment section at the end of the book) about the “emotional ties between Henry Ford and the Model T.”
It is an interesting and entertaining read that takes the reader to southeastern Michigan in the late 1800 and early 1900’s as a young Henry Ford’s fascination with steam powered tractors becomes a passionate pursuit of developing what eventually becomes known as the automobile. Along the way you are introduced to automobile icons such as the Dodge brothers who produced the early chassis for Ford; William H. Knudsen, fired by Ford’s Service Department head Harry Bennett, who became Chevrolet’s General Manager and Executive in Charge; and the Cadillac name plate that was the successor to the first Ford Motor Company, the Henry Ford Company. Snow provides a fascinating and entertaining telling of how the mass production of the first Fords took place from the beginnings on Bagley Avenue to Mack Avenue to Piquette Ave to Highland Park and then the massive River Rouge Plant (The Rouge) and outward across the nation and around the world.
But Snow primarily centers his writing around the increasing isolation of Ford due the success of his product as well as the trial surrounding the anti-Semitic articles in a Ford own paper that made a mockery of him in the court and the court of public opinion; a refusal (and terminating those who sought) to tinker with the model T as the American automobile industry caught up with and passed Ford; and the troubled dynamic with his son Edsel which Snow believes would have furthered the economic health of the company with newer models and features.
What I liked about this book was the detailed introduction to the rise of the US automobile industry and the impact of the auto on our way of life; the wonderful stories of people who catch the fever of the new contraption like Roscoe Sheller in Washington State who sold one in the dead of winter; the amazing Ford vs Winton race of 1901 in which Ford drove his first (and last) race; Vanadium – a nickel metal that became the back bone of the T which Ford discovered on a French race car at Ormand Beach, Florida; and his steadfast stand in the Selden patent trial that caused him not to pay royalties to Selden; – in short about personalities that shaped and were shaped by the mass production of the American automobile – 100 years ago.
I rate this book a ‘good’ read.
Note: I received a galley copy of this book through Net Galley via the publisher, Simon and Schuster. I was not required to write a positive review.