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John Dowdell
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John Dowdell

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Are you worried about your country's trade deficit? Wondering what Henry Ford would think about it all? Here's another extract from a chapter titled Things In General from Henry Ford's autobiography My Life And Work:

"When a country goes mad about foreign trade it usually depends on other countries for it's raw material, turns its population into factory fodder, creates a private rich class, and lets its own immediate interest lie neglected. Here in the United States we have enough work to do developing our own country to relieve us of the necessity of looking for foreign trade for a long time. We have agriculture enough to feed us while we are doing it, and money enough to carry the job through. Is there anything more stupid than the United States standing idle because Japan or France or any other country has not sent us an order when there is a hundred year job awaiting us in developing our own country?"

Inspired? Makes me wonder if Ford would have augmented this statement 10 or so years later when the Great Depression had begun. He might remove "money enough", as workers pay was cut in those times. In the early 1920's Ford was quite proud of the wages and conditions he presented to his workers.

Unfortunately the surrounding paragraphs are a little short sighted but it's easy to say that with hindsight. This edition of the book was published in 1923. Actually, these above thoughts come shortly after Ford talks about war, resources and war profits. Ford was an active opponent of The First World War and of the US involvement in it.

The world did not quite turn out the way Ford predicted. I was sitting here thinking that amongst some of his well thought arguments, he'll suddenly sprinkle some unlikely idealism amongst it. While thinking about this I went off to check what web sites said about Henry Fords attitudes during the depression were, I came across the phrases: "Henry Ford was a complex personality. Away from the shop floor he exhibited a variety of enthusiasms and prejudices and, from time to time, startling ignorance." & ".... a Tribune editorial had called him an"ignorant idealist"". The more I read bits of the autobiography the more I think how I would have liked to have met Ford but that I don't think I would have wanted to work for him and I would have thought twice about any dinner party invitations from him.
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John Dowdell

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What did Henry Ford think of electric vehicles?

Henry Ford was working on gas engines at home while he worked at Detroit Electric Company. His boss was alleged to have remarked "Electricity, yes, that's the coming thing. But gas - no."
Henry Ford's thoughts on this from the chapter titled What I Learned:

"He had ample grounds for his skepticism - to use the mildest terms. Practically no one had the remotest notion of the future of the internal combustion engine, while we were just on the edge of the great electrical devlopment. As with every comparitively new idea, electricity was expected to do much more than we even now have any indication that it can do. I did not see the use of experimenting with electricity for my purposes. A road car could not run on a trolley even if trolley wires had been less expensive; no storage battery was in sight of a weight that was practical. An electrical car had of necessity to be limited in radius and to contain a large amount of motive machinery in proportion to the power exerted. That is not to say that I held or now hold electricity cheaply; we have not yet begun to use electricity. But it has its place. Neither can substitue for the other - which is exceedingly fortunate."

There's one line here that particularly strikes me which is "no storage battery was in sight of a weight that was practical". The sentiment is still prominent in the discussion of electric vehicles today although I'd say it's now spoken of with a little more optimism. It's interesting that he talks about batteries as if their development stood at a dead end. He later talks in the book about all their innovations and devlopment of parts and materials for the ICE automobile. He was certainly no stranger to the idea that a thing can be improved.

I also wonder what Ford would think of the amount of "motive machinery" in the modern internal combustion engine vehicle.
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John Dowdell

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Maybe I should be a pundit. I was flicking though my copy of My Life And Work by Henry Ford which got me thinking about the similarities between he and Jobs. And then today on a podcast I heard the same comparison made by a tech journalist. I guess the comparison is pretty obvious really on the face of it but it really comes out in Fords assisted autobiography when you read how passionately he talks about product, manufacturing and service. I might share some Ford autobiography extracts over the coming week or so. A lot of what he says is very relevant today.
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The relevance makes sense, business is still business, customers are still customers, what gets sold and the tools to do so that have changed, but the core system remains. 
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John Dowdell

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OK. I was talking about posting some pearls of wisdom from Henry Ford's autobiography My Life and Work. The following nugget is from chapter 13 titled Why Be Poor?. Ford rants about the sustainability of big cities. Sorry, it's a big chunk. I thought of todays Detroit while I read this which probably isn't entirely fair but here it is:

"And finally, the overhead expense of living or doing business in the great cities is becoming so large as to be unbearable. It places so great a tax upon life that there is no surplus over to live on. The politicians have found it easy to borrow money and they have borrowed to the limit. Within the last decade the expense of running every city in the country has tremendously increased. A good part of that expense is for interest upon money borrowed; the money has gone either into non productive brick, stone, and mortar, or into necessities of city life, such as water supplies and sewage systems at far above reasonable cost. The cost of maintaining these works, the cost of keeping in order great masses of people and traffic is greater than the advantages derived from community life. The modern city has been prodigal, it is today bankrupt, and to-morrow it will cease to be."

To put in context, his assertions here really had to do with his belief that industry should and would naturally decentralise away from cities. He had a vision of farming communities that might work at a plant part time and work on their farm the other part of the time arguing that mechanised farming is not very laborious. As part of his ideas of decentralisation, he also imagined that every community might have it's own power plant.
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Sydneysider. Electronics professional and tinkerer. Firmware programmer. Good guy. Likes photography but can't afford to process all his film. Doesn't have a digital SLR...yet. Likes skiing but is no good at it. Armchair astronomer. Barstool Philosopher. Sometime EV enthusiast. Owns a ukulele. Drives a Saab. Has a Commodore64 and a Vic20. Likes most genres of music.
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