Heroes are people who takes risks. People who struggle against great forces. Sometimes they are People who have a big impact on society in their generation. Sometimes they are People with a big personality who are controversial.
Heroes are, in the final analysis, people. Human beings. Some with special gifts and creativity. Some were in the right place at the right time. Some had extraordinary opportunity and succeeded where others failed.
Heroes of Industry, depending on who we think of, are people. They each have their own motivations and complexity. None are perfectly consistent, so it is difficult to judge actions after the fact.
Henry Ford, whose image appears on last week’s blog post, is one of the figures we can think of as a Hero of Industry. Ford made the automobile affordable by inventing the factory method of mass production and controlling his supply chain. Centralized manufacturing, uniform and cost sensitive product design and design for manufacturability, led to a complete transformation of mobility available to a large portion of American society.
Ford employed tens of thousands of people and paid above minimum wage for the period of time, providing employment and an increased standard of living for huge numbers of families. Ford is also known for building homes for factory workers, and charging employees for them. The old “factory town” in part comes from this period of American industrial history. Ford plants were known for driving supplier costs to the lowest possible level in order to control cost, even to the point of building their own power generation capability.
So was he a hero or a villain? Hard to say. Historical accounts are biased from the perspective of the person writing the account. You would have to read a lot from a lot of different people to get an idea of what might of been going on. No one can say what was in his head or his heart about building the Ford Motor Company. His own interviews would only provide a limited insight.
Ford’s automobile really became successful when Rockefeller agreed to provide gasoline at low cost through filling stations around the US. Until that time, the US auto fleet was evenly divided between steam power, electric and fuel driven combustion engines.
So was Ford an opportunist? Would Rockefeller and Ford be considered in restraint of trade by today’s standards? No one argues that case today, but you wold have to consider whether they were Heroes of Industry, or cheats trying to make a buck.
Today, the car industry and Oil & Gas industries are trillions of dollars of enterprise. Would we have done things different if the decisions were made by society at large instead of individuals?