We all know the song and dance given to us in history class: Henry Ford invented the assembly line (he didn’t), and you could order any Model T you wanted as long as it was black (again, not true). In adulthood, we get to learn ol’ Henry was out of touch with the industry by the 1930s, and that he was a right-wing populist with anti-Semitic leanings. According to the new book, “The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War,” Henry may have been even worse than all that.
A.J. Baime’s new book alleges that Henry Ford ran the largest private police force in the United States. It all started with a chance meeting with an ex-Navy sailor named Harry Bennett, who soon became Henry’s right-hand man at the Rouge plant, picking up the auto tycoon at his Fair Lane estate — “Whatever Henry needed done, Bennett was there for the doing.” Over time, Bennett organized a veritable security force called the Service Department. “There are about eight hundred underworld characters in the Ford Service Department,” labor leader Benjamin Stolberg said. “They are the Storm Troops. They make no pretense of working, but are merely ‘keeping order’ in the plant community through terror.”
But the control wasn’t just in the plant. Said the wife of Henry, “Who is this man Bennett who has so much control over my husband and is ruining [Edsel’s] health?” Soon, the world would find out.
To read an excerpt of Baime’s book, visit Salon.com.