96 Years Ago, Edsel Ford Took Control Of Ford Motor Company

January 1st, 2015 marked the 96th anniversary of Edsel Ford succeeding his father as Chief Executive Officer of the Ford Motor Company in 1919. Although the name is often associated with Ford Motor Company’s Edsel marque — one of the biggest marketing turkeys of the 20th Century — Henry Ford’s only child deserves a better reputation, and he is generally acknowledged among enthusiasts as being much more than the name that inspired “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.”

During Edsel’s reign, which lasted from 1919 through 1943, Henry Ford continued to be involved in the firm behind the scenes. And that was fine, except for the fact that Henry was seen as having some antiquated ideas that carried over to its Model T and A models. By contrast, Edsel is believed to have been more creative than his father, and was appreciative of sports cars and pushed for more modern engineering features in Ford products. He also introduced the Mercury brand in 1939 as a way to offer a product between Ford and Lincoln, with latter being pushed upmarket.

But Edsel’s piece de resistance was the Lincoln Continental, which originally started out as a custom Lincoln Zephyr designed by chief stylist Bob Gregorie as a personal project. After driving it around his Florida vacation house, Edsel encountered so many enthusiastic people that he pushed for the car to be produced for public consumption. The result is the Lincoln Continental, which was produced from 1940-1948. That original 1940 Continental can be seen in the background above.

Alas, Edsel was 49 years young when he died of cancer, so his reign of influence ended in 1943. His father resumed control of the company until 1945, upon which Edsel’s son — Henry Ford II — ran the automaker through 1979.

HENRY FORD: 1903 – 1918
EDSEL FORD: 1919 – 1943
HENRY FORD: 1943 – 1945
HENRY FORD II: 1945 – 1979

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