Henry Ford, the industrial genius who perfected the mass production of motorcars before World War I and thereby revolutionized the way we live, was a reclusive man who brooked no opposition or criticism. Ford’s attempt to prevent unionism at his plants produced strikes and violence, mostly provoked by Ford’s own strikebreakers. He opposed various symbols of social and cultural change around him, including Hollywood movies, out-of-home childcare, government regulation of business, Eastern European immigration and new styles in dress and music. His anti-Semitism reduced him in 1927, for one of the few times in his life, to the position of acknowledging error and asking publicly for forgiveness.
In an age that celebrated industrial heroes, Ford was a true giant. In 1922, he considered running for the presidency and polls reflected his widespread support. Despite his public aspirations, historian Keith Sward described Ford as “inaccessible as the Grand Lama” and an anti-democrat. One of the few individuals Ford trusted was his personal secretary, Ernest Liebold, whom historian Leo Ribuffo calls “an ambitious martinet” who took advantage of Ford’s dislike of paperwork and refusal to read his mail to control access to the great man. Ford would later blame Liebold for his Jewish woes.
In the period from 1910 to 1918, Ford became increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-liquor and anti-Semitic. In 1919, he purchased a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. He installed Charles Pipp as editor and hired a journalist, William J. Cameron, to listen to his ideas and write a weekly column, “Mr. Ford’s Page,” to expound his views.
Ford wanted to assert that there was a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. He blamed Jewish financiers for fomenting World War I so that they could profit from supplying both sides. He accused Jewish automobile dealers of conspiring to undermine Ford Company sales policies. Ford wanted to make his bizarre beliefs public in the pages of the Dearborn Independent. For a year, editor Pipp resisted running anti-Jewish articles, and resigned rather than publish them. Cameron took over the editorship and, in May 1920, printed the first of a series of articles titled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.”
For the next 18 months, Cameron ran the “International Jew” as a series, and later collected the articles and published them as a book. Ford’s aide Liebold hired former military intelligence investigators to assist Cameron in gathering so-called “evidence” that “proved” Jewish control of world finance; Jewish organization of radical political movements; and Jewish manipulation of diplomacy to cause wars in which Christians died to enrich Jews. The investigators dredged up rumors that president Woodrow Wilson took secret orders over the phone from Justice Brandeis and that a Jewish member of the Federal Reserve Board personally thwarted Ford’s plan to purchase nitrate mines from the Federal government.
A few months after the series began, Ford’s operatives introduced him to a Russian émigré, Paquita de Shishmareff. She showed Ford a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, now well-known as a malicious forgery created by the Russian czar’s secret service at the turn of the century that purportedly recorded a series of lectures by a Jewish elder outlining a conspiracy to overthrow European governments. Ford passed the Protocols to Cameron, and the Independent turned its attention to bringing this “blueprint” for world domination to the public.
The Independent charged that the national debt was Jewish-inspired to enslave Americans, and that German Jewish financier Paul Warburg had emigrated to America “for the express purpose of changing our financial system” by creating the Federal Reserve. The paper labeled Jews an “international nation” with had an unfair advantage in business over Christians, who relied on individualism to get ahead. The paper even described American Jewish aid for oppressed Jews overseas as part of the conspiracy.
For seven years, the Independent continued to run anti-Semitic articles until the target of one series, California farm cooperative organizer Aaron Sapiro, sued Ford for libel. Sapiro was the third Jew to sue Ford for libel, and the first to get to trial. Ford refused to testify, and apparently staged an automobile accident so he could hide in a hospital. The judge finally declared a mistrial, but Ford decided to settle out of court. Jewish leaders had called for a boycott of Ford motorcars, and his fear of slumping sales might have played a role in Ford’s decision to put the Sapiro case behind him.
Louis Marshall, chairman of the American Jewish Committee, negotiated an agreement whereby Ford publicly announced that “articles reflecting on the Jews” would never again appear in the Independent. Ford claimed that he was “mortified” to learn the Protocols were forged, described himself as “fully aware of the virtues of the Jewish people” and offered them his “future friendship and good will.” He claimed to have been too busy to read the pieces and implicitly blamed Liebold and Cameron for printing them. Marshall described Ford’s statement as “humiliating.”
Ford closed the Independent in December 1927. He later claimed that his signature on the agreement with Marshall was forged. He also claimed that Jewish bankers had caused World War II. Ford died in 1947, apparently unrepentant.