Lecturer Dr. Steven Watts
Lecturer Dr. Steven Watts Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

‘Henry Ford and the Jewish Question’

Museum and JHSM collaborate for unprecedented event.

Keri Guten Cohen Story Development Editor
Photos by Anthony Lanzilote

The Henry Ford: Through a Jewish Lens” Nov. 18 at The Henry Ford in Dearborn was a collaboration between the museum and the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan. The event, which drew 600 people, was an unprecedented examination for the museum of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism as well as a celebration of Jews as American innovators, designers and entrepreneurs.

Dr. Steven Watts of the University of Missouri and author of The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (Vintage, 2005) was the speaker.

“Henry Ford was a groundbreaking figure,” Watts said, “but his failings left an indelible stain on his reputation and legacy.”

Watts outlined the depth of Ford’s anti-Semitism, citing his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, as the mouthpiece of his hatred of Jews.

“It’s hard to find a more blatant anti-Semite in American history,” Watts told the crowd. “And he never revealed the origin of his intense dislike of Jews.”

Yet, Watts said, he worked closely with Jewish professionals, like architect Albert Kahn, who designed the Ford Highland Park and Rouge plants. And he counted Rabbi Leo M. Franklin of Temple Beth El a close friend and neighbor.

Risha Ring, JHSM president, said, “This event is so significant because The Henry Ford wanted to expose this. They paid for the speaker; they wanted to show they are not like that — and they did show it.”

Larry Gunsberg, a JHSM officer, said, “I found this an excellent way for the community to embrace the generational changes in the Ford family.”

Following Watts’ speech, attendees were treated to refreshments and a dozen pop-up exhibits highlighting Jewish contributions to American life.