A Detour Through History

Henry Ford, 1916

Henry Ford, 1916

This is the kind of thing that kills a researcher. In my quest to write a novel of historical fiction, I ordered a year’s worth of the Sheridan Advance newspaper from 1916. I just wanted to find out about the daily lives of the people in rural northern Missouri. That’s all. Then I read this:

Henry Ford has sued the Chicago Tribune for one million dollars for calling him an “anarchist” in an editorial.

It was tucked in between the Methodist Church Notes and a joke. Okay, I’ll tell you the joke.

The stingiest man: He is a grocer from Pittsburg who recently bought a Ford delivery wagon to keep from buying a new whip for the old nag.

That’s a joke, right? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. In any case, I really didn’t need to be distracted by Henry Ford. After all, I’ve never had any burning interest in Mr. Ford, and he certainly won’t be in my book. So why couldn’t I stop thinking about that one little sentence?

Perhaps I was just shocked to find that as far back as 1916 people were suing each other for large amounts of money for what amounted to name calling. Isn’t that a modern invention? Aren’t the huge lawsuits one of the examples people point at when they want to illustrate the decline of our great country?

Or maybe my fascination arose because I had never heard anything about the litigious side of Mr. Ford. All I remembered from my highschool history daze was Mr. Ford pioneering the assembly line for his Model T’s. Or were they Model A’s? Probably I should have paid more attention. With a sigh for the time I was about to waste, I started googling. Of course, there was a Wikipedia article, but, even better, I found an article published by The New York Times, dated August 15, 1919, which detailed the trial.

Apparently, the Chicago Tribune newspaper columnist, Clifford S. Raymond, learned that employees of the Ford plant in Detroit, who were also members of the National Guard would lose their position with the company and have to reapply for their jobs when they returned from service. Mr. Raymond wrote,

If Ford allows this rule of his shops to stand he will reveal himself not merely as an ignorant idealist but as an anarchistic enemy of the nation which protects him in his wealth.

It seems that Henry Ford took offence to this statement and sued the Chicago Tribune for a sum of one million dollars.

According to The New York Times article, jury selection began on May 12, and a verdict was reached the evening of August 14, meaning that the trial lasted more than three months. The jury, which consisted of “eleven farmers and one roadbuilder” returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Ford in the amount of six cents plus the cost of trial. A quote taken from the article reads:

“Does the award of 6 cents about express the feelings of the jury as to the case?” Mr. Hulett [jury foreman] was asked.

“It just about does.”

I guess some things never do change. What do you think about the verdict of six cents plus trial costs?