In addition to being the foremost U.S. industrialist of the early twentieth century, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor company, was also one of America’s more vocal antisemitic conspiracy theorists. During the years following World War I, when he was no doubt one of the most powerful and influential men in the world, Ford oversaw the publication of numerous antisemitic articles in the widely read journal that was seen as the public forum for his personal philosophy, the Dearborn Independent.
The 91 articles total 992 pages in the collected edition Ford published beginning in 1920, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. With titles such as “How the Jews in the U.S. Conceal Their Strength” and “The Scope of Jewish Dictatorship in the U.S.,” the articles claim Jewish involvement in every aspect of U.S. life, from banking to baseball.
The standard attacks on Hollywood and Wall Street as centers of Jewish power are included, but less obvious targets come under scrutiny as well, and it seems difficult to understand how jazz, for instance, was interpreted as a tool of the Jewish conspiracy (“Jewish Jazz Becomes Our National Music”).
The International Jew also introduced Americans to Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in many editions of that infamous antisemitic forgery, Henry Ford’s own approving comments occupy a central place in the preface. Norman Cohn, perhaps the leading foremost expert on Protocols argues that “all in all The International Jew probably did more than any other work to make the Protocols world-famous” (159).
Between the Dearborn Independent’s circulation of around 500,000 and The International Jew’smassive print runs, Ford’s views had a great impact on the United States of the 1920s. In a society that had been disrupted by World War I and was beginning to be split by labor movements, Ford’s claims that the war had been fought on orders from Jewish bankers and that unions were merely a “front” for the Jewish conspiracy had significant political implications.
Ford, ever the populist, could never believe that the true working man believed in the unions and opposed certain aspects of Ford’s industrial ideology, so he was sure that “working men are the tools of some manipulator who seeks his own ends through them”.
That is, the force of the Jewish conspiracy, this time in the guise of Bolshevism, lay behind the various movements toward unionization and labor reform. Faced with what he saw as an intensification of Jewish subterfuge, Ford increased his opposition to supposed conspiracy. He began forcing all of his car dealers to distribute the Dearborn Independent (although some quit their relations with Ford over the issue).
Then, in an attempt to dig up hard evidence of the international Jewish cabal, Ford employed an army of private detectives whom he ordered to investigate prominent Jews. The detectives even investigated non-Jews whose beliefs lay to the left of Ford’s rightist populism (including three presidents— Hoover, Taft, and Wilson), suspecting them of being nothing more than Jewish fronts.
These tactics did not meet with universal approval, to say the least, but since Ford and his followers saw the press as yet another front for the Jewish cabal, the more the mainstream press ridiculed Ford’s ideas, the more evidence Ford saw of conspiracy.
Meanwhile, Ford’s ideas were finding a receptive audience overseas. Translated as The Eternal Jew, the Dearborn Independent articles took Germany by storm. Ford’s biography became an instant bestseller, and Nazis questioned at Nuremberg were later to emphasize Ford’s influence on their own developing antisemitism. Hitler had a life-sized picture of Ford next to his desk, and would refer to the U.S. automobile magnate as his “inspiration.”
Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf, and some argue that Hitler went so far as to paraphrase many passages from the Dearborn Independent in his work. Many suggest that Ford may even have directly funded Hitler, as Hitler himself is said to have said this in private (though he denied it publicly).
Some also charge that Ford financed the publication and distribution of The International Jew in Europe. Whether these charges are true or not, many consider Hitler’s “intellectual” indebtedness to Ford proof enough of Ford’s indirect implication in the Nazi conspiracy to carry out the “final solution.”
Ford was later to apologize publicly for the articles published in the Dearborn Independent and The International Jew in a retraction published in every major U.S. newspaper. While Ford claimed to have no knowledge of what the Dearborn Independent contained, most saw through this statement. New York papers doubted his professions of innocence, and Hitler’s circle was convinced that the retraction had been written under duress, with Ford finally submitting to the power of the international Jews.
Even after Ford’s retraction there seemed to be indirect evidence that he was covertly propagating the idea of the international Jewish conspiracy. Union leaders made formal complaints that foremen at Ford’s plants were distributing antisemitic propaganda to workers, attempting to cut down union membership by linking it to the Jewish-Communist plot.
There were strong suspicions that certain high-ranking employees of Ford’s European divisions were Nazis. Then, on Ford’s birthday in July 1933, Hitler sent his best wishes along with “The Grand Cross of the German Eagle”; this highest of honors had been bestowed on only four other men, one of whom was Benito Mussolini. In spite of public pressure to refuse the honor, Ford accepted.
Ultimately, Ford opposed Hitler and Mussolini during the war, but even in this final turn there was an element of his old conspiracy theory, for Ford came to believe that even Hitler and Mussolini were mere puppets whose strings were pulled by a secret, insidious force.