Henry Ford and Antisemitism: The Notorious “Dearborn Independent”
Henry Ford (1863-1947) is famous most generally for founding the Ford Motor Company, developing the assembly-line technique for mass production, and creating the first automobile affordable to middle-class Americans. He is relevant to Jewish studies, however, because he was hailed by many as an “antisemite.” But on what grounds?
In the early 1920s, Ford sponsored The Dearborn Independent, a weekly, widely distributed paper published under his name. The Dearborn Independent ran for eight years (1920-1927) and, in addition to its membership, was disseminated at every Ford franchise location in the country. Circulation reached at least 900,000 by 1926.
The Dearborn Independent, especially with its choice to re-publish The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, became a notorious source of antisemitism for its libel against Jews. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a historic hoax document first published in Russia in 1903, expressed the conviction that a global Jewish community conspires for world domination. Each week, the front page of the newspaper, under the title “The International Jew: The World’s Problems,” published articles purporting this theory. Additionally, while the Dearborn Independent articles condemned the violence – particularly pogroms – against Jews in Europe, the newspaper blamed Jews themselves for provoking the violence. Ford later apologized for his part in publishing these documents, although the testimony disagrees on whether his statements were authentic.
In Germany, Theodor Fritsch reprinted Ford’s Dearborn Independent articles as books in four, cumulative volumes. In 1924, Heinrich Himmler – a leader of the Nazi Party – wrote of Ford that he was “one of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters.” In Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, Henry Ford is the only American referred to favorably, where Hitler calls him the “only a single great man.” He continues, “Ford, [who], to [the Jews’] fury, still maintains full independence… [from] the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions.”
The Anti Defamation League (ADL) mobilized to publicly oppose Ford, his involvement in the newspaper, and the paper’s message. In December 1927, a libel lawsuit was brought against Ford and the paper shut-down as a result.