Henry Ford And The Criminals

Henry Ford And The Criminals


R.E. Prindle

The Great Henry Ford

Henry Ford is often criticized for harboring a criminal element at his River Rouge and other plants.  Much of this is attributed to the chief of the Ford Service Department, another word for internal security, Harry Bennett.  In the huge River Rouge plant employing tens of thousands of workers consisting of god knows how many nationalities and languages you can be sure that theft and sabotage would have been a problem whether Ford had adopted his policy of hiring ex-cons or not.

These were the days of Father Flanagan and his Boy’s Town with his motto of There’s No Such Thing As A Bad Boy.  Maybe not but bad men come from somewhere and the child is father to the man.  The US has never accepted the fact that there is a criminal mentality, a criminal society with criminal rules, but there is and it flourished in Detroit and other US cities.  In Detroit crime was managed by the Purple Gang.

Now, Ford was a good man, an altruist, one might almost say utopian so he thought that all a con needed to go straight was a helping hand, a job.  Good Christian attitude but very poor sociology.  Thus as well as being one the first to employ Negroes, Ford was also one of the first to employ ex-cons.  What Ford did other auto manufacturers followed.  Thus when I worked the line for GM’s Fisher Body Plant in Oakland I saw the effect of the program first hand on the floor where the action took place.  In Oakland the cons had a very corrupting influence which GM’s foremen knew about but were helpless to counter.  In Oakland the cons had a very corrupting influence.  They were corrupting.  Do I make my point?   It was tough on the floor.  They used their jobs at the plant as a clubhouse to plan criminal acts and recruit from their fellow workers who frequently had no clear idea of what was happening.  I was considered as a recruit without even realizing it but was rejected also without knowing it because the cons didn’t think I had the right level of chutzpah.  I wasn’t offended then and I harbor no ill feeling now.

Thus as Ford took in this criminal class he slowly corrupted his organization until his floor was virtually run by criminals.  Certainly no honest worker would have dared to complain to anyone and it wouldn’t have done him any good.

At the same time Ford had to deal with external criminals of various stripes like the Purple Gang.  The Gang was especially active during the 1920-33 period as this was the heyday of gangsterism- Prohibition.  Henry couldn’t have gone to the cops because they wouldn’t have had any use for him.   Attempts were made on Ford’s life although to my knowledge the source or sources have never been identified.

To counter this problem Ford employed Harry Bennett.  If you’re dealing with thugs you usually end up acting thuggish.  Bennett was no exception.  He had to maintain order on the Rouge floor while preventing as much internal crime as possible.  Theft was a major problem when I worked at GM.  Employees stole everything tied down or not.  They wantonly smashed anything they couldn’t carry.  When I first started employees were required to open bags, parcels and lunch-boxes when clocking out.  The thugs of the UAW objected to this practice and GM was forced to discontinue it.  You could steal whatever you wanted and they did.

You don’t need proof to know that external criminals were trying scams from the outside that Bennett had to counter.  Bennett was essential to the continued existence of Ford.  Like Ford he has been wrongly maligned.   Yeah, I know, he may have some done terrible things but, war is hell.

In 1945 when Henry Ford II took over the first thing he did was fire Harry Bennett.  Small thanks for a job well done.  How Ford II handled security with all those cons in the plants isn’t known to me.

Thus, Henry Ford, through an excess of altruism contributed to his near destruction before Ford II rescued the firm.  Henry Ford II was the son of Henry’s son Edsel, not Henry’s own son.

What began as altruism ended as fostering crime and a ruined reputation.  Life conspired against Henry Ford.



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