Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford had something of a bromance. Yes, you read that right. In 1938, Ford received the Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle from the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), or the Nazi Party, on his 75th birthday. The Cross, an honor created by Hitler the year prior to celebrate foreign diplomats, represented the esteem Hitler and his party held for Ford.
The Ford Motor Company was making automobiles long before WWII and continued to do so long after. During the NSDAP rise to power and the conflict itself, Ford and his company built for the Allied and Axis powers alike, despite later claims to the contrary. The connections between Ford and the NSDAP is an uncomfortable one for modern observers. Historians debate what Ford himself may or may not have known, but Ford's support of the Third Reich remains a little-known chapter of industrial history.
The Ford Motor Company Had Factories Around The World, And The Germans Were Fascinated By Ford Himself
The formal incorporation of the Ford Motor Company, based in Detroit, MI, took place in 1903. By 1904, it had gone international - making it across the river to Ontario, Canada. At this point, Canada was still part of the British Empire (it's complicated), and this opened up Ford's market tremendously. As the company grew, they turned their eye across the Atlantic. The first Ford international sales branch opened in France in 1908. A German affiliate of Ford was opened in 1925.
In 1931, the Ford-Werke manufacturing plant opened in Cologne. The myth of Ford's rise to wealth and prestige fascinated German businesspeople and engineers, many of whom traveled to the US to get a glimpse of "Fordism" for themselves.
During WWI, The Ford Motor Company Built Things For The US Military, Even Though Ford Opposed Conflict
During WWI, Henry Ford's assembly line model allowed for the mass production of munitions and vehicles in France and later Germany. Once the US entered the conflict in 1917, which Ford adamantly opposed, the Ford Motor Company built engines, planes, and automobiles for the US military.
The assembly-line format was used by Opel AG and General Motors as well, all of which added to the industrial capacity of Germany leading up to WWII.
Ford Was No Stranger To Anti-Semitism, As His Writings Inspired The Third Reich
In 1918, Henry Ford wrote a series of articles for The Dearborn Independent, a small newspaper owned by Ford's close aide and secretary Ernest Liebold. The articles were later compiled into four volumes, collectively called The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem in the 1920s. The work added to the growing ire against Jews and, while it was met with criticism and boycotts by many, it also had a large influence upon NSDAP ideology. It was also seen as encouragement for party members to work with Ford and ask him for financial support.
Rumors that Ford was had ties to the NSDAP were investigated by a congressional committee in the early 1930s, although nothing was proven. When Ford came out against WWII, he blamed the whole conflict on "international bankers," a term used to refer to Jews.
Hitler Mentioned Ford In 'Mein Kampf' And Had A Picture Of Him Hanging On His Wall
The adoration of Ford in Germany wasn't limited to businessmen and engineers. When Adolf Hitler was profiled by The New York Times in 1922, they reported that he had a picture of Henry Ford hanging on the wall of his office in Munich. Hitler also wrote about Henry Ford, the lone American mentioned, in Mein Kampf, his autobiography penned while he was in prison in 1925. Hitler remarked favorably upon "reflections from The Dearborn Independent, Mr. Henry Ford's newspaper. Much of the anti-Semitic propaganda once disseminated by this journal is still current in Germany."
According to Hitler, Ford deserved praise because "every year they [Jews] manage to become increasingly the controlling masters of the labor power of a people of 120,000,000 souls; one great man, Ford, to their exasperation still holds out independently there even now."