Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire

By Richard Bak | Go to book overview

14
Airships and Time Machines

The next time you come to Detroit you should bring your airship with you.

—Henry Ford to zeppelin pilot Dr. Hugo Eckner, 1924

Aviation was one of the few fields of interest outside automaking that bound Henry and Edsel in the years following the First World War. The pure romance of flight spoke to the artist in Edsel, who, along with his more practical father, also recognized a fledgling industry ripe with commercial possibilities. Both men greatly admired the personal courage involved in manned flight, an activity that was so precarious Henry discouraged his son and other important company officials from flying, even as he annually spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and promotions extolling its safety to the public.

Unlike the U.S. auto industry, which by 1920 saw most of its major players firmly based in Detroit, making the boom town of a million souls the undisputed motorcar capital, there was no logical center of gravity for American aviation. One could as easily make the case that St. Louis was the crossroads of flight as Long Island or San Diego. The Fords reasoned that Detroit could—and should—be the airship city. Certainly, much of what was needed was already in place: manufacturing expertise, facile mechanical and engineering minds, deep pools of investment capital. The only thing missing was corporate leadership, and Henry provided that in 1925 with the $1.3 million acquisition of the Stout Metal Airplane Company, a small-scale enterprise he and

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