The Unseen Power: Public Relations, a History

By Scott M. Cutlip | Go to book overview

Chapter 22
Earl Newsom and the Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation was created initially on January 25, 1936, when Edsel Ford, son of the founder and then president of the Ford Motor Company, set aside a block of stock to create a foundation for "scientific, educational, and charitable purposes." Thomas C. Reeves, in his history, Freedom and the Foundation: The Fund for the Republic in the Era of McCarthyism, suggested that an influential factor in setting up the foundation was the Tax Revenue Act of 1935 that greatly increased U.S. excess profits and inheritance taxes. Reeves asserted that this was the New Deal's way of outflanking Senator Huey Long's cry to "redistribute the wealth." Upon the death of Henry Ford's son, Edsel, the nonvoting Ford Motor Company stock willed to the foundation brought its assets to nearly one half billion dollars, making it the wealthiest foundation in the world. It became in a short time a source of large-scale philanthropy and of great controversy that hurt the Ford Motor Company and posed serious public relations problems for counselor Earl Newsom. With Henry Ford's death in 1947 and settlement of his estate in 1948, young Henry Ford II took control of the foundation as chairman of its board. Of him, Reeves wrote, "Well- meaning, earnest, thirty-one year old Ford, as might be expected of one of America's richest and most powerful men, issued the Foundation's significant pronouncements, posed for publicity pictures, and selected those responsible for planning and administering expenditures. One close associate later recalled that Henry II 'expressed an opinion on every project that was advanced.'"

Because he wanted to be deeply involved and saw a linkage between the foundation's activities and the reputation of the Ford Motor Company-

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