On this day in 1919, Edsel Ford, the son of Model T inventor and auto industry pioneer Henry Ford, succeeds his father as president of the Ford Motor Company. The younger Ford ascended to the top spot after his father resigned the position in December 1918, following a disagreement with stockholders However, father and son soon managed to purchase these dissenting investors’ stock and regain control of the company.
Edsel Bryant Ford, the only child of Henry Ford and his wife Clara, was born November 6, 1893, in Detroit, Michigan. A decade after Edsel’s birth, Henry Ford (1863-1947) established the Ford Motor Company; five years later, he introduced the Model T, an affordable car for the masses. Henry Ford was also credited with pioneering the moving assembly line and introducing, in 1914, the $5-per-day minimum wage and the eight-hour workday. This made it possible for ordinary factory workers to buy the cars they built and helped to create the American middle class.
As president of Ford Motor Company, one of Edsel Ford’s key contributions was to the styling of the company’s cars. Unlike his father, whose legendary rule regarding the utilitarian Model T was: “You can have any color, as long as it’s black,” he believed that Fords could be stylish as well as functional. In 1922, the Ford Motor Company made its first foray into the upscale vehicle market when it acquired the failing luxury automaker Lincoln Motor Company for $8 million. Edsel Ford, who encouraged his father to buy Lincoln, was involved with developing such elegant, prestigious models as the Lincoln Continental, which launched in the late 1930s and was reportedly described by architect Frank Lloyd Wright as “the most beautiful car ever made.”
Edsel Ford, who was also an arts patron and philanthropist (in 1936, along with his father, he set up the Ford Foundation, which grew into a leading global philanthropic organization), died of cancer at the age of 49 on May 26, 1943. His father then resumed the presidency of the company. Edsel’s oldest son, Henry Ford II, succeeded his grandfather as head of Ford in 1945.
In the 1950s, the Ford company launched the Edsel car division, named for its second president. However, the cars, which debuted with the 1958 model year, were plagued with mechanical problems and design issues and the Edsel name came to be synonymous with failure. Ford discontinued the line with the 1960 model year.