On January 15, 1936, Edsel Ford, the son of auto industry pioneer Henry Ford, forms a philanthropic organization called the Ford Foundation with a donation of $25,000. The foundation, which was established in part as a legal way for the Ford family to avoid the hefty inheritance taxes that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration imposed on large estates, grew into a multi-billion dollar institution that today supports programs in the U.S. and over 50 other countries around the globe for the purpose of the “advancement of human welfare.”
Henry Ford (1863-1947) founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and went on to launch the first affordable, mass-produced car–the Model T–in 1908. 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, which made it possible for ordinary factory workers to buy the cars they built and helped to create the American middle class.
Henry Ford’s only child, Edsel (1893-1943), succeeded his father as the president of the Ford Motor Company after his father resigned the position in December 1918 following a disagreement with stockholders. However, father and son soon managed to purchase the stock of these minority investors and regain control of the company. As president of Ford, one of Edsel Ford’s key contributions was to the styling of cars, which he believed could be stylish as well as functional. His push for style upgrades to the Model T eventually helped to convince his father to drop his rule that customers could have any color Model T, as long as it was black. In 1922, the Ford company bought failing luxury automaker Lincoln Motor Company and Edsel Ford was involved with developing such elegant, prestigious models as the Lincoln Continental and Lincoln Zephyr.
Edsel Ford, who in addition to establishing the Ford Foundation was a major patron of the arts, died of cancer at the age of 49 in 1943. Edsel’s oldest son, Henry Ford II (1917-1987), became president of the Ford Motor Company in 1945. He also served as the Ford Foundation’s second president, from 1943 to 1950, and remained active with the organization as board chairman then a trustee until 1976. Under his leadership, the foundation grew into the planet’s wealthiest philanthropy. Today, the Ford Foundation– headquartered in New York City and completely separate from the Ford Motor Company–supports a range of causes, from the arts and public broadcasting to civil rights, education, health care and fighting poverty. It continues to rank among the world’s wealthiest charitable organizations.