Camera Rolls: 311:52-54
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Paul Charette , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on May 9, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
—the trade school, and I want you if you could.
If you could tell Leslie about the—I'm really interested in the atmosphere at the trade school, and especially the discipline that may have been part of being at the trade school. Can you tell us about that, about Ford's sense of spirit and discipline at the trade school?
Well the school was started by Mr. Ford in 1916 with only six boys. He had taken six boys from the Presbyterian orphanage, and had taken them on one of his Ford farms during the summer of 1916. Then when it came to fall, what's he going to do with these boys? So, he had started though in August and September to establish the school. The school started in Highland Park at the Ford Highland Park Plant—that was the plant of the Ford Motor Company then—and he took these six boys and one instructor and started a school. About a year later, he hired a shop instructor with—actually he took a man out of the shop, one of his better people—
OK, why don't you talk to Leslie.
Well about the Henry Ford Trade School, it was different than any high school that you may have gone to or I later went to, but the school was just for boys, and the idea was to train a boy to do something and to do it right, to have some kind of a trade. Mr. Ford believed that it wasn't enough to learn something with your mind, but he wanted someone to learn how to do something with their hands. He also wanted some good work habits. He wanted you to have self-confidence, that what you did you did well, that you were satisfied that you did a full day's work, and I think, perhaps, that just about sums up Mr. Ford's philosophy of the school. It gave me an opportunity to earn money while I was learning, and the better my marks were the more money I made. So there was an incentive, something I wish our schools would try to pattern it today. But Mr. Ford had fifty-four schools, not just the trade school. He actually, pardon me—
Let me interrupt you, I'm going to have you talk a little bit about the image that Mr. Ford had around Dearborn and Detroit at that time.
Yeah, I mean how was he—
Well, there was really only one God, but in this area, Mr. Ford was looked up to as the number one citizen. Even here in Dearborn now if you go to the city hall, above the door's entry to the city hall it says, "The Hometown of Henry Ford," and actually it was.
Stop, just stop 'cause we had a plane.
Hang on, follow me at the focus too.
Where do you want me fit in, just, maybe if you ask questions or something, that you want, just to get it started.
When you were, going to cut again?
What's going to be your question though?
OK, here is my question, which relates to what we've been talking about. Tell me, tell us, when you were a little boy, what did you hear about Henry Ford and what did you think about Henry Ford when you were a little kid growing up? Begin with, "I grew up in Detroit..."
Well I grew up in Detroit and I lived in Northwest Detroit, and the first time I heard about Ford was with the Ford car. But my neighbor—the man that lived on the corner—was one of Ford's sixty gardeners. Mr. Ford's estate and Mrs. Ford's rose gardens had to be maintained, and he's the one, he used to come home and tell me different things that happened with Mr. Ford or at the Ford estate. That's when I first heard, and he also told me about the trade school, that someday I should try to get in to it, which I did later on. I finally made it.
There was quite a waiting list for—again? Isn't that terrible?
Where, where was I going to get a job?
Well you can start with, "When I was a kid..."
Yeah, well, when I was a kid, say twelve, the people used to ask me, "Well what're you going to do when you grow up?" I said, "Well, I'm going to work for Ford," because of all the automobile companies—and there were quite a few then. It wasn't just Ford, GM, and Chrysler. You had American Motors, which was really a different name, but you had Graham Paige, Packards, Studebaker, all these big companies. There must have been, at that time, at least thirty automobile companies, because in 1932, eight of them went out of business. And Studebaker, Packard, and I think it was Hudson Car, went out of business, so that kind of whittled it down a little bit. So I knew pretty much that I was going to work for Ford.
What was so special about Ford?
Well, for me, I had heard so much about the trade school, and I knew there was a long waiting list, but at that time the trade school had 3,000 boys, and I got on the waiting list and I finally made it. And I looked forward to it. And the first thing I remember the instructor told me, "Forget what you've learned up till now. You must do it the Ford way and we'll teach you the Ford way. Don't tell me about long division your way, it's our way." And I remember even he said, "We don't care fraction. The inch is decimalized, so if it's 1 3/4, it's 1.75."
I'm going to cut for one second.
Hold on, hold on, hold on. OK Paul, start with my, "There were eleven kids in my family..."
Well I'm a Depression [laughs] child, there were eleven kids in my family. My wife gets mad when I tell the story about my poor mother. My mother would make nine meals, and when she blew the whistle if you didn't make it, you'd have to wait until the next meal. Or if you fell, you may as well turn around and go back and pick up your bat, [laughs] because you were just too late. [laughs]
I don't think he had any problems in '27. It was a good year for Mr. Ford. All of the years, actually there were no really bad years until '32, but in '27 when I remember Lindbergh flew the Atlantic. That was the biggest news for a seven year old to remember, was a Lindbergh flight, and how we'd talk about it, and how we'd look for an airplane in the sky. There weren't that many back then. But as far as '27 went, the Ford Motor Company, I think it was a good year. He was still selling Model T's, and Mr. Edsel Ford pushed the ole boy into changing it to Model A, which didn't last for more than four years, because by 1932 Mr. Ford knew that it had run its pace.
What happened in '31?
Well '31—from what I remember, and from what I've read, and from what I've been told—was still a very good year for Mr. Ford. His sales had gone down about, maybe to three quarters of what it was in 1929. In 1929, for example, he had almost two million cars sold. In 1929, his payroll was over $7.5 million. He had made about $87 billion—that's a B—in sales, so in 1929 was the hap-, probably the best year for Mr. Ford because he was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the lights, the invention by Mr. Edison. They reenacted it right here in the village within just a mile from here. Mr. Hoover was here for that, even Madame Curie was here. So they had a big celebration in '29. Also in '29, the old man sold his railroad for $10 million. The Detroit, Ironton, and Toledo Railroad, he made a big profit out of that. He started the—he started the Greenfield Village, and he had big plans too because even in 1930, the next year, the Depression didn't hit Mr. Ford very hard. By 1930 he had big expansion plans. He built a new assembly plant in Edgewater, New York, right in New York Harbor. He had the Richmond plant in San Francisco bay, he had a big parts [dupple?] in Seattle, he had a new assembly plant in Long Beach, California—
I'm sorry, we just ran out of film.
OK, hang on Paul, let me get focused here.
Can I have you slide a little bit over that way, there you go.
Yeah, that's, that's nice.
Well you tell me what you want and I, I get comfortable. [laughs]
OK, 1931, what happened in '31?
Well as far as Henry Ford is concerned, 1931 was the year that he really felt the blow. He found out that the Model A had had it, Plymouth had reduced their price, Chevrolet had made big improvements. Ford slid the twent-, he slid down from forty percent of the market down to maybe twenty-eight. His $7 day went to $4 a day. There were a lot of things that hit Henry Ford. And then he started developing the V8 engine, the famous V8, so that's—it was really a bad year. More and more people were out of work. Ford's sales had plunged half of what he had in 1929, maybe if he made 700,000 vehicles, trucks and passenger cars was a lot in '31.
So what finally happened?
Well, all good things finally happened. It got worse.
Let me have you start that again, "All good things finally—"
Come to an end.
OK, all good things do come to an end. 1932 came in, and that was the worst year of the Ford Motor Company. The—no more 98,000 people working in his Rouge, the famous Rouge plant, he was down to maybe 28,000 people. He was hit kinda hard politically too. There was a terrible hunger march in March, March the 7th. A cold day in March he was hit, but he suspected he was going to be hit with some kind of protest because in Michigan at the time maybe there was five million people, I don't think there was any more than that, 750,000 were without jobs. And men would gather looking for jobs, but around that time, from what I was told by an old toolmaker, the communists were in the Detroit area and they organized many people downtown on a Sunday afternoon. They had a big gathering downtown in the middle of—by the city hall. Then the next day, some 5,000 people marched west to Dearborn. Some took the streetcars and got the streetcar conductor made because they wouldn't pay their fare and they said, "Charge it to Henry Ford." When they got to the Dearborn border, the Dearborn Police were there to stop them and they, the Dearborn Police, I don't think the whole Dearborn Police force was a hundred men. They tried to stop 5,000 of them, they told them that if they didn't stop there was going to be some force used, and they did.
I'm going to interrupt you for one second.
What, tell me why were they marching, I mean, why were they marching after Henry Ford? What was the big deal—I may have you lean over just a little bit. There you go.
I mean, why?
Well in 1932, I think the Ford Motor company was the only company still making production. They had a good year. They were making tractors for Russia by the way. They had Russians right at Gate Four when the—I think maybe sixty to a hundred Russians were right at Gate Four in the offices. They were learning Ford's production methods, they were learning how to maintain their tractors. And when this mob of 5,000 people broke through the police lines, the police had shot tear gas, but then it was a cold, windy day, the tear gas hit the police instead of the, of the...marchers, the mob, and everything went into a mob riot. They threw slag from the Ford grounds. The Dearborn Police took quite a beating.
Who was, who was watching all of this from Gate Four?
Well I, probably Ford Plant Protection, and the Dearborn Police were there. Later on in the day when the shift changed and the Ford employees came streaming out. Some, I know they told the trade school kids to stay in school, not to go out at all. But some of the wor—
How about the Soviets? You want to tell me about what the Soviets, the Russians might have thought?
Well the funny thing about it was that I was told by this old toolmaker friend of mine, that Harry Bennett had been summoned when the riot hit Dearborn. So Harry Bennett was, he thought, I think he thought, well he was just a little guy, and he thought that he was going to stop this. He had his driver take him, and his driver didn't want to go any further so, and I understand that Harry Bennett was going to do it by himself and he did. He rolled down a window and he asked, "Who's the leader here?" And a man by, a young man by the name of Joe York says, "We're all leaders here." And one woman said, "We want to talk to Harry Bennett, and we know he's in there," something to that effect. And Harry Bennett said, "Well I'm Harry Bennett." Well, he got out of the car, and by that time everybody was throwing and grabbing so he grabbed Joe York and pulled him to the ground. And when Joe York stood up, luckily Bennett was still on the ground. York got killed by fire shot. They think that maybe it was the Dearborn Police that did the shooting, but I've heard that maybe the Plant Protection at Ford Motor Company did some shooting. I also heard that the Dearborn-, the Detroit Police were also on hand.
I'm going to interrupt you for a minute.
I'm going to take you back to, try to explain to us what those Russians might've thought when they're here at Ford Motor Company and they're watching—
OK, well I don't know what the Russians thought, but Harry Bennett did say when he knew, or when he found out that there were communists in the crowd, he couldn't believe that these were Ford employees, but he knew that there were communists in the crowd so he pointed upstairs behind him, he said, "Do you know that we have Russians up there right now, sixty or a hundred of them?" It was known as Ford...Auto Stor [sic], Auto Stroy. Ford Auto Stroy, that's what the Russians called themselves. But I think that was the wrong thing to say because that's when they swamped him and pulled him to the ground. He got hit by a rock, got a bad bruise on his head. Luckily he wasn't killed. But the Dearborn Pol—but the Dearborn Police did the shooting, and then the State Police Chief, I think his name was Leonard at the time, he came in and stopped all the shooting and tried to get the crowd under control, but I don't know how it ever ended.
Tell me where, where was Henry Ford during all this?
Well Henry Ford was at his usual lunch hour in the engineering building. They didn't have an Engineering and Research Center as we have today, but it was the Ford Engineering Laboratory and Henry Ford had an office there, and he was at his lunch with Edsel Ford. I understand that they got Harry Bennett out of a meeting. He was showing some movie to a Governor Green, the previous governor, when he was given a note that he should leave the meeting. They finally did notify Mr. Ford, they interrupted his lunch, and he, Mr. Ford, and Edsel Ford went to the scene, but I don't think that they were within the mob at all. They wouldn't let him go there. Ford had quite a Republican guard in the Rouge. They call them Plant Protection, servicemen, he had a good crowd of very capable guards.
We're going to stop for one second here.
I suppose you know about the servicemen—
In March 1932, people were hungry, starving in Detroit. Did—let me ask you a devil's advocate question, did Henry Ford understand what hunger was all about, did he understand what desperation was all about?
Well I don't think that Mr. Ford lost a meal during that time. He still had, he was still living well of course. But I think he knew what hunger was. He took care of most of the people in Dearborn, he fed twenty-eight hundred school boys lunches everyday because he knew that they didn't have food at home. Other than the 50,000 people in Dearborn that he fed, he fed a lot of people in Inkster too. He had a store open in Inkster where he and Edsel Ford personally gave out food.
Was it, you know you have all these people marching on the Rouge and hollering at Henry Ford, was it fair for them to be—
—going after Ford, blaming Ford for the troubles of the country?
I don't think they could blame Mr. Ford for the troubles of the country. After all, you know, it's his company. He was doing what he could to put the people back to work. The Depression is something that, I'm sure Mr. Ford probably lived through the Panic of 1893 in our history. Back then I don't think Henry Ford was making a hundred dollars a month working for Mr. Edison at the Detroit Electric Company. So he was pretty well off himself back then. But I remember reading where Henry Ford had walked from Dearborn to Detroit to get into a tool shop, to serve an apprenticeship, to become a machinist himself, and at night he used to repair watches for maybe $3.50 a week. So I know that it's all relative but $3.50 a week was not a lot of money so he was well aware that money was important to a family. In 1914, the Ford wage was $2.50 a day and he doubled it to $5.00 a day, so I think he was aware of the need.
Is it fair to say that what was going on in the country, the Depression, was bigger than Henry Ford?
Oh, absolutely because there were other marches. The farmers were losing their prop-, their farms. The weather didn't help any either, I think, if you remember reading about the dust storms. But the farmers had their own march. Even the veterans, the veterans had been promised a bonus, and they, in 1932 or '33, they had a march on Washington. Now they came from all parts of the country for that, so everybody was aware.
We just ran out of film.
Hold on, let me get focused here.
Did they, did the hunger marchers who marched on the Rouge, did they understand industry do you think, in your opinion?
Well I don't think they understand industry at all. I spent forty-three years at Ford, and I learned a lot of things in forty-three years. For example, back then during the Depression, it cost Mr. Ford $9,000 just to put one person to work. Now, out of that $9,000 much of it went for land and buildings, for machines and tools, for material. So for every man that he employed, he was employing at 98,000 at the Rouge, it cost him $9,000 for every job. By 1960, I think the figure was $25,000—
I'm going to cut you off because we're going to stay in—
Yeah, well it's just that you asked a question, you know, people—
Well I'm going to have you start that again.
Yeah, go ahead.
Could Henry Ford pull rabbits out of a hat, create jobs out of thin air?
Well, no. If you want to take a look at '32, his Model A had had it as far as public acceptance. He had to come up with a new product and a product takes a long time. Even today, Ford takes sixty months, today, to come up with a new car line. There's a design to be made, clay models, all the tools, dyes, all the fixtures, all the equipment. There's arrangements in the plant, at that time they were conveyors, and they all had to be rerouted. The whole layout had to change so it took many months to make a job for anybody.
I'll ask it as a question. What were some of the other, briefly, what were some of the other makes that were available, other brands of cars, and what did they offer that Ford's cars didn't in the late '20s?
Well if you want on the, on the Ford scale, Chevrolet and Plymouth were probably equal. I always looked at the Packard as the man that owns one or be the man that owns one. But the Ford cars were for transportation. Comfort was not the most important thing, it was the economy with the Ford cars. Plymouth would come out with a different paint job or side mirrors. I don't remember if they had any heaters, but I'm pretty sure that there wouldn't be a heater in a Ford car right away. It was one, these are things that Ford didn't consider important because the important thing for him was to get the price down. I don't know if you know it but the Model T started off at about $1200 and by 1927 they were only $350 for a car. It was transportation. It was transportation. That's what he was selling, transportation.
When, when all those people began to get laid off from the Rouge in '31, what other kinds of businesses did that affect in the Detroit area?
Well it affected a lot of the stores, not in the way that it would today, but people didn't go buy paint to paint their house, they tried to make due with what they had, they didn't go buy clothes, although a lot of the clothes at that time the mother, my mother did all our sewing. She made my shirts, made our overcoats, so that didn't affect us that way. But if you went to the grocery store, you bought the very necessities and that's it. You didn't go buy donuts or cakes, so that affected the bakeries. Mills used to come to my house and my mother used to buy a loaf of bread, and all the kids used to look at his basket with sugar, and cakes, and cookies, and my mother never bought any of that.
Were people buying cars?
No, very few people had cars. They couldn't afford it. Even though if a car back then was probably five or six hundred dollars in the early '30s—the Model A, the Plymouth, the Chevrolet—they were all about three or four hundred dollars minim-, the least they were. Who can afford that when you were making say $30 a week? You can't afford a car, absolutely not. And if you couldn't buy anything then you, if you couldn't earn any money, and when they laid off say 5,000 in one day in this area, well the merchants didn't see these people. They didn't have the money to buy. And when you realize that 750,000 people in this area were without jobs in '31 and '32—'32 and '33 were very bad—you can't buy if you don't have the money. No charge card, no one's going to give you any credit, although we did have some credit. Some stores would have a little pad-
I have to stop for a second.
OK, so it's March of '32 and you're looking up at, there's this riot going on in the street, and you look up at Gate Four and tell me what's there? You can tell Leslie.
Well the strange thing about that one day at the hunger march, where you have 5,000 screaming people on the street, on Miller Road right at Gate Four, Harry Bennett points up and what he says is—recognizing that there were a lot of communists, many of them were communists—points up and he says, "Do you know what's up there? Your brothers are up there. There are sixty or a hundred Russians up there." It was known as Ford Auto Stroy, and then that was the wrong thing for him to say because the mob just stoned him. But the Russians are there looking out the window and seeing all this. I don't know what they were thinking, but I would think if I were a Russian back then I would figure, "Hey, I'm really well off. I'm up at Ford Motor Company, I've got a job. I'm getting paid, I'm being fed, but my brother communists down there are stoning the place."
When the, all these people come marching on the Ford plant, what should Ford have done? What could Ford have done?
Well, [laughs] Henry Ford was one man, what can he do? If I were Henry Ford I'd run and hide. 5,000 people screaming and throwing rocks, breaking all the windows in my factory with clubs and stones. Henry Ford couldn't do anything. Even his guards couldn't do anything, the Dearborn Police couldn't do anything. The Dearborn Police lost control of that mob. And these people were very angry. It wasn't something that just started yesterday, this had been brewing for a long time. They had had trouble even in February. Ford knew there was going to be trouble. That was their business, Ford leaders, it was their business to anticipate. The Dearborn Police knew something was going to happen. They didn't know exactly when.
Why do you suppose Henry Ford was not there?
Because he was at lunch, he was eating [laughs] while these people were not eating.
Let's, what would, what would Henry Ford have thought of those people looking out there?
Well I don't know what Mr. Ford would've thought, but if I had been Mr. Ford and I saw this mob breaking all my windows, throwing rocks and batting people around, and if they were my employees even though they'd just been laid off, I would probably feel they were very ungrateful.
I have read though that it was five, you know, and just in the spring here I mentioned there was a token demonstration compared to the 5,000.
Did, was this hunger march something that Henry Ford needed—you can tell Leslie—did he need this?
No, with all the problems he had, right now—at that time—Henry Ford didn't need this aggravation of a mob storming his gates. He was trying to get a new product on the line, he was getting designs made, making prototypes, and this is something that he did not need, one more serious bad problem, very bad publicity. Ford would spend millions of dollars advertising, and this probably was the worst thing that could happen to him, to have bad publicity at his plants. Showing the whole world that Henry Ford was a bad guy, when really he was not. That all right?
It's great. Good.
OK, let's start with "He was just another man," you've got to put yourself in his place.
Well, I'll try.
Well, if I were Henry Ford and visualized this, he's just another man. He put his pants on one leg at a time, he would bleed. He couldn't feed that multitude, there were thousands of people out there. Two thousand years ago there was someone who walked the earth that could feed thousands with fishes and the loaves. Henry Ford couldn't do that, although everything that he did do I consider almost miraculous, that was one miracle he couldn't perform, nobody could. Is that all right?
Is that OK? [laughs]
All right, let me get settled here. You can tell Leslie, what was, what was your dream when you were a little boy?
When I was twelve—I can remember very much when I was twelve—I wanted to work for Mr. Henry Ford. I wanted to be an engineer at Ford.
Great, we're done.