With the success of the Ford Model T after its introduction in 1908, Ford Motor Company became the leading manufacturer of automobiles in the world. By 1914, the integration of the progressive assembly line made high-volume and efficient production at Ford Motor Company plants an exemplary model for mass production. Ford’s demand for cheap labour and the lure of high wages—with the $5 a day profit-sharing plan—drew thousands of immigrants and migrants to Detroit.
To manage and control such a large and diverse workforce, Henry Ford authorised John R. Lee, Head of Personnel, to create the Sociological Department in 1914.
Ford was obsessed with ensuring his employees were ‘model Americans.’
Because of his power and wealth, Ford turned his eccentricity into borderline megalomania. The 50 strong ‘Ford Sociological Department’ was created in 1913, employing ‘investigators’, which would eventually grow to over 200, studied and examined all the worker’s loyalties and personal lives.
The ‘investigators’ would arrive unannounced to employee households to check on their homes, children and spouses. Anyone Ford didn’t like or approve of was blacklisted, had their wages cut, or dismissed if they refused to toe the line.
The investigators would evaluate the cleanliness and safety of an employee’s household, take notes, fill out forms, and compile statistics based on their findings.
Henry Ford was a man whose personal life and general personality were fraught with more than a few flaws that would be hideous these days. If historical accounts of the man are correct, it would appear that he was a terrible racist, sexist, and had a particular distaste for immigrants, which was somewhat hypocritical as his father was an Irish immigrant.