The enormous Henry Ford Museum, ten miles from downtown in Dearborn, pays fulsome tribute to its founder as a brilliant industrialist and do-gooder. The former is certainly true. The inventor of the assembly line didn’t succeed by being a philanthropist, however, and was indeed dubbed “an industrial fascist – the Mussolini of Detroit” by the New York Times in 1928. He only grudgingly allowed the United Auto Workers (UAW) into his factories in 1943, and was less than welcoming to his black employees, banning them from the model communities he built for his white workers and forcing them instead into a separate town sardonically named “Inkster”.
Ford was an inveterate collector of Americana. In addition to the massive “The Automobile in American Life” exhibit, ranging from early Ford models and postal carriages to NASCAR vehicles and electric cars, the twelve-acre museum amounts to a giant curiosity shop, holding planes, trains and row upon row of domestic inventions. Real oddities include the chair Lincoln was sitting in and the car Kennedy was riding in when each was shot, the bus Rosa Parks was riding when she refused to give up her seat, and even a test tube holding Edison’s last breath. One pertinent item not on view is the Iron Cross that Hitler presented to Ford (a notorious anti-Semite) in 1938.