Henry Ford’s Finest Hour

(p. 52) Not all men who refused to sign the code could be easily intimidated. In the auto industry Henry Ford refused to sign the NRA code and jack up his car prices, as his competitors were doing. “I do not think that this country is ready to be treated like Russia for a while,” Ford wrote in his notebook. “There is a lot of the pioneer spirit here yet:’ However, General Motors, Chrysler, and the smaller independents eagerly signed Blue Eagle codes, which, under penalty of fine and imprisonment, regulated their production, (p. 53) wages. prices, and hours of work. Ford was astounded: his colleagues preferred stability and government regulation to competition and free trade. He was especially irked when Pierre S. DuPont, the former head of General Motors, urged him at a party to sign the code.

In the face of strong pressure from the NRA, Ford refused to sign the auto code. He defied the law, pronouncing it un-American and unconstitutional. Hugh Johnson, the NRA chief, and President Roosevelt, however, wanted government control as well as compliance. They tried to pressure Ford into signing the code, and when he refused they tried force. Ford would receive no government contracts until he signed–and with the large increase in government agencies during the 1930s, that meant a huge business. For example, the bid of a Ford agency on five hundred trucks for the Civilian Conservation Corps was $169,000 below the next best offer. The government announced, however, that it would reject Ford’s bid and pay $169,000 more for the trucks because Ford refused to sign the auto code. As Roosevelt announced at a press conference, “We have got to eliminate the purchase of Ford cars” for the government because Ford has not “gone along with the general [NRA] agreement:”

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. New York: Threshold Editions, 2008.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

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