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Ford Motor Company Sociological Department and English School1

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 labor and the lure of high wages—with the $5 day profit sharing plan—drew thousands of immigrants and migrants to Detroit. Facts from Ford, 1920

In order to manage and control such a large and diverse workforce, John R. Lee, Head of Personnel, created the Sociological Department in 1914. The Sociological Department established a system of rules and codes of behavior for Ford employees that they had to meet, in order to qualify for the $5 day pay rate. The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employee’s homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted worker’s families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene. 2009.0.10.2 Factory Facts from Ford, 1915

An adjunct to the Sociological Department was the Ford English School. Originally established in 1913, the Ford English School addressed the problem of communicating with non-English speaking workers who didn’t share a common language, and the potential threats to safety that this posed. At a time when worker safety was rarely considered in most factories, Ford Motor Company officials took great pains to ensure that the factory was as safe as possible. English classes taught by Ford employees were offered free of charge to foreign employees, however students were required to attend classes before or after their work shifts. P.O. 1264 Ford English School at the Highland Park Plant, 1914-1915. Students were taught by mimicking instructors who held up objects such as tea kettles and soap, repeating the words of the instructor. This simple vocabulary would form the foundation for more complex sentences so that by the end of the course students attained basic English reading and speaking comprehension skills.

P.833.979 Ford English School at the Highland Park Plant Ford’s English program was so successful that other companies and social organizations patterned their programs after it. A Ford English School diploma was considered so valuable that an immigrant seeking naturalization could use it to meet many of the requirements needed before taking the final citizenship exam. P.D. 655 Ford English School Diploma for Mike Pachulski, July 4, 1917

The culmination of the Ford English School program was the graduation ceremony where students were transformed into Americans. During the ceremony speakers gave rousing patriotic speeches and factory bands played marches and patriotic songs. The highlight of the event would be the transformation of immigrants into Americans. Students dressed in costumes reminiscent of their native homes stepped into a massive stage-prop cauldron that had a banner across the front identifying it as the AMERICAN MELTING POT. Seconds later, after a quick change out of sight of the audience, students emerged wearing “American” suits and hats, waving American flags, having undergone a spiritual smelting process where the impurities of foreignness were burnt off as slag to be tossed away leaving a new 100% American. P.O. 7227 Melting Pot Ceremony at Ford English School, July 4, 1917

  1. excerpted from http://www.thehenryford.org/education/erb/TransportationPastPresentAndFuture.pdf

Because of the wide-ranging nature of the Sociological Department’s function, related archival material will be found in many different collections.


Archives (Ford Motor Company), Oral History subgroup, 1951-1961, Accession 65

Archives (Ford Motor Company), Photographic vertical file, 1890-1980, Accession 1660

Archives (Ford Motor Company, Owen Bombard information files chronological histories, 1863-1958, Accession 902

Archives Vertical File

Edsel B. Ford Office papers, 1903-1945, Accession 6

Ford Motor Company Auditing Department, Income tax records. 1906-1923, Accession 259

Ford Motor Company Auditing Department, Wendell Miller records, 1923-1947, Accession 391

Ford Motor Company Finance Division Vice President of Finance records, Accession 459

Ford Motor Company Non-Serial Imprints collection, 1903-2004, Accession 951

Ford Motor Company Office of Public releases Press releases, 1942-1955, Accession 536

Ford Motor Company Public Relations, William John Cameron records, Accession 44 and 474

Ford Motor Company Sociological Department administrative records, 1915-1946, Accession 55

Ford Motor Company Sociological Department procedure manuals, ca. 1933, 1946, Accession 280

Ford Motor Company Sociological Department Profit-Sharing Plan reports, 1915, Accession 1018

Ford Motor Company Superintendent's Office Charles E. Sorensen records, 1913-1946, Accession 38

Ford Times (publication)

Frank Ernest Hill research papers, 1950-1966, Accession 940

Henry Ford Office records, Engineering Laboratory records, 1921-1952, Accession 285

Henry Ford Office records, Non-Automotive Interests, 1916-1931, Accession 62

John F. Dodge Estate Trust Lawsuit collection, 1902-1928, Accession 96

Nevins and Hill research, original documents and notes, 1845-1960, Accession 572

Samuel Simpson Marquis papers, Accession 63 and 293

Stanley Leonard Knazak papers, Accession 1200

Additional information on the Ford English School may be found in the following archival collections

Archives (Ford Motor Company), Oral History subgroup, 1951-1961, Accession 65

Archives (Ford Motor Company), Photographic vertical file, 1890-1980, Accession 1660

Archives Vertical File,

Cliff Colling papers, 1917, Accession 1544

Five Dollar Day collection, 1909-1919, Accession 683

Ford Motor Company non-serial imprints collection, 1903-2004, Accession 951

Ford Times (publication), n/a

Henry Ford and Ford Family papers, Fair Lane papers, 1835-1955, Accession 1

Henry Ford Office records, Person al topics subject files, General personal records, 1823-1984, Accession 23

Nevins and Hill research, original documents and notes, 1845-1960, Accession 572