Ford Good Drivers League
19 artifacts in this set
Automobile accidents and fatalities climbed throughout the 1930s, and Americans worried about road safety. Insurance companies and other safety advocates searched for ways to make driving safer. Life insurance companies distributed driver safety manuals and other educational materials, like this poster, which urged motorists to drive safely.
Ford Motor Company ran a successful traffic safety advertising campaign in youth magazines in 1937 and 1938. Students, parents, teachers, and safety advocates requested reprints of materials and urged Ford to do more. In 1940, Edsel Ford, himself a father of young drivers, announced the creation of the Ford Good Drivers League.
The Ford Good Drivers League would promote safe driving habits among high school students. The League would also host state and national safe driving contests where champion drivers received substantial scholarship money.
Safety advocates across the country backed the League. Elmer Grierson, the publisher of The American Boy magazine, was among the organization's supporters. Grierson reached out to state school systems for advice on structuring the League's driving contests.
Membership in the League was free. It initially invited high school-aged boys throughout the country to participate in 1940. The following year, the League extended its invitation to girls. Ford encouraged its local dealerships to be civic leaders for League activities.
After young drivers signed up, they received a copy of the instructional booklet How to Become a Skilled Driver and became eligible to participate in state and national driving contests.
More than 60,000 boys competed in the League's 1940 state championship contests. State competitions included a written essay on automobile safety and a 25-mile daylight driving test. Each state's champion became eligible to participate in the national finals held at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair.
State champions traveled to the New York World's Fair for the national finals. League officials prepared a well-packed schedule for the participants: luncheons, tours, a baseball game, and, of course, rounds of testing.
The first official event was a luncheon given by city officials to welcome the boys to New York. After lunch, the contestants and their sponsors headed off in a 48-car parade of champions for a tour of the World's Fair.
Ford Good Drivers League Georgia State Champion Carlos Greenway Completes a Vision Test at the New York World's Fair, 1940
Testing began on Tuesday. Judges scored each state champion on parking, braking, backing, day and night driving ability, driving reactions under times of stress, and vision tests, among others.
Ford Good Drivers League Michigan State Champion Glenn H. Merithew Driving a Ford Deluxe at the New York World's Fair, 1940
Could you maneuver through these obstacles?
Edsel Ford with Gene M. Kennard, Winner of the Ford Good Drivers League Scholarship, and his Mother, August 1940
Ford Good Drivers League officials hosted the Championship Dinner at the Ford Exposition Playhouse on the World's Fair grounds. Gene Kennard from Evansville, Indiana, won the top prize, which included a trophy and a $5,000 scholarship. After the award ceremony, state champions gathered to watch a fireworks display before returning to their hotel.
On the final day, all the contestants could relax. Tours of the city, a sports-themed luncheon, an afternoon ballgame at Yankee Stadium, and an evening at Coney Island ended the week-long proceedings.
With the League's success in 1940, Edsel Ford announced that the program would continue and expand in 1941. The League invited girls to compete in separate state and national contests. Membership grew, and more than 170,000 teen drivers participated in state contests in 1941.
Boys and girls from 48 states and the District of Columbia came to Dearborn, Michigan, to compete for scholarships and trophies. This program lists the schedule planned for the participants: driving tests, luncheons, tours, a Detroit Tigers baseball game, and an awards ceremony.
Tours and activities kept contestants busy when not involved in the driving tests. League officials planned tours of Greenfield Village, the Rouge Factory, a boat tour, and an early American dancing party hosted by Henry Ford, a leading proponent of old-fashioned dances.
Edsel Ford with the Ford Good Drivers League Scholarship Winners, Patricia Borman and Kenneth R. Karr, August 1941
On the final night, League officials awarded trophies and scholarships to the national champions: Patricia Borman from Illinois and Kenneth Karr from Iowa. Speakers at the night's celebration included tennis champion Alice Marble and Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw.
Edsel Ford and other League officials began planning for 1942. America, however, was on the eve of entering World War II. At first, officials proposed a scaled-down version of the League, but when America finally entered the war, they decided to suspend the program.
Ford Motor Company did not revive the Ford Good Drivers League after the war. Instead, Ford promoted driver safety in other ways, through advertisements, instruction booklets, manuals, and even comic books. The League's program, however, did make a lasting impact and set a pattern for subsequent teenage driver safety contests instituted by civic groups, insurance companies, and safety-focused organizations.