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The Ford Pipers

March 17, 2015

The Ford Pipe Band, 1947.

If you’re out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day you’re sure to hear the sound of the bagpipes. In America, you’ll most likely hear the Scottish highland pipes, not the Irish uilleann pipes, but over the years the highland pipes have been assimilated into Irish culture and it’s hard to pass a St. Patrick’s Day celebration without hearing the familiar strain of the pipers. And speaking of bagpipes, did you know Ford Motor Company sponsored its own Pipe Band in the 1930s and 1940s?

The Ford Pipe Band, 1934.

Henry Ford was a lover of music, so it should come as no surprise that he sponsored a number of employee bands, one of which was a group of Scottish and Irish pipers and drummers. The Ford Pipe Band, also known as the Ford Kiltie Band, was formed in 1932, with most of the members coming from the St. Andrew’s Pipe Band in Detroit. It started when Alexander Adams, the drum major, who was Edsel Ford’s bodyguard, began recruiting other members of the band to come work at Ford. The Pipe Major, Hector McGinnis, bass drummer, William Riddock, and pipers, James Cullen and Donald McPhee all worked in Plant Protection, with many of the other members working in departments across the company.

The Ford Pipe Band, 1939.

Ford sponsored the band and paid for all transportation and rooming, but the band had to pay for their own uniforms. Alec Bryce, one of the drummers, recalled that the band specially ordered their uniforms from Scotland and had them shipped to Ontario, bringing the uniforms into the U.S. piece by piece. A long process, but perhaps they decided it was worth the effort when the won Best Dressed Pipe Band at the Cowal Games in 1939.

Ford Motor Company provided members a practice space at the Highland Park plant, and gave the pipers and drummers paid time off for performances and competitions as well as credited work time for all travel. The band consisted of first-rate musicians, many of the members had been regimental pipers and drummers in the Scots Guard during WWI and had continued to play in local bands in the Detroit area. During the peak of the band in 1934-36 as many as 20 pipers and drummers played for Ford Motor Company.

FordPipeBand1949The band played all events and performances for free, and travelled across the United States and Canada for shows and competitions. They entertained Ford employees at the Ford Merit Club meetings, local parades, and other Ford events.  In addition to performances, the pipers and drummers were top-notch competitors being named North American Champion Bagpipe Band for 1934, 1935 and 1936, winning 15 silver cups in open competition during 1934 alone. They also won both the American and All-Canadian championships in 1939.

The band took a break during World War II, but some of the members reformed the group when the war was over to continue the piping tradition at Ford with a new set of musicians. The band played in their first post-war major competition in 1948 and continued to place well in competitions all over the United States and Canada. They also played at Ford and Lincoln-Mercury sponsored events, parades, and Scottish games.

Update: We’ve received word that the pipe major spelled his name as Hector McInnes. In our sources at the archive he is referred to mainly as McGinnis, and once as MacInnes. Thanks to Mr. Ferguson for catching this discrepancy.

More exciting history is just waiting to be discovered at the Benson Ford Research Center. Set up an appointment for our reading room or ask us a question here.

Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.

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