In The Aims of Education, Harvard professor Alfred North Whitehead said that “a merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” Less cynically, though perhaps no less accurately, he also said that “the valuable intellectual development is self-development, and that it mostly takes place between the ages of sixteen and thirty.” Not to argue with the late professor, but many of us found our intellectual bent at an earlier age, and my father was no exception when he ordered some educational material from Ford Motor Company at the tender age of eleven.
It would be stupid to disparage the internet while writing on the internet, but there’s a hint of romance in a kid’s composing a letter to a large corporation and waiting for a packet in the mail that may never come. Maybe it teaches patience; it certainly teaches us to accept delayed gratification. Ford paid 19 and a half cents to mail a large packet of educational materials to my dad, who has been a Ford man for life (Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?). Maybe it’s because of the small efforts they took in 1959 to nurture a potential future customer, a future customer with parents who might also consider a new Ford. Of note: the envelope was addressed to my father, who lived simply on R.R. #1, or Rural Route #1. My, how times have changed.
By the way, this packet is worth having if only for the stamp: the Ford Rotunda burned in 1962, taking a lot of interesting stuff with it. Ford used the Rotunda name on oil filters and other maintenance items for some years after that unfortunate event.
Included in the packet was this little note with a drawing of Ford’s “Glass House.” Even today, my dad gets excited when we drive by; I’m convinced that the best day of his life was when we attended Ford’s 100th anniversary car show at corporate headquarters.
My dad must have ordered packets of materials twice: This note is also inside one of the envelopes. It looks newer than the other one, and the department name has changed; but there are duplicate handouts, so Ford must not have updated their educational materials on a regular basis.
The information Ford mailed was in the form of these hole punched foldouts, each representing a specific “fact & facet” of the automobile industry.
One of my favorites has pictures of fifties dream cars, some of which were never actually modeled in full-size form. Ford would often build advanced dream cars in 3/8 scale; a few were turned into actual “rollers” that could be displayed at car shows. Even fewer ran; in this brochure, I believe that only the Lincoln Futura was an operational automobile. Instead of becoming a footnote in mid-century design history, it famously became the TV Batmobile after George Barris’s outfit had its way with it.
Several design cues shown on the Chrysler Turbine Car were lifted lock, stock, and barrel from the La Galaxie; therefore, I can trace my ’65 Dart’s headlights back to a Ford concept car. Sadly, the Styling Center (pictured above) has been recently razed.
In the foundry foldout, the casting of engine blocks and other drivetrain components is delineated, and this leads me to another of Whitehead’s statements: “The only use of a knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present. No more deadly harm can be done to young minds than by depreciation of the present.” Unfortunately, there is a disconnect here that is directly related to the downfall of the trades and manual labor as a result of an inevitable evolution into automation. Ford obviously used its educational materials as a gateway into an interest in vehicle design and manufacturing in an effort to recruit young people to someday work for Ford.
My young father wanted to know more about cars; he read a little about them, then a little more, and he later became a high school shop teacher. Along the way, he worked a bunch of part-time jobs at the Ford dealer. He was, I’d say, an average car enthusiast of the 1960s; he doesn’t like cars nearly as much as I do, but almost everyone was a car guy when he was growing up. Many got a job on the line or in a trade dealing with the auto industry. As the world has become more electrical and more automated, we have lost countless hands-on craftsmen (and women) and the pride that comes from building or fixing something. The joy of discovering how something works has at the very least become more abstract. As educational interest in the trades decline and components can no longer be easily repaired or rebuilt, we lose something we can’t get back. As Whitehead said (almost a century ago) about an education rooted in the classics, “All this is gone, and gone for ever.”
This isn’t a knock on modernism or the advanced technology of today – there are certainly a bunch of kids who are excited to work for Tesla, Apple, and Google someday, but they’re not looking to be technicians or line workers. They’re looking at the engineering and programming side of the industry because that’s where the jobs will be and where their interests lie. This may create many jobs, but the skill sets and knowledge required to design, build, code, and repair electronic components are far different and, in some ways, less attainable for the average person.
With that being said, I wouldn’t personally want to work in a foundry.
Please forgive the digression; it was one of Whitehead’s preferred means of discourse. Here are a few more steps in the casting process.
These unidentifiably Fordish Fords were tested in the cold room and on the dyno. Show your parents, kid. Most likely, these drawings only vaguely resemble actual Ford Motor Company products because the materials would quickly become dated if a new ’59 Galaxie was pictured. Smart thinking, Ford.
The Smith System even made an appearance, with actual 1958 models. Ford must have planned to update this foldout regularly, since Harold Smith worked for the company.
My favorite foldouts of all, however, have been laminated and hung on the wall. This poster shows the “Evolution of the Lincoln and Lincoln Continental.” In keeping with the date on the stamp, models up to the new 1960 Lincolns are shown – it’s too bad Dad couldn’t have waited for the ’61s. My perennial favorite 1940 Continental is, of course, pictured.
Ford also earned a foldout, with cars as diverse as a Quadricycle and a 1960 Galaxie Starliner. As a side note, I dressed up as Henry Ford for Halloween one year, and I based my costume and fake mustache on the picture in the upper left hand corner. It wasn’t until later that I learned that Henry Ford was not a very good person, but I was probably ten at the time. There would be plenty of time later on for some (not all) of my heroes to disappoint me.
If any further evidence of the authenticity of these materials is needed, here it is.
I’ve been contributing to Curbside Classic for over seven years now, and I’ve often mentioned my parents’ influence on my love of cars; they’ve done everything they could to allow me to enjoy my favorite hobby. Dad taught me a lot about mechanical fundamentals, welding, and basic metal fabrication when I was a kid. He patiently endured my tantrums and screw-ups (still does, sometimes), but I came out better for it. More importantly, I learned how to keep learning if I wanted to be self-sufficient. Self-education is something that can be taught by someone who knows when to leave you alone to ponder what to do next and when to lend a helping hand. Whether that was my dad’s intention or not, I don’t know, and he may not either. But it’s quite possible that Ford Motor Company had a little something to do with it.
Great essay introducing your love of automobiles and, even more importantly, your love of your father. Nice picture of the two of you. Two of the teachers in my life who I remember well and fondly are my junior high school shop teachers. I still have a piece of my woodworking from 1955. In 1962 I was in Detroit and was given a tour of the Rotunda as well as a marvelous tour of the River Rouge Plant. So, you bring back memories. Learning to wait for items for which we would “write away,” is familiar. In 1956, I wrote to The Hungarian Mission to the U.N. asking for a recipe for yeast-raised cake, Baba au Rhum. Six months later i received a complete Hungarian cookbook. By the color illustrations/photographs in the book, I realized that this was a propaganda item for the Soviet Union. I still have the cookbook. May you and your Dad enjoy a close relationship for many more years. Thanks for sharing.
“Write for free literature” was always an invitation to a world of wonder and learning. Companies enjoyed explaining their materials and procedures, and often sent free samples of interesting materials.
Obviously the info is all available now on the web, but the ‘pay for value’ aspect is gone. Send a few stamps or coins or IRCs, and eagerly wait by the mailbox for the Literature.
I enjoyed reading this as I started my day–thanks for sharing everything Ford and the sweet family tale as well.
I remember the days of sending in little reply coupons and such, and counting the days as real life clicked on by—and then the joy of the mailing finally appearing. Yeah, I suppose patience was one of the lessons learned.
My father was a career Ford guy–mostly the Foundry—and it was indeed a hot and dirty place, even with the latest in air-handling equipment. Still, those good-paying UAW jobs gave the men and women working there a solid income for their labor.
I’m not familiar with Professor Whitehead, but I think he’s absolutely right regarding self-development. It was certainly true in my case, and whether with cars or other pursuits, a great deal of my current knowledge originates from “self-development” that I undertook when I was a kid and a young adult, and did things like obsessively read car brochures and price lists.
I love these Ford foldouts, and am particularly fascinated that Ford had a “Research & Information Department” and an “Educational Affairs Department.” Not marketing, advertising, or sales… but information, and education. Times sure change.
Your dad’s Evolution of the Ford and Lincoln posters remind me of a 1930s-era promotional poster that I have from the Reading Railroad. That poster was left in the house that my parents bought when I was 3 years old – the previous owner had worked for Reading and had likely gotten it when new. As a kid, I thought the poster was neat, so my folks didn’t throw it out like they wanted to, but rather let me keep it. I kept it under my bed for 20 years… it’s now framed and in my dining room.
Eric, you should post up a picture of that railroad poster!
Here it is.
The title is “Progress in Transportation 1638-1938” and each image is a transportation milestone from the Philadelphia region over those three centuries (though just a wee bit biased towards trains).
It starts with the first permanent settlement along the Delaware River in 1638 by the Swedish (a Swedish ship is shown at top), and winds its way through to the streamlined Reading Crusader of the late 1930s.
Just one car is on the poster, a Philadelphia-built Duryea, and just one airplane (a primitive early example). Like I mentioned, it’s a bit biased, but I that’s part of the appeal.
Is that a canal boat on the left? After spending a few days at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park outside of Cleveland, I became interested in canal history. What’s left of the old Ohio and Erie Canal runs through the park.
Yes it is! Here’s a close-up of the canal picture:
Ford was certainly more generous than Chevrolet. I wrote to Chevrolet as a nine or ten year old (“Chevrolet, Detroit, Michigan”) asking for historical information and got back a thin little paperback book “The Chevrolet Story”. I was happy to get something, but it was pretty sparse, just showing the annual models, but not much of the details I was craving. This was a bit before I discovered the public library.
I don’t much agree with professor Whitehead’s statement about the ages of greatest intellectual development. It starts a lot sooner, and can go on for a lot longer. Empahsis on “can”.
Oh yes, the days of mailing off a request for information. I sent off to Ford for a couple of editions of their annual “Car Buying Made Easier” booklet – and as expected, it came up with lots of ways to make buying a Ford easier and more appealing.
An offshoot of the days of “For more information, please write to . . . ” was a game my best friend and I played when we were early in high school. We would write for information to those little ads in the back of Popular Mechanics and such – only we would put the other guy’s name and return address there. The Toledo Institute of Meat Cutting was quite good about regular follow-ups to my buddy for quite a long time. 🙂 Perhaps it was people like us that made this practice less common.
I often think about those commercials from the ’80s that advised you to send for informational pamphlets about all sorts of topics, and the address was always Pueblo, Colorado. Is Pueblo the informational capital of America? What are they doing these days? 🙂
I abused Buick’s information hotline in the ’80s as well; their brochures had a 1-800 number, and I would call and ask about axle ratios and such. By call number two, the operator testily reminded me that somebody was paying for these calls. Somebody at Buick was pretty miserable when it came to customer service.
I don’t know about Pueblo, CO there Aaron, but remember “Mail-In Rebates”?
It seemed like ALL of them went to Young America, MN and if memory serves their zip-code was something cool like 55555.
I used to do this with oil change specials and air filter offers and such. Now you do it all online at the Advance Auto Parts website… to mixed results, I might add. I’m STILL waiting on my $15 gift card from all the wiper blades I purchased. ;o)
JPC: I hadn’t thought about those ads in eons, but here we go (1967)—thanks for the entertainment!
At my high school, a few in my circle took it a step farther, have such things mailed to a buddy at the _school_ address, hoping for embarrassment in homeroom when the mailing appeared..
The striking point of this essay to me is the impact made on the child by the Ford response. A loyal lifetime consumer resulted.
I did this too; my correspondents were Ford and Mercedes. Ford was great; they responded quickly to $1.00 mailed in with a coupon from the annual Ford Buyers Guide (available in the Ford showroom) with a 1/25 scale promo Ford model. I know I got a ’60 Falcon and a ’59 or ’60 T-Bird but there were others available, including a blue ’60 Country Sedan. Ford previously had mail campaigns for modestly priced ’58 Edsel and I believe ’55 T-Bird promos.
In “typing” class one year composing business letters was a subject for the teenage students – including me. I chose to write to Dailmler-Benz in Stuttgart to request information on the then newly introduced Mercedes 600. A few weeks later a package from Germany arrived and there was a large, thick 600 brochure and several large, quality black & white photographs. It was a generous reply.
And over the years I have bought more new Ford or Mercedes vehicles than any other brand; I liked those cars in the formative years and somehow their willingness to deal with a person obviously too young to buy anything did cement in a sort of loyalty to both brands.
A $1.00 promo model sounds like a pretty good deal. I just bought a ’65 Mustang promo for $27 shipped, which actually is pretty reasonable these days (and that is why I couldn’t turn it down).
Those materials are treasures today, thank you for sharing.
Don’t feel bad about being a fan of Henry Ford. He was one of the most widely admired people for several decades in the first half of the 20th century.
Yes he had terrible prejudices and enacted cruel and overbearing policies against his own workforce.
But he was admired for his business acumen and engineering skills, which (deserved or not) says something positive about the criteria of the people doing the admiring.
As Constellation points out above, this kind of PR can make for a lifetime customer.
But even if companies have no hope of creating a customer for life, they sometimes respond to written requests.
When I was a kid, I was really into airplanes, especially the commercial airliners. I recall writing to the Boeing Aircraft Company to request materials or literature and they sent me back a bunch of cool stuff. While no models came my way, the one thing I remember most was a picture they had sent of all of their then current jet airliners, arranged by size, with the 747 at the top, and the tiny little 737-100 at the bottom. It was back in the day when their promotional livery was red, white, and black, rather than the blue tones you see on today’s marketing material.
Is a young kid from a suburb east of Baltimore going to be a lifetime consumer of multi-million dollar aircraft? Probably not, although I’ve have flown on a few.
I recall writing to the Martin Guitar Company about my grandfather’s D-28, and they sent me back a bunch of stuff like guitar picks, and a copy of Frets Magazine with the cover article being “The Dreadnought Story”. This was back in the mid-eighties.
Companies STILL do this:
More recently, I was upset that Purina discontinued Molly’s favorite treats and wrote to them… via their website this time… modern age and all… and they sent back a really nice letter explaining their decision to discontinue a product that had been in their lineup since I was little. They included literature on caring for your dog, and the envelope was FULL of coupons, and not the little ones you clip out of the paper. These were for higher dollar amounts, “so that [ I ] can try to find a new treat that Molly will like”.
I was actually kind of impressed that writing to a company still works.
My instance of writing letters for stuff as a kid was not for car literature, but for license plates. I developed an interest in license plates when I was about 10, but way back in the pre-eBay era, they were hard to get, especially for far-away places.
So to build up a collection of license plates, in about 1984 I wrote letters to the governor of every US state, asking for a plate from their state. I got responses from several of them… some sent me Sample plates, but others sent me plates from their own personal cars or from State vehicles, which was very generous. My belated thanks to the then-Governors of Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Wisconsin and Hawaii for making me very pleased back then. Somehow I doubt the same strategy would work today.
I swear this thing hates me today… let me have another crack at this reply. Someone resorted it… Thanks! – but when I tried to edit a minor typo, it disappeared again….
Reply to Eric:
I have always been a license plate geek too Eric, ever since I was about 6 and helped my dad switch out the tags every year in those days on his ’66 Impala. I couldn’t wait until the new ones came in the mail to see what the new number would be!
Imagine my disappointment at 10 or 11 years old in 1971 when we got the new tags for the ’68 Impala and I was told that these would be the last new plates we would get each year as Maryland was going to stickers! “Say it ain’t so!!!”, I exclaimed…
Our car sported CK 7008 for 4 years (’71 thru ’75)! At that time, my Dad sprang for the new Bicentennial Plates for our ’73 LTD… 278 AAP if memory serves.
Now, some Maryland tags can have stickers dating all the way back to 1987, the last time that there was a re-plating of the entire state.
To this day I still notice license plates…. but as usual I digress…
Tying in today’s subject of written correspondence, one day, I wrote an e-mail to someone at the MVA about how to keep my beloved (and literal) BAY plates (750 BAY) and he wrote back a very nice letter with instructions about how I should just let them expire, and then go (in person) to get the new Maryland Proud plates that my Mustang now sports. In Maryland, you must turn in your old tags when you get new ones, if there is still any time left on them. Once expired however, you’re allowed to keep them.
The plan is to have them restored (I think you can do that); peel back the layers hoping to find the “07” sticker; and then use them on the Mustang again once the car has reached Curbside Classic status. In Maryland, you can use old tags on a car, provided they display the year of the car, and you have the REAL “Historic” tags in the trunk. The car has to be 20 years old though, so I’ve go a ways to go.
Seems like the spam filter is having a grumpy day.
I’m glad you have long-term plans for the BAY plates, because those are great. My interest in license plates started when my best friend in elementary school found a pair of California plates when he was rummaging through people’s trash cans in his neighborhood (another thing kids don’t do any more). He kept one and gave me the other… and that started a lifelong hobby for me.
A fun trivia question would be “How many states had Bicentennial plates?”
I don’t know the answer, but this guy has a bunch:
That’s a great question — I don’t readily know the answer.
Of all the bicentennial plates, my favorite is Colorado’s. It’s interesting to me because 1976 marked the state’s centennial, and the nation’s bicentennial, and both the typeface and ’76’ logo are just so quintessentially ’70s.
Here in Virginia, bicentennial plates are still legal to use on a car – I see about one per year.
Fascinating stuff indeed.
I wrote to Ford twice during my childhood. The first time was at the urging of my parents. I always used to love drawing cars, so sent a design of mine which was probably rather dated for the time. But I received a very nice letter from Jack Telnack, along with a beautifully-bound hardcover volume, “The Ford Book of Styling”. Truly a marvellous encouragement, all the more so now that I think about it, but not one which I pursued. Unfortunately my father pasted the letter into the book using too much glue.
The other time was in school. We all had to write to a company, any company, for educational materials. Once again Ford was extremely generous; I think the parcel I received outweighed than anyone else’s, with twenty copies of about half a dozen leaflets and posters. Somewhere I still have my copies – anything automotive has always been a keeper!
Wow; that’s outstanding!
I’d never heard of the Ford Book of Styling, so I looked it up, and it turns out that the Henry Ford Museum has a scanned version available for browsing on their website, and I spent a few minutes looking through it. Nothing would have made me happier as a kid then receiving a book like that from a genuine auto industry designer. Thanks for sharing this letter!
I swung over to the Henry Ford website and flipped through that book too…that is really, really cool. They took some of the graphics and ideas and made this video a year later:
That is a superb artifact, Pete. It couldn’t happen now. The world has become much bigger and more complicated. It’s remarkable to me that he answers your questions with such sincerity, and not some gushing – or alternatively, bloodless – waffle.
I didn’t realize he later became global head of Ford design for some 17 years until his retirement in ’97. Quite the innings in such a field, and significant figure for car nuts everywhere, given what came out under his tenure (including “our” very sweet EA Falc).
He’s still alive: why not drop him a line? Might make a wonderful CC artifact itself.
(Just for you, off-topic, here’s some personal links you might like)
Equally off-topic: Thanks Justy, that’s my old home all right! Waaaaaay upmarket to what it used to be. It was a dump with cracked plaster, condemned wiring and a falling-down fire escape when we lived there. Still, that’s what you got for $20 a week back then. Someone’s sure sunk a lot of money into that place.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Alfred North Whitehead quoted here. My brother and I both studied math at university so I am familiar with his work in mathematics but not with his later work in philosophy and education. My brother is much more intellectual than I am and is a real fan of his. I think he actually has a copy of Principia Mathematica. As a mathematician he was brilliant. One quote from him that I like is “ Every really new idea looks crazy at first”.
I have a copy of the “Evolution of the Ford”, but not in as good shape.
First off – Ford, your response was admirable.
Secondly, anyone who had received that kind of respected reply is entitled to their favorable opinions about that brand. That story ends any debate why you would prefer that brand over any other.
Finally, it is perfectly fine to admire Henry Ford. There is a lot to admire. DC and Marvel heroes are fictional. In reality, we only have imperfect ones. Henry wouldn’t have liked me, and I wouldn’t have liked him, but I would still admire what he accomplished and the products he created.
My Uncle worked as draughtsman for Vauxhall-Bedford and I remember him getting me some material for a school project for which I chose automotive history of some sort when I was about 12. Made for a better school project as far as I was concerned. The teacher seemed to like it too, especially as he didn’t realise the source of the inside information.
Dad was a history teacher. He used to ask his sixth form students (16+) why they wanted to study history. The answer he wanted was “to understand the present” Try to understand Brexit without some background and you’ll almost certainly fail.
Sometimes you’re searching the internet and you come across an old thread that has just the information you’re looking for! Seems my late father received a very similar package from FMC circa 1961, including such exciting titles as “Automotive Stamping Operations” and “A History of Measurement”. “Dream Cars” is definitely my favourite though. He must have really liked one of the pictures on the “Trails to Turnpikes” poster, because that one has been cut out to post on a wall somewhere no doubt. Thanks for writing this up!
You’re welcome – glad I could help!