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.