A 1922 New York Times Magazine article argued that Henry Ford proved the promise of America’s free market system, during the exact same period as Vladimir Lenin proved the inexorably grim fate of the opposite economic system:
The twentieth century opened with a struggle between Capital and the Commune, which the war brought sharply to an issue, and a test case was this country. What Lenin did was to prove that the Commune, however honest, must fail. What Ford did was to prove that Capital, unless dishonest, must succeed. And with those two propositions, thus personified, one can safely buy Liberty bonds and sleep sound in one’s bed.
How rich was Ford in 1922? I’m actually having trouble tracking down figures for that exact year, but in 1918, Forbes ranked him as tied for the #8 richest person in America with approximately $100M. Likely he at least maintained that rank, if not improved upon it a few spots, by 1922.
You’ve probably heard of at least two of the people ranked tied or ahead of Ford in 1918: oil baron John D. Rockefeller at #1 and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie at #3. Interestingly, four of the nine people whose wealth Ford either tied or exceeded in 1918 would be dead by 1922.
P.W. Wilson concluded his 1922 piece about Ford with a reflection on how much Ford’s invention helped the lives of those middle-class and even lower-class Americans whose wealth he now monumentally exceeded:
He is, I suppose, very rich. Yet it is the very poor who least grudge him the wealth. Henry — it is thought — is entitled to his pay envelope, even if it be a fat one.
Ford, Democracy, and the Motor Car
Published: Sunday, September 24, 1922