The Man Who Changed the World


Fifty-nine years ago, on April 7, 1947 a man who changed the face of the planet died. At the age of eighty-three he left his legacy and his empire to his son. Generation after generation the legacy has passed from father to son. How can a humble farm boy be connected with over 3.3 million deaths in the USA over the past 60 years? How can this same man have had an influence on the rein of terror that was Hitler? How can the war in Iraq be connected to him?

A former UK Environment Minister and Member of British Parliament was quoted “The reason for the Iraq war is to dominate supplies in times of increasing market volatility when oil prices may rise to $100 or $150 per barrel. Indirectly connecting the war to our need to secure oil.”

Born on June 30, 1863 to an Irish father and Dutch mother he was one of six children. The youngster spent much of his time thinking of ways to make hard farm labor easier. Not wanting to be just another farmer he had big ideas of changing the shape of the world, later he said in his book,

“We have only started on our development of our country – we have not as yet, with all our talk of wonderful progress, done more than scratch the surface… When one speaks of increasing power, machinery, and industry there comes up a picture of a cold, metallic sort of world in which great factories will drive away the trees, the flowers, the birds, and the green fields. And that then we shall have a world composed of metal machines and human machines. With all of that I do not agree. I think that unless we know more about machines and their use, unless we better understand the mechanical portion of life, we cannot have the time to enjoy the trees, and the birds, and the flowers, and the green fields.”

He left the farm at the age 16 and went to work as a machinist, married by age 24 he ran a sawmill to support himself and his new bride. By age 38 he was hired to work for Thomas Edison, at his newly invented Edison Illuminating Company. He was promoted to chief engineer by 1893. Eager to make his mark on the world he began working on weekends and evenings in a small shop behind his own home on his own invention. He soon opened his own business and the rest was history.

By 1914 when the world was at war he was worth $25 million. He was paying his employees $2.85 per day for a 9 hour workday. By 1916 he was worth $60 million, he raised the pay of his mostly immigrant workforce to $5 per day and reduced the workday to 8 hours. He was a man of many ideas and when World War I broke out he sent a pacifist ship on a voyage to try and bring peace. He made a failed attempt at the State Senate and created an Indoor and Outdoor Museum holding the machines of the past.

This young inventor also purchased a controversial newspaper. His paper printed anti-Semitic articles, more than 81 in all. These writings were based on The Protocol of the Learned Elders of Zion that was heralded by the Russian Tsar in 1901 to be the plan of the Jews to take over the world.

The successful inventor picked up on these rumored falsified documents and reprinted them under the name The Jewish Question in America and 700,000 copies went into circulation during 1920-1922. Later he republished these writings in a book The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem and 500,000 copies were sold. This book is still available today, just Google it.

At the Nuremberg Tribunal, Baldur von Shirach, Hitler Youth Leader, said he had been influenced through reading these books. The work was also quoted in Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler. So in a way you could add the young inventors name to the list of responsible propaganda that indirectly lead to the Holocaust.

The humorist and author Will Rogers when speaking of this man who changed the direction of life, was quoted as saying, “It will take one hundred years to see if he helped us or hurt us, but he certainly didn’t leave us where he found us.”

In the USA alone over the past decades an average of 50,000 persons die each year in motor vehicle accidents. Those numbers have declined to 20,000 per year in recent years as cars have become safer due to airbags, seatbelt laws and legislation of safety.

In 1903 when Henry Ford created the Ford Motor Company and began the mass production of his gasoline powered car, and the Model T’s starting rolling off the assembly line could he possibly have known what this invention was going to do to the world? Did Ford ever imagine it to be this way? He mass-produced and sold his Model T for as low as $99 each so every American could own one…and just over 60 years later 3.3 million have died.

If we were told, an invention is coming that will cost 3.3 million lives in just over 60 years would we allow it to be made? I would hope the answer would be, NO. Is Hitler’s use of Ford’s writings to defend his Holocaust, and the Gulf Wars fought over the need for crude oil part of the Ford legacy? If Henry were alive today to see how he changed the very world we live in, would he do anything differently? Although he was not the only or even the first man to have the idea of the gas powered car, he was the one who mass produced it and put it within reach of all.

In his book The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck saw the gasoline-powered tractor as one cause of the great depression, and the poverty that followed. By ending one way of life, we begin a new one, it comes with a great price tag attached and it’s not always a better one. Where will Bill Gates’ invention take us?

Sondra Hickman is the author of Before Life Got Complicated (2006). Sondra was born in Tennessee, raised in South Carolina and lives in New York.