“Spend Me Ten Million Dollars”

Chetham's LibraryOn Friday I spent the day at Chetham’s Library, where I began to look at a very interesting set of papers from Herbert F. Morton, a Manchester engineer who worked at the Ford plant in Trafford Park from 1917. In 1928 he was appointed by Henry Ford to “spend me ten million dollars”, acquiring material for Ford’s new science museum in America.

This unique commission required Morton to seek industrial history, such as steam engines; but also obey Ford’s every whim, including acquiring and moving a rustic Cotswolds Cottage to America. Morton worked closely with Henry Ford for many years, accompanying him on his UK trips. This including chaperoning Ford on nocturnal walks around London, with a concealed revolver in his pocket in case of trouble.

Before this Morton’s work at Trafford Park, as Plant Engineer, involved making improvements to the production line. A job he had quickly risen to by suggesting and trying improvements from the shop floor. At the time of his rise he had British management. However in the 1920s Americans were sent over to manage operations. Morton held this opinion of them:

“but the rest- and there were many- were loud mouthed and silly – I think Detroit was taking this opportunity to get rid of its misfits, because after a short stay they were recalled and were never heard of again – they did an immense amount of harm whilst they were with us.”

During the period of American management Ford lost its dominant position in the UK car market. More investigation will be needed to see how influential new management was in Ford’s decline.

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