Student Summer Scholars


The Sincerity of Reform: Henry Ford's Five-Dollar Day and the Ideological Underpinnings of Progressive Era Reform



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The Ford Motor Company's Five-Dollar Day labor program led to a multifaceted array of philanthropic initiatives that ran between 1914 and 1921. An impetus of reform found its genesis in the Five-Dollar Day. The progressive spirit within the company led many executives to initiate programs influenced by their own connection to intellectual discourses within the public discussion of social concerns. Often, historians have sought to analyze the entire history of the company or Henry Ford himself, especially with concern for a production orientation. Contrary to this focus, this research shows that between 1914 and 1921 the Ford Motor Company utilized massive financial resources to implement intellectually motivated reforms within their employment base and the City of Detroit. Though diverse, the reforms shared a common focus in direct and immediate action. The financial capacity to employ wide and powerful reforms, coupled with a production oriented attitude demanding quick results, made these programs dangerously effective in yielding results. Through this study, a brief and intense example of welfare capitalism illustrates the implications of broad corporate reach.