Thursday, March 15, 2012

Working for Ford in 1940

from Wikipedia
The 1940s census is coming out soon. If you aren't into genealogy or family history, this won't mean much. But if you're part of that community, the event is every bit as exciting as the release of a new Harry Potter book. I'll be helping to index this important census. If you'd like to help too or if you'd like to find out more you can check out The 1940 Census.

My favorite folks from the 1940s are my parents who are both in their nineties. I know where Momma was but in 1940 but wasn't as sure about Dad. These memories are what he came up with when I asked.

Dad was working for Ford Motor Company because his dad's first cousin, Clem Davis, was the number twelve star man. A star man was a manager and they were evidently ranked in order of importance, Henry Ford being number one. So no worries about Dad getting a job.

I think most folks know that Henry Ford always paid high salaries in part to stave off unionization. Dad remembers that his pay was eight dollars a day. He lived with his Uncle Bill and Aunt Jane and paid them ten dollars a week for room and board. His uncle also worked for Ford. Raises were in nickel increments. Dad got a couple of five cents raises that his uncle didn't which made him better paid than his uncle. I have to wonder how hard that was on his uncle who had already started his family.

Dad worked on the assembly line at the River Rouge Plant. His job was on the Michigan Dealers line. It supplied car dealers in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois with parts. This line moved to Highland Park while he worked there.

His first job was to look at an order, decide if the part was in his section, pull the part and sign off on it. He later moved into the crib. This was where the expensive small parts like spark plugs were kept. He remembers that security checked his lunchbox on the way out from time to time. Anyone found with a part in their lunchbox was immediately fired.

The most touching part of the story was about his uncle Bill. He said that Uncle Bill worked on a line lifting tires all day. At first he wasn't in shape to finish the day but that a strong black man next to him covered his work as well as his own until he could do the job. This is interesting to me because of the racial equality that existed on the line and also because of the kindness and cooperation there must have been among the employees.

Dad worked swing shift which meant he had plenty of time to play tennis and even get a year's worth of college credit at a local community college.

He said he learned a lot of things during that short period at Henry Ford. At the college, he learned French. At the job he learned to keep good records in the parts crib. He learned to play tennis in his free time. And at his uncle's house, he learned to play penny ante poker. They let him play until he started beating everyone.

All those skills turned out to be useful in the next phase of his life.

In 1940, dad enlisted in the Navy because he knew he would be drafted. He chose the Navy because another uncle had told him that he'd be fed well and taken care of. And that's another story.


  1. Great post! My dad was also a Navy Man from 1943-1946.

  2. Wow, great post and great memories from your father. I'm going to spend some time talking to my parents as well to see what they remember, although both were pretty young at the time of the census (5 and 3)...they will still be able to share a lot about the 1940s.

    If you have a minute, would love to hear your thoughts about my posting, which is about hypertext technology...that started in the 1940s, believe it or not.

    1. That was a fascinating post. Thanks!