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  • 1958: Ford Motor Company

    In 1958, the U.S. automotive manufactures had low retail sales due the recession. As a result of the decline in factory sales, Ford Motor Company operated at a loss during their second and third quarters of the year. Totals for the year equaled $4,130 million, 25% below sales of 1957. Net income, after taxes, amounted to $96 million, 66% below the net income of 1957. Although crippling, Ford Motor Company soon had a great turn around the year ahead with the development of their new 1958 product line.

    On September 4, 1957, the new Ford Edsel model was introduced to the public. The new model was intended to take advantage of the expanding medium price field and to fill a perceived void between Ford and Mercury vehicles. Ford also introduced its new two-seater Thunderbird model with its unit body design that was built on the same assembly plant as the Lincoln. The vehicle was later referred to as the “Square-Birds” and become very popular among the buying public. Ford’s fourth quarter turned out to be a successful one for not only did the consumer demand for cars and trucks increase but also the economy recovered as well. Production increased and factory sales of the company’s car and truck models improved substantially. During the recession period of 1958, there were many talented individuals who help shape Ford’s Leadership team. Mr. Henry Ford II and Mr. Ernest R. Breech were two major influences for the company. During 1958, Mr. Henry Ford II was the President and Chief Executive Officer for the company.

    In 1945, Mr. Ford became President, after the retirement of his grandfather, the late Mr. Henry Ford. His journey began with bringing in new management personal and directing a multi-billion dollar expansion and modernization program. One of his greatest successes, marked the year of the big change in Ford’s design history, the 1949 Ford.

    In 1946, Mr. Ernest R. Breech joined Ford Motor Company as Executive Vice President. By 1955, Mr. Breech also became Chairman of the Board of Directors and was also Vice Chairman of the Business Advisory Council of the United States Department of Commerce.

    Another member of the 1958 Ford management team included Mr. Robert S. McNamara, known as one of the “Whiz Kids”. The “Whiz Kids” team was a slogan that Henry Ford gave his talented team. In 1946, Mr. McNamara’s career started with Ford Motor Company as he managed the Financial Analysis Department. By 1955, he became the Vice President and General Manager and by 1957, he was elected as Group President of the car and truck division. After his work with Ford Motor Company, President John F. Kennedy asked him to become his secretary of defense.


    Another member of the team included Mr. James O. Wright who became Vice President and General Manager. Mr. Wright deployed many great talents and was also recognized as one of the talented “Whiz Kids”. Mr. Charles R. Becham was the former Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the division. Seated in the foreground in the Styling Design department was William C. Ford, Vice President, who was in charge of Product Planning and Styling.

    After his graduation from Yale University in 1949, Mr. Ford worked in charge of the Company's Sales and Advertising and Industrial Relations department. He also became Vice President and Group Director Lincoln and Continental Divisions. Later he subsequently was appointed Vice President for Product Planning and Styling, and Chairman of the Product Planning Committee.


    Another talented member among the Ford’s design team was Mr. George W. Walker. One of his major accomplishments included the 1949 Ford models, along with the 1950 Lincolns, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, and 1959 Ford models. For more information on Mr. George W. Walker, please refer to our previous Story of the Week published on May 9, 2011 titled “Mr. George Walker – Leader in Automotive Styling”.

    Seating behind William C. Ford was Mr. Richard E Krafve, Vice President and former General Manager of the Edsel Division. The photograph at the Dearborn Test Track, featuring the new 1958 Mercury and Lincoln models were Mr. James J. Nance, Vice President and General Manager, M-E-L Division which stood for Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln.

    Before his relationship with Ford, Mr. Nance worked at Studebaker/Packard, he helped orchestrate the 1954 Packard acquisition of the Studebaker corporation which created the Studebaker/Packard corporation in 1954. Unfortunately at Ford, Mr. Nance's, journey was short lived because after poor sales with the Edsel, he resigned under pressure from top Ford executives in 1959. In 1958, Mr. Ben D. Mills, was Vice President and assistant General Manager of the division.


    The last photograph in this story features Mr. Delmar S. Harder, former Executive Vice President for basic manufacturing divisions. Mr. Harder joined Ford in 1946 and by 1948; he became the Vice President of manufacturing. He was a key executive in the company’s postwar facilities expansion and modernization program. Mr. Harder won national recognition for introducing automation in pressed steel and engine manufacturing processes. Along with Mr. Harder were Mr. Earl G. Ward, Vice President of Purchasing, and Mr. Dwillard J. Davis, who was Vice President of Manufacturing.



    To summarize, there were many great talented men who worked as part of Ford’s management team. Although they are no longer with us, their great contributions and legacy will live on forever as part of the rich automotive history.

    A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of Bob Tate’s personal collection. (Bibliography: Ford Motor Company Annual Report 1957.)

    Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org. If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email Lisa Ambriez at lambriez@motorcities.org.