The Four Trials of Henry Ford is a highly recommended pick for any collection strong in American, legal, or transportation history, focusing on the litigation process at the turn of the 20th century. In this era, Ford was not a giant company, but a man whose development efforts threatened the existing Seldon patent on the automobile. But this wasn’t the only litigation Henry faced in the course of developing his Ford brand.
The Dodge brothers also brought suit for shareholder oppression after they initially manufactured Ford’s mechanical car parts, while Ford sued the Chicago Times for libel.
These are just a few examples of the litigious history of Ford covered in The Four Trials of Henry Ford, which provides more than just legal insights into the man and his company, but traces the evolution of both as Henry Ford’s brand took off.
Perhaps most fascinating of all are the insights into a process which involved Ford, shareholders, reporters, and publishers in a series of legal battles whose outcomes ultimately shaped the fate of not only Ford, but other companies of his times.
Even readers not versed or interested in legal processes will find the social, political, economic, and psychological descriptions of these battles to be vivid, exciting, powerful insights: “Henry Ford established his own personal news bureau in Mt. Clemens to provide copy concerning the trial to small town newspapers all over the country. It was an effort to combat the influence of the Tribune with large urban daily newspapers, which tended to identify with the Tribune. Both sides smothered the town with private detectives trying to dig up dirt on potential jurors and witnesses that might be called. Ford agents spread rumors in the community that the Ford Motor Company planned to open a new plant in Macomb County to employ thousands of workers. No stone was left unturned by either side in an effort to obtain an edge in the litigation.”
Gregory R. Piché’s wide-ranging examination of these four major trials, their outcomes, and their lasting impact creates a spirited survey that will appeal to a diverse audience of historians, transportation buffs, legal beagles, and general-interest readers. It’s thoroughly engrossing reading offering many insights and thought-provoking moments.
Piché’s added inclusion of the biographies of individuals involved in Ford’s operations rounds out the book’s historical and technical details with lively surveys that read with the descriptive force of fiction: “Sapiro was an intense presence with dark brown eyes and a zealous, passionate demeanor. He presented a compelling story. His father had died in a train/wagon accident when he was young, and because his mother was unable to support him, Sapiro grew up in an orphanage in San Francisco. He was ambitious and smart. He trained early to become a rabbi at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1908 and later gained a master’s degree in history. Still later, he studied law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, where he graduated at the top of his class in 1911. While giving his class’s commencement address, he attracted the attention of progressive California Governor Hiram Johnson, who had an interest in agricultural reform.”
While it might initially seem that The Four Trials of Henry Ford is a specialty item, it in fact is a strong recommendation for all kinds of readers, who will find Piché’s attention to footnoted, well-researched facts backed by a talent for description. He captures the Ford story in an account that’s atmospheric, compelling, and hard to put down.
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