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Edsel B. Ford

Edsel Bryant Ford

1893-1943

Edsel Bryant Ford, the only child of Henry Ford and Clara Bryant, was born in Detroit, Michigan in November, 1893.

As Edsel Ford matured and assumed responsibility in the Ford Motor Co., he and his father watched the development of aviation with interest. In 1921, Edsel Ford subscribed to and became a director of the Detroit Aviation Society, and in 1922 became an officer and director of the Aircraft Development Co. which was formed to build the first all-metal dirigible.

The following year he donated $10,000 to guarantee the prize money for the Pulitzer Trophy Air Race held at Selfridge Field in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. He was elected to the finance committee of the National Aeronautic Association in 1923 and became active in its fund solicitation drive.

By this time the Fords had become aware of William Stout and his efforts to build the first all-metal commercial airplane in the United States, and thus Edsel Ford became a stockholder in the Stout Metal Airplane Co. When the Fords purchased the company in 1925, Henry Ford commented: "This interest in aviation is largely Edsel's idea and he deserves the credit. Airplanes belong to another generation."

Edsel Ford was very active in the promotion of the National Air Tours (1925-1931) that demonstrated to the public the safety and reliability of commercial aviation and the need for modern airfields across the United States.

Edsel Ford was the primary sponsor of Richard Byrd's Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. Ford contributed generously himself and solicited donations from other prominent businessmen. Byrd wrote Edsel Ford regarding these expeditions: "The whole thing would have been impossible without your backing and encouragement. I owe a great deal to a great many people, but I owe more to you than all the rest put together."

With the advent of World War II and the failing health of his father, Edsel Ford was active in the operations of the Ford war production machine epitomized by the vast Willow Run bomber plant, where, as forecasted but widely ridiculed, these mammoth planes were produced at the rate of one an hour.

Edsel Ford passed away in 1943 at the age of 49. He was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 11, 2003.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program