Yes, in addition to churning out motor vehicles, the Ford Motor Company once released films on a weekly basis.
Their motion picture department was one of the largest studios outside of Hollywood. By 1920, Ford films had 10–12 million viewers in theaters across the United States, plus foreign countries like France, Mexico, and Japan, according to the company newsletter.
While we usually associate Ford with the automobile assembly line, some of his films show other industrial processes (and cover a wide range of topics outside of industry as well). The 1920 film Playthings of Childhood / The Doll’s House provides a less common way to introduce the assembly line and industrialization to students: through toy-making.
The Ford collection is unique in the holdings of the National Archives since most of our records were created by the Federal Government. In 1963 the Ford Company donated the historical films, covering 1914–1945, to the National Archives.
The Archives premiered a film highlighting the collection and Henry Ford’s interest in moving pictures — Mirror of America. It serves as an introduction to the Ford films and cover topics such as:
- women in the workforce;
- commemoration of the Civil War;
- WWI, new weaponry, efforts on the homefront, and wartime mobilization;
- presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Warren G. Harding;
- how cars, electrification, and running water changed American life;
- camping with Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison;
- and, of course, a plug for the Model T with a look into the Model T assembly line: “A car comes off the end of the line every 10 seconds.”
You can learn much more about Mirror of America and the Ford films in the post “Henry Ford’s Mirror of America,” excerpts of which were adapted for this post, on our sister blog, The Unwritten Record.