Henry Ford: The dancing driver-automotive icon and his wife’s pretty feet

Since I brought up Henry Ford in a previous post, I thought I’d reprint an article I published on The Happy Historian blog (predecessor to Hometown History Tours) back in January 2008.


Race car driver and celebrity Helio Castroneves is reaping tons of publicity for his soft-shoe on Dancing with the Stars. Well, dancing and driving isn’t something new. Henry Ford, a one-time race car driver as well as an automotive empire builder, liked to dance too.
People attribute Henry Ford’s success to his business savvy and engineering prowess. Smart guys, however, are a dime a dozen and Henry Ford needed something to make him stand out from all the other smart guys seeking corporate financiers.
Things were going badly for Henry Ford in the summer of 1901. The Detroit Automobile Company,  Ford’s first automobile company, had failed leaving his  financial backers dubious of  his talents as an engineer and businessman. Building and racing a successful race car could re-establish his credibility!

Ford and his associates entered a car called Sweepstakes, named after the race itself, on October 10, 1901, at a horse racing track in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Henry’s opponent in the race was Alexander Winton, a successful auto manufacturer and the country’s best known race car driver.

No one gave the inexperienced and unknown Ford a chance. When the race began, Ford fell behind immediately, trailing by as much as 300 yards. But Henry improved his driving technique quickly, gradually cutting into Winton’s lead. Then, Winton’s car developed mechanical trouble, and Ford swept past him on the main straightaway with the crowd roaring with approval.

Henry’s wife Clara described the scene in a letter to her brother:

“The people went wild. One man threw his hat up and when it came down he stamped on it. Another man had to hit his wife on the head to keep her from going off the handle. She stood up in her seat … screamed “I’d bet $50 on Ford if I had it.'”

Henry Ford’s victory had the desired effect. New investors backed Ford in his next venture, the Henry Ford Company. (Information obtained from The Henry Ford)

NOW THAT I’VE ESTABLISHED HENRY FORD AS A RACE CAR DRIVER, IT’S ON TO THE DANCING

“I am not thinking so much of teaching children to dance, but of teaching children courtesy and conduct that go with dancing.” Henry Ford

Henry Ford had a great passion for old-fashioned dancing. Yes, he would have thought the Samba vulgar! Ford’s passion for dance is the reason behind the establishment of Lovett Hall, a beautiful reception center on the grounds of Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford.

Ford believed dancing taught people much needed social skills that would help them not only in social settings but in the business world as well. Therefore, all his chief staff members had to learn to dance and attend dancing socials regularly. Even Ford thug Harry Bennett!

A newspaper reporter once saw a lady purchasing boxes of dance slippers from a local exclusive retailer. When the reporter inquired as to  “Who would buy all those shoes?”

the clerk responded:

“Don’t you recognize her? That is Mrs. Henry Ford. She comes in twice a year. She has pretty feet, and her husband likes her to wear dainty slippers. They dance together quite a lot, you know.”

Read more about this aspect of the legendary Henry Ford in:
Henry Ford and Benjamin B. Lovett, The Dancing Billionaire and the Dancing Master,
Eva O’Neal Twork,
Harlo Press, 1982

Happy History! Remember, history is all around you. Seek it out!

Karin Risko,
The Happy Historian

If you like this article on Henry Ford, you might also enjoy a previously published article I wrote on another legendary local  automobile manufacturer Preston Tucker – Lincoln Park kid cop becomes automotive icon: Preston Tucker’s local story and Traces of Tucker in Lincoln Park and Downriver.
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