Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, is remembered for many accomplishments: he invented the Model T Ford and pioneered industrial innovations including large-scale industrial plants, standardized interchangeable car parts, and the first moving industrial line for cars. According to a 1999 Gallup Poll, Ford was the 16th most admired person in the 20th century,

Yet Ford has a darker legacy, too. He was a virulent anti-Semite and his odious writings about Jews inspired Hitler and continue to inspire Jew-haters to this day. When a small Michigan magazine, the Dearborn Historian, recently wrote about this, the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, where the Ford Motor Company is headquartered, banned the distribution of the magazine and then fired its editor. (The magazine was published by a Dearborn historical society whose members are appointed by the mayor.) Mayor John “Jack” O’Reilly explained by saying that the magazine article “could become a distraction from our continuing messages of inclusion and respect” that he wants Dearborn to be known for today.

The mayor’s logic flawed. Ford’s legacy of hatred continues to provoke anti-Jewish hatred around the world. Instead of sweeping it under the carpet it’s vital that we shine a light on it and forcefully condemn – not suppress – Ford’s anti-Semitism today.

A hundred years ago, Ford was a beloved American figure. Model T’s had been in production for a decade, bringing motor travel within the grasp of ordinary middle-class Americans. His famous $5 a day production line wage represented a step forward for working conditions at the time. Reporters routinely covered his every move. Popular and beloved, Ford ran for Senate in 1918 and was only narrowly defeated.

The following year Ford formed a publishing company and bought the small weekly newspaper the Dearborn Independent. With no news experience, Ford started to lose money on the paper. “Find an evil to attack” one of Ford’s new hires, an experienced journalist named Joseph J. O’Neil urged. “Let’s find some sensationalism.” Ford knew just whom to attack: Jews. He marked his newspaper’s new emphasis with the headline “The International Jew: The World’s Problem” in 1920.

Soon, the Dearborn Independent was insulting and slandering Jews with every issue. “There is no other racial or national type which puts forth this kind of person” Ford’s newspaper asserted, slanderously writing that Jews were untrustworthy, greedy, treacherous and controlled global politics and financial systems. The relentless attacks proved popular and the Dearborn Independent started making a profit and gaining readers. Soon, the sleepy little local newspaper had a circulation approaching a million subscribers and was one of the biggest publications in the country.

Ford wanted to spread his nefarious lies about Jews to an even wider audience. Between 1920 and 1923, he wrote four books attacking Jews and describing them as uniquely evil and dangerous. The International Jew came out in 1920 and was followed by three sequels. All four volumes falsely accused Jews of controlling the world, being single-mindedly malevolent and dangerous, seeking to harm Christians, and of manufacturing claims of the deadly pogroms that were then sweeping Europe. They freely borrowed material from a famous Russian anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which falsely purported to be the minutes of a meeting of Jews gathering to plot their evil control of the world.

Ford’s books were immediate successes, translated into twelve languages and distributed world-wide. In in its first two years, The International Jew sold over 2 million copies. The fact that it bore Henry Ford’s name only added to its appeal and sense of respectability among people who admired the world-famous businessman. Ford was so intent on his hateful message reaching a wide audience that he refused to copywrite the books so that anyone was free to publish them without permission. Even today, the books remain in circulation, with no copywrite limiting their dissemination.

One early fan of Ford’s books was Adolf Hitler. In 1931, a reporter travelling from Detroit to Munich to interview Hitler and was startled to see a large picture of Henry Ford hanging on the wall above Hitler’s desk. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration” Hitler explained.

Back home in the United States, some outraged Jews and others were boycotting Ford products. Faced with the prospect of damage to his profits, Ford stopped the Dearborn Independent’s weekly anti-Jewish slanders, and in 1927 Ford made what was widely regarded at the time as a half-hearted apology for his relentless attacks on Jews. But his books continued to flourish, finding readers around the globe.

Henry Ford died in 1947, and in the decades since, his family and the Ford Motor Company have repudiated his anti-Semitism. Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, in particular, supported many Jewish organizations and charities. When the Holocaust movie Schindler’s List came out in 1997, the Ford Motor Company sponsored a nation-wide commercial-free screening on American television.

Yet the anti-Semitism of Henry Ford in the 1920s continues to affect the world today. The International Jew and his other anti-Semitic books remain widely available.

Dozens of editions are listed on Amazon alone, with many boasting hundreds of glowing five-star reviews. Extremists use Ford as a source of inspiration and validation of their odious hatred.

This hatred has real world consequences. Anti-Semitic incidents have been rising globally; in the United States, the number of anti-Semitic attacks rose 37% between 2016 and 2017. In Britain, they rose 34%. A major 2014 study by the Anti-Defamation League found that over a quarter of the world’s population harbors anti-Semitic feelings.

At the same time, the number of people doubting figures about anti-Jewish attacks and violence is growing as well. A 2019 poll found that about a third of Britons know little or nothing about the Holocaust, while 5% had never heard of it. In France, 20% of people aged 18-34 have never heard of the Holocaust. In the United States, 9% of millennials have never heard of the Holocaust, and over 40% of people do not know what Auschwitz was.

This situation cries out for more education, not less. Instead of hiding Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism and whitewashing his legacy, we need to use it to educate our children about the disastrous consequences of Ford’s writings and how to counter them. It’s a terrible mistake to deliberately forget the past. We need to confront Henry Ford’s legacy head-on, exposing and debunking the anti-Semitism he espoused.

Click here to read the banned article in the Dearborn Historian, “100 Years Later, Dearborn Confronts the Hate of Hometown Hero Henry Ford.”