December 14, 1940

Original Source Documents:   The Nation - December 14, 1940 - Page 595

                                                 The Nation - December 14, 1940 - Page 596

Contributor:    Todd Paisley

Source:  The Nation Digital Archives




December 14, 1940                                                                             The NATION


Behind the Ford Contract



Washington, December 9


EDWARD F. McGRADY has many friends here.

He was labor trouble-shooter for Newton D. Baker in the last war and for Hugh Johnson during the NRA. His appointment to a similar position under Secretary of War Stimson has won wide approval. This is the story of the first of the hot potatoes he must handle. HIS friends say that he thrives on them.

The story concerns Henry Ford and the readiness of the Administration to keep its word to labor. “In times of emergency even more than !n ordinary times,” Secretary Stimson told the A. F. of L. convention at New Orleans on November 18, “the responsible trade union is an indispensable Instrument of national well-being because through it the free cooperation of labor is enlisted and assured in the national task which confronts us.” Presumably the Defense Commission agrees. For in the statement of labor policy Issued by It on August 31 it said that “all work carried on as part of the defense program should comply with federal statutory provisions affecting labor.” The Wagner Act was specially mentioned in that statement as one of the statutes to be enforced on defense contracts. Ford, with no fewer than six Labor Board decisions outstanding against him, one of them already upheld in the United States Circuit Court, is the country’s foremost violator of the Wagner Act. Yet he has just been awarded his second contract.

This new contract involves some unusual angles here brought to public attention for the first time. The excuse for the first contract, awarded the day after the election, was the desperate need for plane engines. Ford was given a $122,000,000 contract for some 3,000 air-cooled Pratt and Whitney engines. There is no such excuse for the second contract, which was cleared by the Defense Commission on November 27. This is a $2,000,000 contract, of which $600,000 is for light five passenger cars and $1,400,000 for trucks. Both cars and trucks could have been purchased elsewhere. If Mr. McGrady will investigate that part of the contract which is for trucks he will find that certain officials of the Defense Commission and the War Department have gone out of their way to favor Ford. He will learn not only that the award of this contract to Ford has angered labor’s representatives on the Defense Commission and precipitated a bitter behind-the-scenes fight but also that It has disgusted many ranking officers of the army. For Ford is being permitted to “muscle in” and reap the benefit of an important new development in mechanized warfare, with great peace-time potentialities, although the army itself and a small manufacturer cooperating with the army did the pioneering. Mr. McGrady will discover that the Defense Commission cleared the Ford contract even though Ford has yet to meet the army’s specifications for these trucks. Pressure is now being brought to bear by Ford and by his friends on the commission and in the War Department to change the specifications to meet what Ford can produce rather than what the army needs.

The “trucks,” as they are called in the Defense Commission release, are actually not trucks at all but a new type of four-wheel-drive midget car which can serve many purposes. It can go cross-country. It can be used for reconnaissance. It can be converted into a moving machine-gun nest. It can bring up supplies to men and fuel to tanks. The idea for such a car seems to have originated several years ago with Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Howie, stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was scoffed at in military circles until the German attack on the Low Countries and France showed that the Nazis were using a similar vehicle. The Quartermaster Corps remained skeptical until Charles H. Payne, assistant to the head of the Bantam Automobile Company at Butler, Pennsylvania, managed to reach Harry Woodring, then Secretary of War. Woodring saw the possibilities in this midget military vehicle. A technical committee representing ordnance, Infantry, cavalry, and Quartermaster Corps went to the Bantam plant. Plans were worked out by army officers and Bantam. Bids were asked in June for seventy cars. Only Bantam and Willys Overland bid, and the former was awarded the contract. Bantam built the seventy cars within the time limit set, and they met with an enthusiastic reception when they were given a test about six weeks ago at Fort Myer.

The Ford Company had been watching developments closely. Ford representatives appeared at the Bantam plant after the first contract was awarded. I am told that they said they were not interested in bidding on the midget military car but wanted to see if they could sell Bantam the Ford motor or any parts They examined the drawings and discussed plans with Bantam officials. After the test at Fort Myer the army decided to order 1,500 cars for extended field tests. The order was to go to Bantam, but the Quartermaster Corps made an informal commitment to Ford and Willys Overland for 500 cars each. The Quartermaster Corps was overruled, and the contract for the 1,500 went to Bantam. The contract was cleared on November 25. Meanwhile Influence had been brought to bear on the Defense Commission, and the Defense commission in turn brought pressure on the army. It was decided to “develop other sources of supply” and to give a contract for 1,500 each to Ford and Willys-Overland provided they could meet specifications. The most important specification is that of weight, which is set at 2,000 pounds so that the car will be light enough to be picked up by its crew. The Willys-Overland car is said to be 400 pounds heavier than that; the Ford about 200 pounds heavier. Yet a contract was cleared on November 27 for Ford, and a revision upward of the weight specification is being sought.

Huge orders for ten-and-a-half-ton trucks go to General Motors on the ground that to give one manufacturer a large order permits “standardization.” But although 8,000 or 10,000 of these midget cars are all that the army is likely to want, the orders are to be split among three manufacturers on the ground of “developing additional sources of supply.” Ford may or may not be able to meet specifications and begin production at once. Bantam needs the order, and Butler, Pennsylvania, needs the extra employment. Bantam could concentrate on the midget car and turn out all the army needs within a year. To give the work to Bantam would spread defense work, reward a small manufacturer for cooperating with the army, make it unnecessary to award another defense contract to a Wagner Act violator.

Behind Ford’s eagerness to get the contract is the hope that after the war this midget car can be developed into an all-purpose farm machine which can pull a plow by day and take the family to the movies at night. The “bottleneck” is the Spicer axle used in these cars, and the next step will be an attempt to obtain priority for Ford on the axles. This contract, though cleared by the Defense commission, cannot take effect until Ford meets army specifications or the specifications are changed. There is still time to show labor that the Defense Commission and the War Department intend to keep their promises.


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