The wealthy industrialist, born in Michigan and nearly synonymous with the automobile industry in the United States, was proud to receive a signal award from one of his greatest admirers. At 75 years of age, Henry Ford - the man who built affordable automobiles for America and the world - had transformed his country and industrial production in ways that would long outlive him.
But it was not only automobiles that possessed Henry Ford's soul. Ford also wished to transform society in ways that he felt would suit his particular vision for America. For example, he built a small town in Michigan's Northern Peninsula in hopes of creating a modern Arcadia where rugged woodsmen could support themselves with a little farming and trade. In Washtenaw County, near Ann Arbor MI, he built a small tobacco production facility in hopes of revolutionizing rural life.
But there was yet another geni that occupied Ford's thoughts. An inveterate anti-Semite, Ford was responsible for publishing that fraudulent czarist diatribe known as "The Protocols of Zion," a work that would form the supposed factual basis of hatred towards Jews worldwide. "The Protocols" would be cited by Nazis and other bigots to justify their persecution of Jews from the beginning of the 20th century and well into the dark period of European history as death camps and extermination emerged like deathly toadstools from the soil both Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler tilled. Henry Ford gave flight to the nascent anti-Semitism in Europe and America that had infected the ground for centuries, as others concentrated on the racist and pseudo-scientific theory of eugenics that held that Jews and supposedly "unfit" races should not even exist.
Ford also published "The International Jew," and then faced boycotts of his products. While he was to express contrition for publishing these and other anti-Semitic rants, both "The Protocols of Zion" and "The International Jew" would be later reprinted.
So it was that on June 30, 1938, as Ford celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday that Germany Vice Consult Fritz Hailer, resident in Detroit, presented the American industrialist titan the highest award Germany's National Socialist regime could offer. That day, Vice Consult Hailer pinned the Grand Cross of the German Eagle on the proud chest of Henry Ford at the Dearborn headquarters of the eponymous automobile firm. The diplomat explained the Der Fuehrer Adolf Hitler wanted to express appreciation for how Ford made automobiles available to the masses. Hitler may have also wished to show appreciation for the Ford Motor Company's help in producing vehicles for the Wehrmacht, which were used to such great effect in Poland in 1939.
Ford was Adolf Hitler's idol. And it was Ford who was the only American named in Der Fuehrer's infamous book, "Mein Kampf." It was Ford's portrait that hung in Hitler's personal office.
The Grand Cross of the German Eagle, presented to Henry Ford, remain in the collection of the magnate's personal goods. It is not known, however, whether it is on display.