Henry Ford appears to have an unending attraction for biographers, both amateur and professional. Wik is a professional with a lifetime of research in farm technology to apply to his subject. He is undertaking here to explain Ford's relationship to rural America: on one side, why and how rural America regarded Ford as a folk hero; on the other, Ford's own attitudes toward farmers and farming. There is something ironic in the picture. In his youth Ford so thoroughly detested farm life that he left home as soon as he could to work with machinery in nearby Detroit. As a successful industrialist he considered himself as having a special mission to use mechanization for the benefit of the farmer, and rural America came to regard him as a miracle worker with a special understanding of farm problems.
Professor Wik has skillfully used newspapers and magazines, public relations and advertising statements, and much archival material to depict this phenomenon. He gives the reader detailed accounts of the impact of the Model T on rural life, Ford's efforts at tractor development, his experiments with soybeans, his plan for fertilizer production at Muscle Shoals, and above all, how farmers saw Henry Ford.
There may even be too much detail. At several points this reviewer found himself wishing for more of what Wik thinks and less of what the editor of a small town paper or a Ford public relations man had to say. Not that the unearthing of these opinions is to be denigrated; it is a valuable historical achievement, but then the reader, or at least this reviewer, would like to know how a mature scholar like Wik interprets it. For example, Chapter 5 is largely a compilation of contemporary opinions pro and con the Fordson tractor. Wik is correct in stating that "No account of the social impact of the farm tractor has ever been written" (p. 99), and to present such an account was not his purpose. But the author does discuss Ford's contribution to farm mechanization in a way that avoids rather than faces the issue. It also seems odd to have Harry Ferguson mentioned only once (p. 97), and then with no reference to his relationship with Ford.
Wik offers his own evaluations of Ford in the context of this book. He agrees with practically everyone who has tried it that Ford is a difficult personality to interpret. Two points call for comment. Wik credits Ford with considerable scientific acumen, more so than Ford's other biographers, in practical matters like plant chemistry and plastics. On the other hand he attempts, not too successfully, to dismiss Ford as an inventor or even an innovator in automotive matters. Is it really worth while belaboring the fact that Ford did not invent the automobile and was not the first to dream of the cheap car or to try to realize it? What matters historically is that none of Ford's predecessors could make the dream come true and Henry Ford did.