At the height of World War II, Henry Ford was a depressed man. As a committed pacifist, he abhorred the war talk that was consuming America no end. Germany had invaded Poland, causing Britain and France to declare war against the Nazis. But Ford was convinced that neutrality was the United State’s only sane policy.
Pressure had built upon him from the Roosevelt administration to convert his plowshares into swords to help crush the Nazis by mass-producing airplanes. The White House, Ford lamented, was being run by a cabal of immoral fools. In such gloom, however, he found a ray of hope In Mahatma Gandhi.
Disdainful of imperialism, Ford hoped that Gandhi’s acts of civil disobedience would force the British out of the sub-continent. Ford had another good news from India-his automobiles sold exceedingly well in Bombay and Calcutta. Filled with such pro-India sentiments Ford wrote Gandhi a fan letter which said, “You are one of the greatest men the world has ever known. May God help you and guide your lofty work.” The letter was carried by T A Raman, London editor of the United Press of India.
Gandhiji was delighted and surprised to receive such a generous, personal letter from Henry Ford. He embraced the Ford note as a good omen- a declaration from the most famous industrialist-pacifist alive.
Gandhiji wanted to convey his regards to Ford. Raman asked Gandhiji whether he could take back the message in the shape of the simple machine with which his name is associated-the spinning wheel. Gandhiji agreed instantly and sent his disciple Madeleine Slade to fetch an old spinning wheel he had used. He autographed it in Hindi and English twice over.
As he was signing Raman said jokingly,” Ford seems to think that you are the only sensible man in the world. “Gandhiji laughed at this and while handing over the wheel remarked, “So this goes from one sensible man to another!”
The spinning wheel had to travel 12, 000 miles through submarine-infested waters before Raman personally delivered it to Ford. Raman had to take special permission from the Captain to carry the spinning wheel.
In the darkest days of the Second World War, Henry Ford would often slowly spin the wheel, staring at its spokes, believing that it brought him good luck. Its mechanical simplicity and high moral purpose-making cloth in the interests of self- sufficiency- resonated deeply within him.
(The author Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar based senior journalist and columnist. Views are personal)
Tags: #HenryFord #TARaman #Gandhiji #SecondWorldWar #MahatmaGandhi #UnitedStates #WorldWarII #SpinningWheel #FordComapany