Skip to main content

tv   Thomas Hager Electric City  CSPAN  September 8, 2021 12:09am-1:10am EDT

12:09 am
dinner with your family or see a soccer game or pickup milk from the store or something like that. so it is unlike anything most traditional warriors have ever experienced in the past. that is the biggest change in the psychology of how they are fighting. >> watch the rest of the program online on click the "after words" tab to see this and all previous episodes. >> i want to welcome you to the societies event here to discuss the fascinating new book electric city the loster history of edison's utopia. i'm one of. the adult service librarians here at the hudson library. library. we have quite a few exciting programs coming up in june you can learn about and register fot them at hudson and
12:10 am
also i'm excited to say we will be offering live meditation tai chi and yoga classes this summer. of those will be up on the website this week if you would like to sign up. you can put your questions on the q-and-a at the bottomni of e screen and if you are joining on facebook, put your questions in the chat and we will get to as many as we have time for. our local independent bookstore is selling copies of the book and there is a link if you would like to purchase one. tonight i am delighted to welcome the author publishers weekly calls electric city the book we will be discussing tonight an illuminating portrait of a little-knownto chapter in history. mean award-winning author of numerous books on the history of science and medicine including the alchemy of air genius and
12:11 am
it's in the world that fueled the rise of hitler and then drugs health plans, powders and pills have shaped the history of medicine. he is an associate professor of journalism and communication at the university of oregon so please give a warm virtual welcome to thomas. >> thank you. it's good to be here to chat about as kathy noted i write mostly about the history of science and medicine. this book is less about science per se although there is a fair development of the industry in the book. it's more about people.
12:12 am
hang on. i want to make sure we are on and working. >> your good. >> okay. sorry i got an error message. so it's more about people and about what i thought were fascinating people in history and how they tried to change the history of the united states. the two main characters in the book are hairy for the, the auto industrialist, the man who built ford motor company and made the number one sold car in the world in the 1920s and his friend thomas edison who of course we all know him as the inventor of the electric incandescent light, ulthe light bulb that we use, wl we don't use the electric bulbs like he had that much anymore
12:13 am
but he had a tremendous affect on the development of technology in america. it wasn't just delightful. he also didls the photographs, e early versions of booktv camera movie projectors and changed american life in a dozen ways fundamental to who we are as people. he did that through his inventions that he was known as the wizard of menlo park. menlo park and new jersey is where he had his laboratory where he made his inventions and by the time the setting of the book is set in the years just after world war i and in the early 1920s, so five years on either side of 1920 were at the heart of this book. during that time, edison was
12:14 am
already the revered elder statesman in america. he was one of the best loved americans that lived during that time. everybody knew the name of thomas edison. everybody knew what edison had done for the united states and so, it was quite an event when edison teamed up with henry ford and tried to created this project that is the subject of my book. so it happened like this. edison and ford knew each other andd ford was a younger man, one of the first jobs ford got when he was a young man was not in automobiles, but in electricity. he worked on electrical dynamo as a young man and one of the first jobs henry ford got was
12:15 am
working at the thomas edison's electric company in detroit michigan. ford had grown up in michigan. he was a farmboy, he was a poor farm boy and he hated farm work. he hated the drudgery and working outside in all the weather's the kind of stuff farmers have to do to make a living in this world where things henry ford really didn't like. henry ford was a smart kid and he had a naturalas aptitude for machinery. he loved tinkering with machines, early machines. he grew up, sort of came of age in the 1880s and 1890s and during that period, steam engines were all the things.
12:16 am
steam engines were huge and were used to power factories. on the farm they had steam engines on wheels that they could rule from farm to farm and fire up to help with the harvest to have an engine brought to your farm. these things were huge. they were like locomotives. they were called road locomotives as a matter of fact because they didn't need tracks to run. they had a big iron wheels but the engines themselves were the sizes of railroad locomotives were a little smaller. sthey would go from farm to fam and then use the steam engine to power a series of belts and pulleys to do the various farm chores that needed to be done for the harvest. these machines, these road
12:17 am
locomotives he was obsessed with the road locomotives. he learned everything he could about how they work and he was a genius at seeing how they work together. he learned on the farm about machinery and stuck with it and left the farm behind. he couldn't wait to get out of the parents farm and into a machine shop in detroit and he ended up working for thomas edison. thomas edison was at the height of his powers and ford came in as a young nobody and started working with edison. ford h became noted by his superiors and they brought henry ford to and edison company event
12:18 am
one day at which thomas edison was present so he's established and older, rich, famous. the two of them start a conversation at lunch. the young whiz kid and act with machines and the older guy that really understands w inventions. they start talking and what they are talking about is an idea that henry ford has four building a new kind of automobile engine. ford has been playing around with the idea of powering and automobile with gasoline and he's inventing an improved gasoline engine in his kitchen and his garage. he's putting together bits and pieces of stuff in his spare time and trying to make this
12:19 am
revolutionary gas engine. it is and is fascinated. he listens to this young man and thinks he's really got something going on. the two of them become friends. but it's years later after ford built his engine and put his engine into an automobile that was the most reliable and least expensive automobile the world had ever seen. it's a car he called the model t. he invented the model t and then the way m to make them that made them a fabulously cheap. it was called the assembly line factory. it was a more important, i think more important invention than the model t itself. it's to cut down costs tremendously and ford put his factory together with his
12:20 am
automobile. everybody wanted one. this was a revolution in america because up until the time of henry ford, automobiles had been tremendously expensive. they were rich people's playthings. they were luxuries, toys. what henry ford did is created in the a automobile that was toh enough to work on a farm, you could take it out on dirt roads. it was easy to fix. everything was very durable, reliable, and it was dirt cheap so he could afford a model t car and suddenly everybody wanted o one. between 1910 and 1920 ring that decade, the model t became the first best-selling, just a phenomenal best-selling car worldwide. it was a tremendous moneymaker. he owned his own company and all
12:21 am
the money went to ford. by the time 1920 came around, it was industrial on a scale unlike anyone else in the world. he was the richest man in the world and one of the most powerful so that is the setting for the story. the older edison, the younger florida, both of them interested in inventions and technology, both of them interested in new ways of powering industry and the book tells the story of how they tried to create the utopian city in the middle of america that would incorporate all of their best ideas and turn those ideas into a new way of living for americans. i want to take just a moment and talk about what it was they wanted to change noto just about american technology but american society.
12:22 am
my book is about an experiment that two veryl powerful men trid to undertake on a massive scale in northern alabama on the tennessee river in northern alabama and the tennessee river is a big part of american history. it's sort of all associated with the daniel boone and movement of the americans west of the appalachian mountains and it's a huge source of stories about the birth of america happening in the tennessee valley. by the time for word and edison were interested in the area inor thee 1920s, the tennessee river area in northern alabama was one ofof the poorest parts of the united states. it was tremendously i guess you
12:23 am
could use the word backward. it was almost as if that part of the united states had gotten lost in the 1700s and hadn't advanced into the 20th century. part of the problem was the civil war that ravaged the area and never really rebuilt fully so it got sent back by the civil war and part of the reason was that the people tended to be small farmers who worked very tough farms. much of the farming happened up in the hills. the area in sort of western tennessee, the southern part of tennessee andse northern part of alabama, a lot of hills and a lot ofam hill people. that people make fun of now, hillbilly is live there and it was a tough way to make a living. farming, a small farm the soil
12:24 am
wasn't't very good and the roads were not very good. there was no electricity, there was no healthcare. people lived in cabins that had big holes in the roof. you look at descriptions of the way people lived in those days in that part of the country and it really is like looking back a couplele hundred years. they washed their clothes inhu g metal washing pots that they lit a fire under to heat the water and they had very poor communication with the rest of the world so when henry ford and thomas edison decided to go down there and changeec everybody's life, it wasn't just going into a typical 1920s town. it was like going back to 1780
12:25 am
or 1800 and announcing to the people if an area the tennessee river is about the size of england, you announce to peoplee in the area that you are going to pull them out of the 1780s and into the 1920s in one fell swoop you're going to do it by building the world's biggest dam across the tennessee river and using all of the electricity produced two power industries without using coal, electrical energy. would be entirely clean, very renewable energy is what we would call it now. but you would invent industries that work for the electricity instead of burning coal. that was an important step forward because edison and ford built their vision around the idea of clean renewablef energy. they both really disliked coal.
12:26 am
they thought it was dirty and polluting and dangerous. it wasn't helpful. they wanted to get away from it song they were going to build an entire city built around electricity. this was of course edison's forte. the world's biggest dam, the world's biggest powerplant producing the largest source of electricity would power industries up and down the tennessee river. what they planned was a new kind of city. they wanted to reshape society aroundet the idea and very quicy what henry ford had in mind when he was thinking about this experiment was about what a mistake he had made in detroit. the ford factories, huge factories for making these were in and around detroit, the city
12:27 am
of dearborn which is a suburb of detroit and detroit proper. he was in the process of building the world's biggest factories at the time that he was thinking about this experiment in alabama. he built these factories in these cities and completely changed the nature of detroit. his factories and played so many people in such a small area that they created slums. the workers were well paid and he really cared about the workers. he was very concerned about the wages and living conditions, but he couldn't help the fact that when you build a huge factory and concentrate people in a small area they tend to live ann rentals in the city centers in tenements and they build the result of slum living to a great
12:28 am
extent, and along with that goes the increase in crime, advice and these were things henry ford needed much like the small town midwest america that he grew up in. a white church on a village green this was the idea in america that he wanted for the workers he thought it was the best way for people to live it was on a vast scale. he wanted it without any coal pollution or crime. he wanted the workers to live on small farms so that they could
12:29 am
bring in their own crops and it's working and electrically powered industries so that they could have the best of both city life and country life at the same time. they would all try instead of a single huge factory like he had been building in detroit, he wanted a string of small factories, electrical powered factories up and down the river stretching for 7500 miles and around each of those would be small holder land leases or sales so they could have five or 10 acres to farm if they wanted to and they could afford to because he would offer financing to buy the land, and he would offer advice on how to farm it and he would rent to them farm machinery. when they were done with their crops which would only take a few weeks, they could go to their steady jobs and make a
12:30 am
regular wage and improved, educate their kids and so on. so he built this vision around a new kind of american life. that is what he and thomas edison tried to create in northern alabama. this book tells the story of how they tried to do that and on how they failed. finally, the book tells what happens next. it moves to the creation of one of the greatest achievements of government in the united states by a project called the tennessee valley authority, the tba. ..
12:31 am
>> ever who would control this area when ford gets his wish to build his city or the us government stop him and do something else the government found a way to stop henry ford they moved in and built their own version the new way of living and telling how that grew out ofre for the ideas as well.
12:32 am
and then the sidenote is this but along with e everything else but then as ford was trying to make a national case for the government to give him what he wanteded and then control over a vast area and the government to pay most of it. but the easiest to get what you want is a few and for president. and how close ford came to be president of the united states. he was a serious candidate for several years in the mid- twenties and but then a number of observers and i'm one of them that think he would have
12:33 am
run on the platform to incorporate the ideas that he wanted to build and that's what he wanted to run on. but for those reasons it didn't happen but we came very close to having him as a president in the twenties who have been someone who doesn't have a day of government service coming out of private industry and accustomed to being the boss of ford motor company and with farmers and
12:34 am
factory workers people who looked upon him as a genius and for him running the unitedt states that almost happened and the reason it didn't matter we got into and the book that resulted of the richer story and i'm open for questions. >> let's get started with some questions. how did youou get interested in this piece of american history? >> and mentioning a previous book and with the development
12:35 am
with the development of the fertilizer industry it's more interesting than that word sound and i spent a few years learning about the fertilizer industry and the book was a hit so i got invited to talk at a lot of places and one was northern alabama. never been to northern alabama in my life. and i had this idea so if they have read the work so the detail detail life in
12:36 am
appalachia a very poor part of the united states that's what i found that what northern alabama was like. this is a really poor areas still and then i got to northern alabama i land at a modern international airport in huntsville in northern alabama and on and on the banks of the tennessee river people were wonderful with a four-star international hotel on the hill and i was mode away. this is part of the country that came as a complete surprise because itt was very prosperous and up to date
12:37 am
there were more off these per square mile than any other part of the united states. it is the site of space research and agricultural research and all this stuff going on. so anyway i was fascinated so then getting ready back to go to the airport in the local fellow the driver pick me up in a car and headed to the airport not interested in fertilizer history he went additionally the remains of the old fertilizer factory.
12:38 am
so then now in the middle of the field what had to have been a gigantic factory. and that was interesting to me. so what was more interesting is what happened next. driver because we had a couple of extra minutes saw how interested i was in drove me a little ways away to another field in northern alabama in the field of yellowing grass but then we saw the field was actually a network of streets like city streets with curves and old-time fire hydrants and street signs for streets that were never built or finished
12:39 am
this is the remains of a city called ford city that was platted, started construction and never completed. so here i am it's almost like being in egypt looking at the ruins in the deserts on the surprising remains of the civilization that never occurred. the combination of ford city in the remains of a huge factory that made me wonder, what happened here? what was the story? naturally went to henry ford and started to learn and then not lead to the rest of the book sometimes you pick up the thread and then you pull it and then it unwinds the whole fabric. >> an interesting story. who would have thought quick.
12:40 am
>> i was surprised. >> what similarities if any, do you see between the young henry ford and elon musk or mark zuckerberg? >> that's a good question. with today's titans of technology are the real thing that they are not. with the titans of technology i think the parallels are obvious i will leave zuckerberg aside by elon musk is a genuine technological innovator but zuckerberg is less but elon musk has a restless imagination into cars, space travel and that technology and all kinds of
12:41 am
things. hend reminds me very much of henry ford and thomas edison. so in one technological field that there restless mind could not stay with the success that they had. they moved on and did more and he is always testing the boundaries of what he can do and we have not seen the last of that. henry ford after histh successful model t and the assembly-line plant, really wanted to stretch himself out into this role. and i think that is the factor that happens to people who become highly successful as
12:42 am
they begin to think of their ideas because they worked for them in that area of industry that their thinking would be better so they take their successes and apply it to larger groups and now it is true of henry ford who wanted to take what he saw as ideas about what was good for people and apply that to his own private kingdom and it didn't happen but it would be interesting to see as an interesting experiment because he wantedten what he would have p an enormous part of the united states under the control of one industrialist
12:43 am
so similar to a 75-mile long factor unemployed people and completely dominated certainly and not heartland of the united states government did not allow that to happen in the 1920s it would be interesting to see so i see definite parallels not that him going to mars was the same thing. >> you mentioned about ford becoming president do you think he wouldg have been a good president? are makehi it is whole plan happened had he been elected quick. >> if he was he would have made it happen the only thing standing in his way even
12:44 am
without being president that a small group of concerned senators got together to stop henry ford was a very smart guy and he did a very good job to create favor with presidents a camping that he of warren g harding and calvin coolidge warren harding was a pro-business republican president he and henry ford went camping together they talk the same language and as long as warren harding was president everything was going his way and looked great but then warren harding died suddenly in office he passed
12:45 am
away of what probably was a stroke or heart disease and calvin coolidge is vice president became president at that time that created a problem he talked a good line that did not follow through with support instead a group of senators and u.s. senate formed an opposition group they wanted government control instead of private control for this enormous resource of more than a dozen dams on the tennessee river a single giant dam the senators wanted that to be owned by the people of the united states not by henry ford so they formed an
12:46 am
opposition group headed by one of my b favorite people everybody should know the name of george norris as an old senator n from nebraska apologies to people in nebraska that he is a heroic figure with those lies and falsehoods where he saw them it doesn't matter which political party you are in or how powerful you were if george norris thought you were lying he would tell you and he led the opposition and he stopped henry ford eventually however if he had not been there and his friends there
12:47 am
was a very good chance ford would've gotten what he wanted. as the presidential elections heated up afternt harding's death and ford considered running part of his calculus was if he got to the white house he could make that dream happen on the tennessee river in the utopian city happen and buildni it because he can circumvent the congress to the extent he needed to get the votes he needed and came very close and if he was president then could make it happen i think he could be president if he would run seriously the reason he didn't run it he made a deal with calvin coolidge i present the evidence in the book henry
12:48 am
ford and calvin coolidge the president of the united states the world's richest man got together in the white house and has to deal ford agreed not to run for president. that meant coolidge could run and in exchange calvin college would push for ford's control of this project. that is the deal that was struck a secret deal controversial evidence that was happening but what happened was george norris got a hold of the scandal found out about the secret meeting and blasted all over the media. once it became a public scandal, coolidge backed off ford by then said he wouldn't run for president so ford took himself out of the running
12:49 am
prematurely he never got the project but also did not get to be president he would then have president unlike any we have ever had an autocrat and unable to deal effectively with groups like congress or the press and just would've wanted his own way would benefit very interesting four years but it didn't happen for didn't really want to be president he knew he was lucky to have the job that he had as the world's richest one-man band enormously profitable company he could tell anybody what he wanted and didn't have to make nice. he wasn't built to be a politician and he knew it and
12:50 am
especially his wife his wife was dead set against henry ford being a president and she was a powerful figure. and she told him she didn't want him to be president that had an effect. >>im mentioning about the press and you wrote in your book he was a publicity genius sounds like it contradicts what you just said. >> i said he couldn't work with them if he was president that as a private citizen and industrialist he maintained a large office and ford motor company and it grew over the years it was very powerful and a genius at that he had the
12:51 am
most positive media coverage you can imagine everybody was interested what henry ford was doing a guy who had a sixth grade education his nickname at thehe time was uncle henry and a member of your family. he spoke plainly he did not try to obfuscate an enemy of wall street which most were at that time and americans loved him. that was due inth great part that grew over time to include essentially what people said was a private police force to investigate this enemy as well. so the point is working at that level he did not know how
12:52 am
to work with the press as a public servant. that is a different role. you could argue the point that in any case, the basic difference between politics he is highly successful in one field but to be fair to the journalist at the time newspaper reporters and wire reporters at the time only gave henry ford a break and with public interest features what henry ford war to an event and focused on that. because t they knew they could sell paper to uncle henry and that was important to media. had he become president it
12:53 am
would be an instantaneous task. another story that's told in the book is a weak point for ford. in addition to the man of the people persona, which is true or a vicious anti-semite to do terrific damage by using public relations arm to attack jewish citizens around the world in particular it was a form of anti-semitism that has to be read to be believed. that is weak point he had. not everybody was behind him. the middle swath of
12:54 am
america, the midwest and the south. the east coasty and west coast were not and were more dubious. he was a popular figure as a pot on —- politician would have been very difficult for him. >> did the alabama planned the city have any relation to ford landy a can you compare those sites quick. >> there was another ford andect only this time attempted rubber empire in south america thank you for bringing that up fordlandia is aa great book. fordlandia happened a little later. after ford was blocked in his utopian city, after his plan
12:55 am
with edison fell through and the government stepped in, he looked for other ways to use that same energy and one of the projects he did was fordlandia. had the city on the tennessee river happened i don't think it would have are not in the same way it was an attempt to create a huge project that was the scale that ford like to play at. he didn't doli little things but the irony is i think that the end result of all this planning is probably the best exemplified by a park that he built in dearborn michigan near his factories and what he decided to do, he put a lot of
12:56 am
energy into in the late of his life enormous energy into creating the kind of america he wanted as a theme park. so if you're at dearborn go visit the ford museum. it is a beautiful facility and has every car that ford ever made and a number of machines of tremendous success story a beautiful museum there is a archive there i spent a week at the archive researching the book and then there is a third component essentially there is a theme park and it is an idea that he concocted late in life to have the america that he
12:57 am
thought was a h true america he would buy the birth place is a famous americans where they were born, including his own in the house for he grew up and moved and set it down and brought thomas edison's workshop and moved it to dearborn and i think daniel hawthorne's birthplace the wright brothers shop where they sold bicycles they would collect buildings the way they would collect china plates he would bring them to dearborn and put them in the park to create this fabulous and wonderful place you can see american architecture laid out
12:58 am
with parts of it. there is a central part that is like henry ford stream of america of a white church house with a steeple and the's beautiful houses the old colonial and - - in and it's remarkable he went from wanting to build a 75-mile working city to this charming but unusual themepark. if you are ever up in those parts. >> we have one more question from the patrons. do you have any knowledge or information of the adversarial relationship ford had with
12:59 am
john d rockefeller? please share the story and the outcome. >> i do not. i didn't study rockefeller at all for this book. i have looked at him for other projects. he was very much involved in this history on —- the history and science of america for the rockefeller foundation i have from that standpoint the only came across for this book between ford and rockefeller was the germans that is another little-known story but one that i have not fully researched and i cannot talk about the other than a broad outline that henry ford made his money off the cars john d rockefeller made his half of the oil to run the
1:00 am
cars around the time of world war i it look like natural oil reserves were to be much smaller and there was great worry the world would run dry of oil and if the oil went and rockefeller would it make any met money and ford would it make money just after world war i the germans were defeated in the war looking for ways they came up with a plan to make synthetic oil they would perfect a method technologically to take call from the german coal mines and
1:01 am
turn it into automobile fuel in the airplane there was tons of coal around the world and that project and synthetic oil that the germans were running was very interesting both to rockefeller and ford the records are difficult i think i might have been destroyed or lost or not available to the public around this project but it would've been a collaborationav with the daggers biggest chemical industry in the world which is developing the synthetic oilil in germany.
1:02 am
eiji favre in and ford and standard oil there may be some evidence they didn't collaborate in between the two wars to develop this new industry. there were shares of stock exchanged with the intellectual property back-and-forthpr as it turned out later haywood came to power in the early thirties in germany and then it became that not see industrial firm and the work that ford and rockefeller's standard oil were doing became very problematic for those reasons but it seemed it did continue i wish i could dig out the
1:03 am
records i don't think they ever well i think they have been destroyed or kept away from the public's view. however didn't really look at rockefeller and ford. >> one last question. for those of us who may not know much how much of the electric city was developed by the government and what was edison's involvement quick. >> good question. edison dropped out of the process i believe helped ford with his ideas and once the going t got rough and they started to stiffen the opposition some of edison's thinking came under attack and he was an old man at this time so he pretty much dropped out
1:04 am
before the government finally took over control of the project. edison wasn't much of a figure that that is covered at length in the book and that raises the interesting question about the relationship between public and private projects in the united states it was a large scale project involving a lot of people and a lot of money with essential part of the united states and tennessee area and it naturally raise concerns about the public control over public resources. one of those is the river itself in public control of rivers gets into interstate commerce flood control and
1:05 am
irrigation and that came into play because the o government didn't want to give henry ford control of the river but if he had control offo the dance he would h have control over how it was developed for public good or private good. this still resonates today. who is best in charge? is business more efficient and effective or as government more concerned about getting real value out of public resources? what should be in charge of large projects those are bandied about 100 years ago. the government take over the project. for dropped out. the government took over and
1:06 am
then to design the government project that went into effect when fdr became president this is in the depth of the depression. it hit the south worse than most other parts of the country it was already an area that wasa economically troubled and the depressional was crushingpr to people in the south of the united states. ford promised that the government take over and they finished then in a different way they were not just concerned with electric power but flood control because there was devastating floods
1:07 am
along the tennessee, irrigation, public access to parks and to the lakes behind the dams and what they wanted to do what fdr wanted to do is a new deal for america but to do it in ways that benefit all americans so the dams got built the lakes are established, there's more coastline right now in northern alabama than the rest of the united states is goes on and on and is beautiful this tremendous project was finished and then the electric power begins to flow and industries began to come in it was all his dream but industries notea that he would have chosen that required a lot of power in the area did
1:08 am
revise. if you go down there now, it wonderful area it is a lovely area and caught up with the rest of the united states yes there are real questions afford may not have been a better choice and the dynamics of that is complex but the book goes into would be really have been worse off with henry ford this is seen as the enormous success story but i make the argument that it is fair too make that it would have been almost as good as under henry ford and be more efficient as well. there is no easy answer. public versus private there is
1:09 am
no easy answer it is a case-by-case basis. tba was life-changing generations of lives. henry ford would have done that. so we end up with a difficult questionth. >> it's time to wrap it up tonight. this is the book you want to look for. thank you, thomas for being here with us and thank you to everyone for joining us tonight. we hope to see you again at our next author talk. >> i am so pleased to have with us this evening associate managing


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on