The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich

The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich

by Max Wallace

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Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have long been exalted as two of the greatest American icons of the twentieth century. From award-winning journalist Max Wallace comes groundbreaking and astonishing revelations about the poisonous effect these two so-called American heroes had on Western democracy. In his wide-ranging investigation, Wallace goes further than any other


Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have long been exalted as two of the greatest American icons of the twentieth century. From award-winning journalist Max Wallace comes groundbreaking and astonishing revelations about the poisonous effect these two so-called American heroes had on Western democracy. In his wide-ranging investigation, Wallace goes further than any other historian to expose how Ford and Lindbergh -- acting in league with the Nazis -- almost brought democratic Europe to the verge of extinction. With unprecedented access to declassified FBI and military intelligence files, Wallace reveals how the close friendship and ideological bond between automotive pioneer Ford and aviator Lindbergh culminated in an abuse of power that helped strengthen Hitler's regime and undermined the Allied war effort. Wallace traces Henry Ford's ties to Nazi Germany back as far as the 1920s, presenting compelling evidence of a financial paper trail proving that Ford subsidized the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who described Ford as "my inspiration." For the first time, the genesis of Ford's notorious anti-Semitism is uncovered: The American Axis proves that Ford's private secretary and lifelong confidant was a German spy, who channeled his employer's Jew-baiting crusades to further the cause of the Third Reich.

Lindbergh's own anti-Semitism and white supremacist views captured the attention of the Nazis, who soon manipulated him in their clandestine Fifth Column efforts. As the first unauthorized biographer to gain access to the Lindbergh archives, Wallace paints a substantially more chilling portrait of Lindbergh's prewar activities than any previous historian and produces new evidence that the Nazis secretly plotted to install Lindbergh as the leader of the movement to keep America out of World War II. The most controversial corporate investigation since IBM and the Holocaust, the book reveals that the Ford Motor Company's military and political complicity in the Third Reich war effort was considerably stronger than the company has acknowledged and that a U.S. Army postwar investigation concluded that the company had become "an arsenal of Nazism." Wallace disputes a recent internal investigation into the use of slave labor at Ford's German plant during World War II -- which company officials claimed as a vindication of its wartime activities -- and reveals that corporate president Edsel Ford was about to be indicted by the U.S. government for "trading with the enemy" at the time of his 1943 death. The American Axis is not only a mesmerizing, cautionary tale, but a compelling historical expose.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although Wallace (Who Killed Kurt Cobain?) is a recipient of Rolling Stone's Award for Investigative Journalism and appears to have done much primary research, he delivers a highly speculative rehash of material handled much better in A. Scott Berg's Lindbergh, Robert Lacey's Ford: The Man and the Machine and such seminal studies as Charles Higham's American Swastika. Wallace tries and fails to sensationalize well-known facts about the parochial American fifth column of the late 1930s and early '40s, a bungling movement of which Ford and Lindbergh were among the most public faces. Wallace sees a conspiracy in what he presents as Ford's pro-Nazi partnership with Lindbergh: a dark and powerful alliance designed to hinder the Allies at every turn. In fact, the two men were far more naive than effectual in their attempts to prop up American isolationism before Pearl Harbor. And Lindbergh, who counted Harry Guggenheim among his closest friends, found Ford's hatred of Jews repugnant. Once war was declared, both Lindbergh and Ford helped the Allied effort. Lindbergh helped develop the Corsair and later, as a "civilian observer," flew more than 25 combat missions over the South Pacific. At the same time, Ford (with Lindbergh's help, and after a few false starts) became the leading manufacturer of the B-24 bomber. Were Ford and Lindbergh half-witted dupes of Nazi propaganda before the war? Undoubtedly. Were they Nazi agents either before or after the start of hostilities? Wallace fails to make the case. 13 photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the days preceding World War II, two well-known Americans became entangled in the emerging German political presence, causing controversy back in the States. Journalist Wallace examines how Charles Lindbergh's support for Nazi militarism and U.S. isolationism and Henry Ford's business dealings with Germany tarnished their idealized images. Drawing on original sources, Wallace brings out some pertinent connections between the two men's anti-Semitism and their ties with the rising Nazi regime. He also describes how the images of both men were rehabilitated as the decades passed. However, the double biographical treatment can be awkward, and the text veers sharply between Ford and Lindbergh and their associated chains of events. This results in a confusing set of time lines and a sprawling breadth of information. The book's theme becomes tenuous, as the men's real lives diverged considerably, but Wallace concludes powerfully with an investigation into the mostly profitable consequences of Ford's wartime production in Germany. For a more focused account of this aspect of American history, see Edwin Black's IBM and the Holocaust. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Elizabeth Morris, Davenport Univ. Lib., Kalamazoo, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Whisper an antiwar sentiment today, and you're branded a traitor. Hinder the Allied war effort and champion the Nazi cause, as did a captain of industry and a pioneer of aviation, and you'll be remembered as a hero. So Wallace, a researcher for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Project, demonstrates in this eye-opening if sometimes circumstantial account of automaker Henry Ford's and pilot Charles Lindbergh's multifaceted dealings with the Hitler regime. Ford was singularly instrumental, Wallace charges, with Hitler's rise; not only did Hitler and other Nazis credit their conversion to anti-Semitism in part to Ford's scurrilous The International Jew, but Ford also funded the early Nazi party unstintingly and, knowingly or not, gave Nazi operatives access to manufacturing specifications and other documents at least until America entered the war. Hitler himself said, "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration," not least for providing a model of mass production for the Nazi killing machine. Direct evidence of Ford's financial role in bringing Hitler to power is scanty, Wallace writes, "a significant amount of the [Ford Motor] company's early days-particularly material pertaining to Ford's anti-Semitism" having been carefully discarded. Lindbergh, famed for his transatlantic solo flight, brought pseudoscientific theories of eugenics to his own admiration for the Nazi regime, and the Nazis reciprocated by depicting the blond, blue-eyed Lindbergh as the exemplar of Aryan manhood. Strangely, by Wallace's account, both men seemed mystified when the Roosevelt administration did not court their services at the outbreak of WWII, on which occasion Ford remarked, "The whole thing has just been made up by Jewbankers." Though Lindbergh served as a consultant to Ford in the development of the B-24 bomber, he was unable to gain a military commission-and for good reason, inasmuch as even in 1945 he was publicly lamenting the destruction of Germany, a civilization that "was basically our own, stemming from the same Christian beliefs." A finely wrought, careful, and utterly damning case that ought to prompt a widespread reevaluation of both Ford and Lindbergh. Agent: Noah Lukeman
From the Publisher
"The American Axis provides insightful lessons about how the twin spectacles of power and hate operated in a previous generation."

The Washington Post

"What a drama! Two of the most popular figures in 20th century America—Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh—pitted against a third—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—over what to do about Adolf Hitler. Max Wallace reminds us that the destiny of the republic hung in the balance in the Great Debate of 1940-41."

—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., author of The Age of Roosevelt and (with Robert F. Kennedy) Thirteen Days

"A tireless excavation of the dark facts surrounding Ford and Lindbergh's relationship with the Third Reich. Wallace's extensive investigation probes three and four layers deeper than others, pulls no punches, names names, and creates a powerful historical document."

—Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust

"Eye-opening . . . A finely wrought, careful, and utterly damning case that ought to prompt a widespread reevaluation of both Ford and Lindbergh."

Kirkus Reviews

"A seminal book, groundbreaking in its documentation of American celebrity collaboration with the Third Reich. Max Wallace exposes Henry Ford as an amoral business thug who promoted anti-Semitism and Nazism for profit. Lindbergh's reputation is utterly shredded by the careful analysis of newly released classified files, which expose him as a bigot and Hitler's willing pawn. Wallace rebuts line by line the Ford Company's recent attempts to sanitize its Nazi past and skewers corporate spin with devastating documentation from Ford's own files. The American Axis is that rare work of balance: biography, scholarship, and celebrity scandal. My pick for the most powerful book of the year."

—John Loftus, author of The Secret War Against the Jews

Arthur Schlesinger
"What a drama! ...reminds us that the destiny of the republic hung in the balance in the Great Debate."

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.66(h) x 1.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

The American Axis

Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich
By Max Wallace


Copyright ©2004 Max Wallace
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312335318

Chapter One


The process that brought Henry Ford's portrait to a prominent position behind Hider's desk began during the summer of 1919, when Ford made the first public sortie in a hate-filled but distinctively American campaign that was to dominate his attention for the next eight years. In July, he announced to the New York World that "International financiers are behind all war ... they are what is called the international Jew: German Jews, French Jews, English Jews, American Jews ... the Jew is a threat."

From any other figure, the interview might have been dismissed as the ravings of a crackpot. But these words were uttered by the man who was arguably America's most respected and celebrated figure-a man whose achievements had already permanently altered the nation's economic and industrial landscape. This was the first signal that he was about to have a profound impact on America's social character as well.

By 1919, Henry Ford had already secured his place as history's most important automobile pioneer. He had not invented the car or the assembly line, as many believed, but he had revolutionized both, radically changing the country's transportation habitswith the introduction of the Model T-the nation's first affordable car. After proclaiming in 1908 that he would "build a motorcar for the great multitude," Ford had by 1913 turned out more than a quarter million units of the car Americans affectionately referred to as the "Tin Lizzie." According to economist Fred Thompson, Ford's car was the chief instrument of one of history's greatest changes in the lives of the common people. Farmers were no longer isolated on remote farms. The horse disappeared so rapidly that the transfer of acreage from hay to other crops caused an agricultural revolution. The automobile became the main prop of the American economy. Within a short period, Henry Ford had joined the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon as one of the country's industrial giants. Nonetheless, in 1913, five years after he first introduced the Model T, neither Who's Who nor the New York Times index contained a single reference to Ford or his company. His next innovation, however, was destined forever to put an end to this anonymity.

At the beginning of 1914, the Ford Motor Company found itself in trouble. Two factors in particular were worrying the board of directors. Because of low wages and poor working conditions, it had become increasingly difficult to retain employees. Turnover approached 380 percent, and at one point it was necessary to hire nearly one thousand workers to keep one hundred on the payroll. More worrisome still was a campaign begun the year before by the nation's largest industrial union, the IWW, targeting Ford for unionization and encouraging the workers to stage a slowdown. Union pamphlets featuring such ditties as "The hours are long, the pay is small, so take your time and buck 'em all," had shareholders terrified for their profits.

Ford's assembly line had revolutionized production but it was also being blamed for the increasing dehumanization of workers. A letter to Ford from the wife of one of his assembly-line workers provides a touchingly humble indictment of the conditions in his factory at the time:

My Dear Mr. Ford-Please pardon the means I am taking of asking you for humanity's sake to investigate and to pardon my seeming rudeness but Mr. Ford I am the wife of one of the final assemblers in your institution and neither one of us want to be agitators and thus do not want to say anything to make anyone else more aggrivated but Mr. Ford you do not know the conditions in your factory we are all sure or you would not allow it. Are you aware that a man cannot "buck nature" when he has to go to the toilet and yet he is not allowed to go at his work. He has to go before he gets there or after work. The chain system you have is a slave driver! My God! Mr. Ford. My husband has come home and thrown himself down and won't eat his supper-so done out. Can't it be remedied?

Her letter reflects nothing more than the norm in American industry at the beginning of the twentieth century. Workers were considered little better than beasts of burden; theirs was a grind of tedious and back-breaking labor from which any consideration for the employee's welfare was absent. The average worker toiled nine hours a day for a salary that barely approached subsistence levels. Profits were based on wages as low as a worker would take and pricing as high as the market would bear. Industrialists were regularly pilloried in the press as robber barons and caricatured in the nation's magazines as inhuman slave drivers. A decade earlier, President Teddy Roosevelt was cheered when he declared war on the industrial trusts he said were ruining the country.

That was about to change. Whether motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of his workers or a fear of unionization, Ford convened a meeting of his board of directors on Tuesday, January 5, 1914, to announce the revolutionary policy that would alter permanently the worker-employer relationship. Henceforth, he announced to the stunned silence of his colleagues, the minimum wage for Ford workers would be more than doubled from $2.34 a day to $5.00, and the working day would be cut from nine to eight hours. An elaborate system of profit-sharing would be introduced. "Our workers are not sharing in our good fortune," declared Ford. "There are thousands out there in the shop who are not living as they should." The effect was electrifying, signaling nothing less than a new era in American industry. The next morning, every newspaper in the land announced the new policy with blaring headlines. "It is the most generous stroke of policy between a captain of industry and worker that the country has ever seen," wrote the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record. According to the New York Globe, Ford's new wage scheme had "all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of socialism." Overnight, Ford was hailed as a national hero. One newspaper called him "the new Messiah." The only negative note was sounded by his fellow industrialists, who appeared to regard Ford as a traitor to his class, worried that their own workers would expect similar treatment. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal-voice of American Big Business-called the wage blatantly immoral, an "economic crime." Treating workers humanely would set a dangerous precedent that might threaten the entire capitalist system, the paper warned. To his detractors, Ford explained that the new policy was merely sound business practice, not a humanitarian gesture, and would result in increased productivity and higher profits.

But grateful American workers saw humanity in it and sent thousands of letters and telegrams thanking him for his generosity. That week, police had to be summoned to quell a riot when more than 12,000 men lined up at the gates of the Ford plant in hope of a job.

Newspaper reporters descended on the company's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters to record the new hero's every utterance. Ford was glad to oblige them. His homilies on every conceivable topic blended folksy wisdom with a homespun philosophy on life. On ability: "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right!" On self-reliance: "Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice." On altruism: "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business." And the quote for which he would be best remembered: "History is more or less bunk." According to one study, Ford's wage hike created more than two million lines of favorable advertising on the front pages of newspapers and thousands and thousands of editorial endorsements.

Ford reveled in his newfound celebrity status. A shameless self-promoter, he used the media to create an entirely new persona, portraying himself as a self-made millionaire who had begun life as the son of a poor farmer in rural Michigan and clawed his way out of poverty to learn a trade and build his first car. He told story after story of the tremendous hardship he had endured as a child. However, according to his sister Margaret, "there was no truth in them." His father was in fact a prosperous landowner who owned a farm along with a number of other enterprises. Moreover, Ford assiduously cultivated the myth that he was a mechanical genius, even though his cars were engineered and designed by others. Instead, he assembled some of the finest mechanics available and used their expertise to build his industry.

"I don't like to read books," he once said. "They muss up my mind." According to one reporter who interviewed him, "Outside of business, where he is a genius, his mind is that of a child." Testifying years later at a libel suit after the Chicago Tribune called him an "anarchist," Ford-who never even graduated high school-demonstrated the extent of his historical knowledge under questioning by the paper's lawyer. Asked whether he knew anything about the American Revolution, he responded, "I understand there was one in 1812." Any other time? "I don't know of any others." What about the one in 1776? "I didn't pay much attention to such things." Did you ever bear of Benedict Arnold? "I have heard the name." Who was he? "I have forgotten just who he is. He is a writer, I think."

Nothing, however, could diminish Ford's stature with the public or the press. Countless newspapers called on him to run for President. The letters of admiration poured in by the truckload. And as Ford predicted when he instituted the five-dollar day, his company enjoyed an immediate surge in production and skyrocketing profits, making him a billionaire and one of the world's richest men. His name became a verb (to "Fordize" meant to manufacture at a price so low that the common man can afford to buy it) and a noun ("Fordism" referred to mass production resulting in sustained economic growth). Perhaps the best illustration of his newfound status was a nationwide poll in which Ford ranked as the third greatest man in history behind only Napoleon and Jesus Christ.

It is difficult, nearly a century later, to portray accurately the magnitude of Ford's fame and influence brought on by the five-dollar day. In his 1932 classic Brave New World, Aldous Huxley attempts to reflect the time in his youth when Ford seemed an omnipresent force. In the novel, set far in the future, Huxley creates a utopian society where universal happiness has been achieved and people are conditioned to love their work. The entire society reveres the "Apostle of Mass Production," Henry Ford, who is worshipped like a God. Time is measured from when Ford first introduced the assembly line. Thus, the story is set in 632 A.F. (After Ford). Adherents cross themselves in the sign of the "T."

Small wonder, then, that when Ford first announced his philosophy toward the Jews to the New York World in 1919, it carried no inconsiderable impact. That same year, he quietly purchased a small weekly newspaper called the Dearborn Independent, opened an office in an engineering laboratory next to his tractor plant, and assembled a staff in preparation for a crusade that was about to leave a pronounced scar on the face of American society. For the first sixteen months of its operation, under the editorship of former Detroit News editor Edwin Pipp, the Independent was barely distinguishable from any other weekly newspaper. It supported Prohibition, prison reform and the Versailles Treaty, printed innocuous articles about local issues, and mentioned Jews not at all. But before long, Pipp later recalled, Ford began to bring up Jews "frequently, almost continuously," until his new obsession eventually found its way into the newspaper.

On May 22, 1920, under a banner that announced the Independent as "The Ford International Weekly," a huge bold headline fired the opening salvo: THE INTERNATIONAL JEW: THE WORLD'S PROBLEM. For the next ninety-one weeks, each edition of the Dearborn Independent-promising its readers to serve as the "Chronicler of the Neglected Truth"-added further embellishments to the picture of a Jewish conspiracy so vast and far-reaching that the tentacles of the Jews supposedly touched every facet of American life. "In America alone," announced the paper, "most of big business, the trusts and the banks, the natural resources and the chief agricultural products, especially tobacco, cotton and sugar, are in control of Jewish financiers and their agents. Jewish journalists are a large and powerful group here ... Jews are the largest and most numerous landlords ... They absolutely control the circulations of publications in this country."

Pipp resigned in protest over the paper's new editorial direction and was replaced by former Detroit News reporter William J. Cameron, who would serve Ford well over the ensuing two decades.

No American institution, according to the Independent, was immune from the grasp of Jewish control. "Whichever way you turn to trace the harmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews," it declared. "If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball, they have it in three words: too much Jew." Jazz music was "Jewish moron music." The Federal Reserve was designed by "Jew bankers" to put the nation's money under the control of a "Jewish cabal."

Each week readers were treated to what Ford's paper called "a lesson" in the insidious tricks Jews used to control the country. These included "the gentle art of changing Jewish names" to disguise their ethnicity. Once disguised as Gentiles, the reasoning went, the Jews' goal was to eradicate Christian virtues.

To Henry Ford, who had famously claimed history is "bunk," the Independent was the forum for a history tailored to his own worldview. He dispatched a team of detectives to dig up the evidence that Jews were behind all that was evil in the country. For example, the paper claimed, America was not discovered by Christopher Columbus but by a Jewish interpreter named Luis de Torres-for the purpose of finding and exploiting tobacco, a substance Ford linked to "degeneracy." Benedict Arnold was merely a Jewish pawn who betrayed his country at the behest of Jewish moneylenders. The underlying theme of the series was clear. Jews were attempting to take control of the United States-not by force, but by stealth. In Ford's paranoid conception, the menace was ubiquitous. "If there is one quality that attracts Jews, it is power," the paper announced. "Wherever the seat of power may be, thither they swarm obsequiously."

Anti-Semitism was not unknown to the United States before the Independent began its campaign.


Excerpted from The American Axis by Max Wallace Copyright ©2004 by Max Wallace. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Max Wallace is a veteran journalist and Holocaust researcher. He spent three years as an interviewer for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Project, documenting the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. A winner of the Rolling Stone Magazine Award for Investigative Journalism, Wallace is the author of Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight. He has also contributed to the New York Times and the BBC. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

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