Abstract: ‘Mr. Ford’s Business is the Making of Men’: The Gendered Dimensions of American Automobiles in Early Twentieth Century Detroit

Nicole Greer Golda


This paper focuses on metropolitan Detroit as an international crossroads to explore how American businesses interacted with their immigrant workforces and sought to develop a form of gendered American nationalism in the first half of the twentieth century. Using gender as a lens through which to explore business and labor, migration and transnationalism, I show how businessmen such as Henry Ford envisioned manliness as a valuable tool in shaping society, politics, and economics in both the U.S. and abroad. Through industrial capitalist worker programs, student exchange endeavors, and partnerships with public Americanization efforts, American businesses sought to mold workers into idealized employees. Loyal to capitalist ventures and American manhood, an ideal worker embraced his role within a company's hierarchical structure and embodied the persona of a clean-cut and productive worker. Exposing how businessmen conceptualized gender and how immigrants responded to these efforts opens up a much larger discussion about struggles for control over personal identity and values in the US, the development of American capitalism on a global scale, and the social implications of Americanizers’ vision for the U.S. and the world.