The Ford Family
These extraordinary people were generous during a time of economic depression; true connoisseurs when the art world was experimenting in new directions; and accomplished business people, helping to shape the auto industry as it is known today. But most importantly, they created a home for their children, grandchildren, and friends.
The couple's first child, Henry II, was born in 1917 followed by Benson in 1919, Josephine in 1923 and William in 1925. The Fords began building their dream home in 1926 at Gaukler Pointe in Grosse Pointe Shores, a fashionable new suburb on Detroit's eastern boundary. The family moved in at Christmas 1929.
Family life for the Fords was comfortable and privacy was cherished. While the children enjoyed various activities, Eleanor paid careful attention to instill in them a sense of social responsibility. As adults, each of Edsel and Eleanor's three sons held important positions with Ford Motor Company. Josephine, the Ford's only daughter inherited her parents' love of art, becoming an accomplished collector in her own right.
The names Edsel and Eleanor Ford became synonymous with contributions to numerous charitable and art organizations. They personally provided funding for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) from 1924 to 1945 to make the DIA an internationally recognized museum. The Detroit Industry murals painted at the DIA by renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera were a gift from Edsel Ford to the City of Detroit. Over the years, many pieces of their personal collection were also donated to the DIA.
The philanthropic endeavors of the Fords went well beyond the art world. A sampling of their contributions reveals the diversity and nature of their interests. Edsel was an early director and supporter of the Lincoln Highway Association. The Fords provided funding for a glass-enclosed pool at the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which was used by victims of infantile paralysis, including Franklin D. Roosevelt. They supported the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Both Eleanor and Edsel served as trustees of their high schools, now merged and known as the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe. In Detroit, they donated to the Franklin Settlement, a social service agency, and were long-time benefactors of Henry Ford Hospital. Edsel was one of three founders of an important cancer research center in Bar Harbor, Maine, today called the Jackson Laboratory. His longest lasting and most significant philanthropy was the establishment, with Henry and Clara Ford, of the Ford Foundation.
The Fords also supported the sciences. An aviation enthusiast, Edsel backed Admiral Richard Byrd's first flight to the North Pole in 1926. In 1929, Admiral Byrd flew a 1925 Fokker VIIa tri-motor, named the Josephine Ford, on his South Pole expedition.
When Eleanor died in 1976 at the age of 80, the Detroit Free Press noted, "Mrs. Ford's greatest gift to the public, indeed, her greatest legacy, is her home, which she had transferred to a trust with the request that it be used for the benefit of the public." With this final act of generosity, which Eleanor Ford included in her will, this home and furnishings remain intact, as a window to the past, and to enrich the lives of future generations