Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945
5. Metal and commercial aviation i: Henry Ford takes flight, pp. -113
HENRY FORD TAKES FLIGHT 113 bending forces on the wing. Flat sheet, in contrast, could be stiffened inter- nally to resist these bending stresses.42 In retrospect, the Ford Motor Company's involvement in commercial avi- ation was clearly a failure. The company lost millions while contributing little technically to the all-metal stressed-skin construction that came to dominate passenger airplanes after 1933. Henry Ford viewed the problem primarily in terms of production, but even here his engineering expertise and vast financial resources proved unable to bring the construction costs of metal airframes down to the level of composite types. Ford built nearly two hundred trimotors, but even this push down the learning curve failed to make metal airplanes a profitable business. Ford's failure resulted directly from the progress ideology of metal, which blinded him to the difficult problems involved in the efficient production of metal aircraft structures.43 Despite his eventual failure, Henry Ford's involvement in airplane pro- duction did much to advance the cause of metal, especially in commercial airplanes. The Ford company advertised its airplanes heavily, stressing the advantages of all-metal construction. THIS IS THE DAY OF METAL, proclaimed the headline of a 1928 Ford advertisement, which insisted with standard prometal rhetoric that "all the experience of the past points to the necessity of metal construction in vehicles for transportation." These advertisements even repeated the oft-falsified claim that metal construction was fireproof. The Ford advertisements argued that metal created the impression of safety needed to attract paying customers, an important consideration in the early days of air travel. Even at the time, observers recognized the significance of Ford's prometal advertising. The authors of a 1930 investment analysis, for example, refrained from endorsing either wood or metal construction. Nev- ertheless, they noted that "the Ford advertising has created considerable popular preference for metal airplanes. The factor to decide this question may be advertising." Although Ford's advertising did not decide the ques- tion, it did popularize the progress ideology of metal, cementing the associ- ation between metal and progress and easing the way for other firms to develop commercial metal airplanes.44 And metal airplanes did indeed benefit from the association between metal and progress. While Henry Ford, the army and the navy were putting millions into metal airplanes, a few manufacturers continued to develop innovative wooden airplanes. But these innovators received very little help from the federal research establishment, in sharp contrast to the tremen- dous support received by developers of metal airplanes.
Copyright Eric Schatzberg| For information on re-use, see: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright