Henry Ford: Humble Roots to Idealist Capitalist

Henry Ford left behind quite the legacy with Ford Motor Company, his direct contribution to the boom of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s and the assembly line, which revolutionized production speed and efficiency.

Ford was a unique mind when it came to engineering, but his life could have gone a variety of ways and altered history completely. He could have been a farmer, a politician or possibly the creator and leader of a city in the middle of the Amazon. You read that last one correctly — automobile mogul Henry Ford could have ended up in his own city in the Amazon. But we’ll get to that a little later.


1. Ford and the Farm Life

Starting with his grassroots, Henry Ford’s family owned farmland just outside of Detroit in Dearborn, Michigan. As a teenager, Ford helped his family make ends meet by working on the family farm but that all changed in 1876 when his mother, Mary Ford, passed away. Her death took a toll on Ford, and while his father, William Ford, wanted Henry to take over the family farm, he told his father that he had no interest in doing so. He tolerated farming because he loved his mother while she was on the farm but he hated the inefficiencies of farming.

That would not be the last song and dance between Ford and a life of farming. When Ford was 25, he came back to work on the family farm to support his new wife and family. By this time, Ford had already built a steam engine, and within the next two years, he became the Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company’s main plant. Ford was on-call all day, every day, tasked with keeping the electricity running in the city of Detroit. Ford officially closed the book on his life as a farmer, moving on to bigger and better things.


2. Senator Ford? President Ford?

Once the Ford Motor Company and his Model T got up and going, the local support for Ford was through the roof. In 1916, Ford won the Michigan Republican Primary without even campaigning. Imagine having that kind of support from the people around you? Zero campaigning and no real intention of running for President, yet he still won the Michigan Primary. In 1924, people were starting Ford-for-President clubs across the country, rallying behind Ford again to run for the Oval Office. Just like the farm work though, Ford had no interest in being President.

The people loved him, and he was getting high praise from the top of the government hierarchy. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson convinced Ford to run for a Democratic seat in the Senate. Ford felt that spending money on a campaign was a complete waste of money, so he ran but just like the Michigan Republican Primary two years prior, Ford didn’t spend a penny on his campaign. Ford ended up losing by only 4500 votes, which is an extremely slim margin. If we’re being honest, Ford probably preferred to lose this election anyway. His interested laid elsewhere and eventually took him into the Amazon.


3. You Are Building Your Own City? In the Amazon Rainforest?

Ah yes, Fordlandia! Ford was a brilliant mind, and many of his ideas and inventions have revolutionized our lives. But Fordlandia, Ford’s city in the Amazon Forest was one of Ford’s off-the-wall ideas driven purely out of capitalism. In 1927, with plenty of money at his disposal and his idealistic views, Ford bought a chunk of land in the Amazon about the size of Connecticut. This land was to serve a specific purpose though; the people who lived there would harvest rubber to make tires for his automobiles.

Fordlandia, an 18-hour boat trip from the nearest city, was meant to be a utopian paradise while supplying the Ford Motor Company with rubber to make tires. Sounds like a great idea but like many things that look good on paper, this one didn’t work out. Some early revolts and riots required assistance from the Brazilian Army to subdue the violence, many rubber trees were not growing, and insects ravaged the ones that did develop.

Fordlandia never became the rubber resource that Ford had intended it to be. The city had been around for about a decade, but once World War II began, Ford’s focus turned to aid war efforts and Fordlandia started to fall by the wayside. When WWII ended, Ford’s health was diminishing, so the control of Fordlandia was given to his grandson, Henry Ford II. Ford II saw Fordlandia as an underperforming asset and quickly sold the land back to the Brazilian government for a fraction of what his grandfather originally paid for it. And just like that, Fordlandia was no more.


If Henry Ford was alive, he’d rock VKN.

4. Interesting Ford One-Liners:

  • Built his first steam engine in 1878 when he was 15
    years old. Fif-teen.
  • Built his first gasoline engine in 1893.
  • Started in airline company during WWI but it failed
    due to poor sales.
  • Ford Motor Company was his third attempt at an
    automobile company.
  • Henry Ford Company and Detroit Automobile Company were
    his first two ventures and both failed.
  • Holds 161 unique patents in his name.


5. Wrapping Up Ford

We all know about Henry Ford and his impact on the automobile industry, but his mind was something that we don’t see today. In a 1928 interview with the Detroit Times, Ford revealed that the source of his inspiration and his work was a mysterious force. He dedicated his brilliance to a ‘Master Mind.’ He said: “Somewhere is a Master Mind sending brainwave messages to us. There is a Great Spirit. I never did anything by my own volition. I was pushed by invisible forces within and without me.”

Master Mind or not, Henry Ford was a badass. Family pressure could have forced him into being a farmer for the rest of his life, but he decided he knew better. Society tried to pressure him into running for political office, and while he gave it a brief shot, he only put his name on the ballot. Even though Fordlandia was one of his failures, it showed Ford was an off-the-wall thinker whose capitalistic views pushed him to do anything to help his company. This was the type of guy, even with his shortcomings, who could do anything he wanted and didn’t care what anyone else thought.


Ellen DeGeneres, Never More Than Purely Herself

She’s won 30 Emmys, 20 People’s Choice Awards, and a treasure trove of others for charitable efforts. She was featured on Forbes’ list of top celebrity annual earners, raking in 77 million last year alone. But how did Ellen DeGeneres achieve such iconic status?

Through a unique blend of wit, quirk, kindness and a fearlessness to be herself. Let’s take a closer look at why Ellen DeGeneres is truly larger than life.


1. No Last Name Needed

Ellen’s hosted the Grammy’s, Emmy’s, and Academy Awards. Twice. She’s also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. And arguably most reflective of her icon status—she’s on a very short list of people worldwide (think: Oprah, Bono, Beyonce, Madonna) who doesn’t need a last name for everyone to know the person being talked about. That speaks volumes in itself.

Ellen receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama


It’s also refreshing that she’s the sixth most-followed person on the planet on Twitter. Not because social media followership means a damn thing but because there’s one less person famous for nothing who doesn’t have the world’s eyeballs on command. Like it or not, social media influences the masses, and more Ellens under a spotlight in this world would be pretty fucking all right.

2. “Yep, I’m Gay”


After nearly four seasons being the cute, sweet, girl-next-door bookstore owner Ellen Morgan on the sitcom “Ellen” — DeGeneres’ character came out on “The Puppy Episode” to a live studio audience and estimated 44 million viewers. Of course, viewership was way up because two weeks prior, a Time Magazine cover featured DeGeneres alongside the quotes, “Yep, I’m Gay.” DeGeneres had also publicly come out on Oprah’s show, which aired just hours before “The Puppy Episode.”

It’s easy to remember the good parts of the coming out, live cheers from the studio audience every time a joke or reference was made leading up to the end of the episode, even guest appearances by Oprah and Laura Dern because they wanted to be a part of the moment. However, there was plenty of backlash too, with people claiming she was trying to force her sexual orientation on people. “Ellen” lasted just one more season. Oprah received hate mail, death threats and racial slurs. Dern didn’t work for a year following her appearance as Ellen’s love interest in the episode.

DeGeneres wasn’t the first TV character to be depicted as gay, but she was the first to come out on live TV. Her character wasn’t invisible or negatively portrayed as those in the past. She helped usher in a new, more open era of LGBQT characters on television.

It was a turbulent time to come out. These days we live in a much different era of transparency, but it was Ellen who gave that movement considerable momentum.

3. A Sense of Humor We Can All Learn From


With all that she’s faced and accomplished, it’s easy to forget that Ellen is hilarious, and in a sweet, endearing type of way that’s atypical for famous comedians. When she tore a ligament in her back in 2007, instead of putting her on hold, a decision that would have been completely understandable, she decided to host it from her bed, with guests sitting in the bed next to her.

She opened a televised version of the Emmys following the 9/11 attacks with this apt joke:

“We’re told to go on living our lives as usual, because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win, and really, what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?”


Some other quotes that perfectly illustrate her witty humor:

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”

“I’m a godmother, that’s a great thing to be, a godmother. She calls me god for short, that’s cute, I taught her that.”

“One time I actually cleaned out my closet so good I ended up on the cover of Time Magazine.”


A true reflection of her character:

“Contribute to the world. Help people. Help one person. Help someone cross the street today. Help someone with directions unless you have a terrible sense of direction. Help someone who is trying to help you. Just help. Make an impact. Show someone you care. Say yes instead of no. Say something nice. Smile. Make eye contact. Hug. Kiss. Get naked.”



On forging your own path:

“Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. Then by all means follow that path.”


And finally, one final observation on the irony of real life:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

Read about other inspiring men, women, places, and moments in time, all part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.


VKN Badass Guys: Nelson Mandela

Throughout history there have been exceptional men who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Guys Series.

It’s hard to think about political activism and reform without bringing up the legendary revolutionary Nelson Mandela. He’s been a man of many titles, Prince of South Africa, political visionary, lawyer, activist, and even considered by many of his nation’s leaders at one time to be a terrorist. Mandela is widely considered a badass for his work in ending apartheid with a non-violent approach.

Check out a couple more of the reasons VK Nagrani thinks Nelson Mandela is a badass below.

1. Political Prisoner

Mandela was the first one of his royal family to attend college, where during his time struggled against the racially divided country. Blacks in South Africa were second hand citizens and regarded with disdain, even though they carried a large majority of the population. Mandela saw this disparity and rose up against it, leading non violent marches against the state. He was labeled a terrorist by his countrymen and imprisoned to life in jail. His incarceration was a rallying cry for opponents of apartheid as worldwide demand for his release increased.

While in prison, he earned a Bachelor’s of Law degree and learned to sew clothes from the yard of Robben Island Prison. Being self-sufficient through making your own textiles and clothing is pretty badass if you ask me.

2. Ended Apartheid

Much of his work towards organizing groups to rise up against apartheid in South Africa were from behind bars. But, when he was released he was free to weigh in on the matters of ending the racist regimes of apartheid. Much like several of his badass contemporaries, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, and Professor X, he employed a rigid stance on nonviolence and passivity to accomplish his goals, and in 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Mandela shared the award with then President of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, for releasing him and agreeing to a peaceful transition to majority rule.

3. First Black President of South Africa

He spent 27 years in prison, (more than T.I., Lil Wayne, and Lindsay Lohan combined) while protracted negotiations in dark rooms took place, and the South African regime relented and finally set Mandela free. Just one year from his release, in the first democratically chosen election, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, where he effectively ended apartheid and the structural racism that had been present for decades.

4. Founded the Elders

Stand aside Jay Z and the Illuminati, Nelson Mandela created his own group of world leaders called “The Elders” which was designed to utilize international non-government figures and human rights advocates to find solutions that plague the inhabitants of Earth: climate change, poverty, the threat of HIV/AIDS, and various other planetary conflicts.

5. Has a Day Named After Him

For a lifetime of work in the betterment of the entire human race, the UN declared that his birthday, July 18, be considered internationally as Mandela Day. You might not get the day off of work, but having your own holiday is pretty badass regardless.

Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more editions of our Badass Guys Series.


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VKN Badass Guys: Theodore Roosevelt

Throughout history there have been exceptional men who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Guys Series.

Commonly known as “Teddy” – despite his disdain for the name, Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most prolific men to take office. The man couldn’t be stopped by anyone and appeared to take the Presidency simply because he could. Roosevelt was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer, who was the driving force of the Progressive Era in the United States.

Here’s why VK Nagrani thinks Theodore Roosevelt is badass.

1. Born a Sickly Child

Theodore Roosevelt was born with crippling asthma, but overcame the illness and other health problems by taking on a rugged and strenuous lifestyle. Beating asthma was the driving force behind his boisterous and exuberant personality. He was homeschooled and taught to be a life long naturalist before he attended Harvard University.

2. Explorer of the Frontier

Roosevelt, being the tough badass he was, built a ranch north of the boomtown of Medora, North Dakota, of which he named Elk Horn. During his time there he learned to ride western style, rope and hunt earning the respect of the locals. A herdsman who knew him during that time said he possessed, “few of the emasculated, milk-and-water moralities admired by the pseudo-philanthropists; but he does possess, to a very high degree, the stern, manly qualities that are invaluable to a nation.”

3. An Accomplished Research, Author

During his time at Harvard, he began a rigorous study of the role of the United States Navy during the War of 1812. He carefully scrutinized the source materials and official US Navy records. Roosevelt’s meticulous research was comparable to a modern doctoral dissertation, even though he wasn’t a doctor or studying to be one.

4. Namesake of the Teddy Bear

While on a big game hunt with some colleagues, all of his compatriots spotted and killed at least one bear. Roosevelt was feeling pretty disappointed about the whole situation, but the hunting guides trapped and caught a bear for him to shoot. They tied the bear to a willow tree, but Roosevelt was not amused. He was a real sportsman and wouldn’t entertain the idea of shooting an animal that was tied up. However, since the animal was injured, he ordered it be put down.

Word of the incident hit newspapers and a political cartoonist published the above picture and readers went wild. A candy shop owner saw the cartoon and had the idea to place two stuffed toy bears in the window with the sign “Teddy’s Bears” in an attempt to be topical and relevant because Roosevelt was such a hot commodity. The rapid popularity of the bears led to the candy maker having to mass-produce the bears, eventually forming the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Around the same time a German manufacturer heard about the successes of these “Teddy’s Bears” and began making them across the seas – effectively starting the childhood staple that they are today.

Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more editions of our Badass Guys Series.