Henry Ford’s Beloved Bean

Ford Plastic CarHenry Ford fell in love with a bean. As he was a pacifist, it wasn’t the navy bean. Foreigners bugged him, so it wasn’t the Mexican jumping bean. Instead, Cupid’s arrow was fired on behalf of the soybean, and old Henry was soon drinking soy milk and eating biscuits made of soy flour. Not being without perversity, he used to feed soy delicacies to guests and journalists at his soybean conferences in the late 1930s. Ford’s scientists, working toward the goal of replacing steel in cars, figured out how to make plastic from soy meal, and people joked that soybeans were a bumper crop. Neighboring farmers asked each other, “You growing Fords or Chryslers?” Ford had a plastic trunk lid made for one of his cars, and in early November of 1940, with the press corps standing witness, the 77-year-old auto pioneer slammed an ax against it without inflicting any damage. He predicted plastic cars in short order, although how could he have foreseen the popularity of the drive-through? Scoffers said that if the cars stopped running, they could be eaten. But World War Two intervened, and Henry died soon after. Were he alive today, he would be thrilled to see so many fields of his beloved bean and comforted by the near universal availability of tofutti. But the fact that almost all cars are still made of steel would stick in his craw.

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