Henry Ford and His Researchers - History of Their Work with Soybeans, Soyfoods and Chemurgy (1928-2011)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-36-5

Publication Date: 2011 June 23

Number of References in Bibliography: 926

Earliest Reference: 1929

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Brief chronology of the Work of Henry Ford and His Researchers with Soybeans and Soyfoods

 1927 Jan. – Wheeler McMillen, publisher of the popular magazine Farm & Fireside, writes an article titled “Wanted: Machines to Eat Up Our Crop Surplus,” which is widely credited with having started what soon became the farm chemurgic movement.
1928 early – McMillen discusses his ideas on new industrial uses for farm products, and new crops, with Henry Ford, who quickly became very interested in the idea of putting chemistry and allied sciences to work for agriculture (Chambersburg Opinion 15 Dec. 1931; McMillen 1962; David L. Lewis 1976).
1928 early – Ford’s Model T automobile is replaced by the model A, “which some auto historians and old-car enthusiasts believe was – pound for pounds, dollar for dollar – the best car ever built” (David L. Lewis 1976).
1928 – Dr. Edsel Ruddiman, formerly dean of the School of Pharmacy at Vanderbilt University, working in his laboratory at the Ford Motor Co., starts research on food uses of soybeans, and soon develops soymilk, made from whole soybeans (Chubbuck 1937). Ruddiman is the man who got Henry Ford interested in soyfoods.
1928 July 30 – Henry Ford’s 65th birthday. The year 1928 is a big one, with major transitions and new interests.
1928 Sept. 27 – Thomas Edison comes to Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan, to dedicate The Edison Institute. Henry Ford has reassembled and restored Edison’s Menlo Park (New Jersey) “invention factory” there (Geoffrey Upward 1979).
1928 late – Ford wanted to set up an experimental agricultural chemical factory to determine what useful products could be obtained from plants. He had a one-quarter size model of his mammoth wood distillation plant at Iron Mountain, Michigan, constructed at Iron Mountain and moved to Greenfield Village in late 1928 (see 1930 photo). At about that time Ford asked Robert Boyer if he would like to supervise this model experimental chemical laboratory / plant. Boyer, who had had little formal training in chemistry, accepted – and began a serious study of the subject. From 1929 to 1933 he studied chemistry at the “Edison Institute of Technology.” From 1927 to 1929 Boyer had attended the Henry Ford Trade School (Ford R. Bryan 1993; Boyer 1975).
1929 – Henry Ford and Thomas Edison establish the Edison Institute of Technology in Dearborn as “a school for inventors.” The chemical plant is part of the Edison Institute.
1929 – Ford begins experiments at Dearborn to discover a farm crop that will have both food value and possibilities for industrial use. He dumps off truckloads of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, soybeans, etc. at the chemical laboratory (Nevins & Hill 1957, Vol. 2).
1929 May 10 – An article in the New York Times, titled “Ford wants diet taught by the clergy” holds that right food will cut illness and crime” (p. 29). He was extremely interested in the relationship between diet, health and longevity. Ford’s mentor, Thomas Edison, held similar views. If people ate properly, there would much better health and fewer hospitals and jails. Ford did not smoke or drink alcohol. He was a strong prohibitionist, and he waged many a public crusade against these evils. He banned smoking in his plants and discouraged drinking. Throughout his life, Henry Ford was full of energy, lean as a split rail fence, and good physical condition – indeed the picture of health (Didzun 1959; Simonds 1938; Nevins and Hill 1963).
1929 Oct. – The great stock market crash heralds the beginning of the Great Depression, which lasts until 1942. Thus, most of Ford’s work with soybeans and chemurgy was done during the Great Depression. Ford soon came to believe that the soybean could play a major role in lifting America out of the Great Depression (Wik 1962).
1931 Aug. – An unpublished typescript titled “Current jobs at the Chemical Plant” states that there are two jobs for processing various fruits and vegetables and finding uses for their parts. One of these foods is “Soy Beans.”
1931 Dec. – Ford tells his young researchers at the chemical plant to stop researching other crops and to focus on the soybean, which is “rich in versatile oil, high in protein content, and with a residual fiber amenable to many uses” (New Outlook 1934; David L. Lewis 1976).
1931 Dec. 15 – An article titled “Henry Ford’s mysterious new hobby” in the periodical Public Opinion (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) states that he is putting his new ideas on industrial utilization of farm crops into action by buying over 3,000 acres of Michigan farm land. This concept will soon be called “chemurgy.”
1931 – Land planted to soybeans by Ford near Dearborn amounts to about 500 acres (Ford News. 1933. March, p. 49-51).
1932 – Soybean acreage planted by Ford near Dearborn has increased to 8,200 acres (Ford News. 1933. March, p. 49-51).
1932 Dec. 2 – An article titled “Ford to paint cars with Michigan soy bean oil” is the first to mention soy bean oil in connection with Ford (Detroit Evening News).
1932 and 1933 – Ford plants 300 soybean varieties on some 8,000 acres of his farms in Michigan. He also urges Michigan farmers to plant soybeans with the assurance that the Ford Motor Co. would provide a market for them (David L. Lewis 1976).
1933 March – An article in Ford News, titled “Experimenting with the soy bean,” contains the following quotation by Henry Ford: “For a long time now I have believed that industry and agriculture are natural partners and that they should begin to recognize and practise their partnership. Each of them is suffering from ailments which the other can cure. Agriculture needs a wider and steadier market; industrial workers need more and steadier jobs. Can each be made to supply what the other needs? I think so. The link between is Chemistry.”
1933 Dec.Fortune magazine writes that “Mr. Ford is now as much interested in the soya bean as he is in the V-8” (p. 134).
1933 – Ford’s experiments with soybeans cost $1.25 million this year. The leading discoveries are that soybean oil made an excellent enamel for painting automobiles and for binding casting molds, and that soybean protein can be molded to shape and used in manufacturing small plastic car parts (David L. Lewis 1972).
1933 – Greenfield Village officially opens in Dearborn, Michigan. It was one of Ford’s two major interests during the 1930s outside of automobile manufacturing; the other was the cultivation and processing of soybeans. “He felt the crop had a great dietary importance, could aid the farmer, and had a definite place in his own business” (Nevins & Hill 1963, Vol. 3). During the 1930s, anyone visiting Greenfield village came away with a knowledge of soybeans and soyfoods.
1933-34 – The first successful soybean crop in England (about 20 acres) is grown in Boreham, Essex, using seeds supplied by J.L. North on the 2,000 acre Fordson Estate that Henry Ford had acquired in 1932. North, late curator of the Botanical Gardens at Regent’s Park, worked to develop new soybean varieties that were suited to local conditions (Times {London} 17 Sept. 1934).
1934 summer – Ford’s soybean exhibits at the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago make nationwide headlines and attract more than a million visitors. Ford brought in an entire barn from his childhood home (built by has father in 1863), planted a plot of soybeans around it, put up a sign “The Industrialized American Barn” over the door, and set up inside it an elaborate display featuring one of his small farm-scale solvent extraction plants and a soyfoods kitchen. Soy protein was molded into plastic parts and soy oil, extracted on the spot, was used to fuel a diesel engine, which ran a generator that produced all the electricity for the display. A glass model of the basic Ford extractor was the first in the Western world to use hexane as a solvent. Large seeded, vegetable-type soybeans were deep fried and served like salted peanuts to visitors, providing most with their first taste of soybeans. Moreover, a press luncheon, featuring 14 soy-based dishes developed by Edsel Ruddiman , was served to 30 wary reporters; it included “Celery stuffed with soybean cheese” [tofu], and “Cocoa with soymilk;” and ended with ice cream made from soymilk; no meat was served (Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 1934).
1934 – Ford is now deeply interested in developing a “synthetic milk” from the soybean. He calls the cow the crudest machine in the world. He soon builds a demonstration soymilk plant in Greenfield village; it produced several hundred gallons of soymilk daily. The beverage was most popular among Ford’s Filipino employees; a little banana oil was added to improve the flavor. Henry Ford loved soymilk. He keep a bottle in his refrigerator and gave his recipe away to friends. He liked it best sweetened with a little maple syrup. Ford’s interest in soymilk is best viewed against his lifelong and unusually strong interest in diet and health (Simonds 1938; Nevins and Hill
1934 Aug.The Farm Chemurgic: Farmward the Star of Destiny Lights Our Way, by William J. Hale, is published. This is the earliest document seen that contains the word “chemurgy” or the word “chemurgical,” for Hale coined these words (see p. ii).
1935 April – An article in Oil and Soap titled “The method of soybean oil extraction as developed at the Edison Institute of Technology” discusses the small scale extractor that can be housed in a barn on any farm – to give the farmer a new source of income. Aviation gasoline and hexane can be successfully used as solvents.
1935 May 7-8 – The National Farm Chemurgic Council organizes the first Dearborn Conference of Agriculture, Industry and Science, at Dearborn, Michigan. Hosted by Henry Ford, it is attended by about 300 leaders of industry to explore ways of using agricultural crops in non-food industrial products. A paper by R.H. McCarroll of the Ford Motor Co. discusses soybeans extensively, and is the earliest document seen that talks about both chemurgy and soybeans. The proceedings (256 pages) are soon published.
1935 – A complete and huge (400 feet long) soybean processing plant is established at the Rouge. This year “a bushel of soybeans went into the paint, horn button, gear-shift knob, inside window riser knobs, accelerator pedal, and timing gears of every Ford car...” (David L. Lewis 1972).
1935 – More than 1 million gallons of paints are used in enamel paints for Ford cars. Another 540,000 gallons are made into shock absorbers, and 200,000 gallons are used in the foundry as a sand binder in the manufacture of cores. It took 76,000 acres of soybeans to yield all this oil; 12,000 of these were grown by Ford. (McCarroll 1935; Lougee 1936).
1936 Oct. 12Time magazine calls Henry Ford “The number 1 U.S. soybean man” and “A bean’s best friend.”
1938 May – A new synthetic fiber, made from soybean protein, is exhibited for the first time by Robert A. Boyer, researcher at the Ford Motor Co. before meetings of the Fourth Annual Conference of the Farm Chemurgic Council in Omaha, Nebraska. The new synthetic fiber is destined for use in automobile upholstery as an extender for wool (Science News Letter, May 7, p. 302; New York Times 19 May 1939, p. 19; Ford News, Feb. 1942, p. 39, 52).
1938 – Two smaller, decentralized soybean processing plants are established at Saline and Milan, Michigan, for the extraction of oil and the manufacture of small plastic items for Ford cars – such as horn buttons, distributor housings, lever knobs, and switch handles (Nevins & Hill 1963, Vol. 3).
1938 – A booklet titled Recipes for Soy Bean Foods (19 pages) is published by the Edison Institute in Dearborn, Michigan. Recipes include tofu, green soy beans, roasted soy beans, and soy bean milk.
1939 Dec. 14 – “Ford has done more to promote the soybean industry in the United States than perhaps any one person in the nation” (Kalamazoo Gazette, Michigan).
1940 – Henry Ford, who has worked closely with the American Soybean Association (ASA), hosts the annual ASA convention in Dearborn. It turns out to be a turning point in ASA history.
1940 Nov. – A famous photo shows Henry Ford, dressed in coat and hat, swinging an ax (for the press) at the plastic trunk lid of this car. It appeared, with accompanying wire service stories, in most U.S. newspapers.
1941 Jan. – Robert A. Boyer, age 31, head of one of the Ford Motor Co. research laboratories and developer of the plastic automobile body, is named as one of “The Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1940” by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (Detroit News, Jan. 11, p. 3).
1941 Aug. 13 – Ford unveils his handmade car with complete plastic body at the climax of Dearborn’s annual community festival. It is widely called Ford’s “plastic car.” This happened at a time when Americans were just becoming conscious of plastic and aware of the metal shortage developing during World War II. The event generated tremendous publicity and stirred the imagination of editorial writers nationwide as had few other Ford-related events for years (Lewis 1972).
1941 Aug. 22 – “When history is written and the achievements of Henry Ford are chronicled, the Soy Bean victory will stand out has his foremost contribution to mankind” (Detroit Legal Courier).
1941 Dec. 7 – Japanese airplanes attach Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. The next day President Roosevelt, in his “day of infamy” speech declares war on Japan. Ford is soon asked to convert all of his assembly lines to making American bombers and other vehicles needed for the war. His interest in soybeans is put on hold.
1942 – After the start of World War II, Ford gives his soymilk recipe and process to other who want to try to develop it into commercial products. Ford employee Robert A. Smith built a private soy dairy in Dearborn. Robert Rich of Rich Products (Buffalo, New York) transformed the soymilk into Whip Topping and a line of related products. Herbert Marshall Taylor started Delsoy, which also made a soy whipped cream.
1943 Nov. – Ford sells his process and machinery for making soy fiber and soybean fabric to The Drackett Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
1947 April 7 – Henry Ford dies at age 85 at his home in Dearborn, Michigan. He was and remains an American folk hero and a major soybean pioneer.
1954 June 29 – Robert Boyer is are issued a landmark patent (U.S. Patent 2,682,466) for spinning soy protein fibers and using them to simulate muscle fiber in meat alternatives. This process will later be used to make a new type meat alternatives, especially by Worthington Foods.
1963 – “Through his experimentation and the publicity he gave it, Henry Ford made a substantial contributing to the increased utilization of the soybean. His work in this field, which started when he was in his late sixties and carried forward until he was eighty years of age, is perhaps the outstanding achievement of his declining years. Of all Ford’s accomplishments, it is possible that none pleased him more than in helping to prove that there was magic in the beanstalk” (Nevins and Hill, 1963).

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