From curiosity comes dynamism, from obstinacy drive.
From the drawing board, from tinkering, from the machine shop in the old barn come pistons and cams.
From gasoline comes internal combustion, comes a world of rubber wheels instead of horseshoes, a world powered not by steam or wind but oil refracted into a rainbow of mechanical possibility, smoke and stink of it filling the little house on Bagley Avenue.
From the gunworks of Samuel Colt, from the precision of clockmakers come interchangeable parts.
From the Arsenal of the Doge’s Venice comes standardized production.
From the butchery of hogs hung for slaughter, from Chicago packing houses comes the conveyor belt, comes the assembly line, comes the dismemberment of human toil.
From the builders of every monumental construct back to the Great Pyramid of Cheops comes the mobilization of labor,
comes mass production,
comes the pace of the century and its mode of transport and its consumerist destiny,
comes Highland Park, Hamtramck, River Rouge,
comes the river of ash and coke, river of bitumen, river of liquid capital, river of molten vanadium steel,
comes the thunder of the blast furnace,
comes the glory of industry,
comes the abjection and abandonment of industry,
comes the world’s first billionaire, the titan, the crank,
but not yet, all things in due course,
but not yet.
For now it is a cold afternoon in January,
and Henry Ford has just established a new world speed record
driving a first-of-its-kind Model B roadster at 91 mph
along a four-mile track on the soot-covered ice of Lake Saint Clair,
and afterwards he celebrates with a complimentary muskrat dinner
for himself and his entourage at the Chesterfield Hotel—
the Dodge Brothers are there, drinking heavily,
James Couzens, Harold Wills, the ace mechanic Spider Huff—
and for this moment he is not worried about magneto coils or engine blocks,
about investors or salesmen or the burgeoning competition,
about the Jews and their secret cabals or the goddamn unions ruining the country,
for now he sees only the sugar-fine granules of frozen dust
driven across the ice in snake-thin runnels,
their fluid aerodynamics,
the kinetic grace of the invisible force
that scours and propels them
in a model of ruthless simplicity—
Henry Ford is staring out the window,
lost in thought,
stealing everything he can from the wind.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Vicki Lawrence has many years of experience in journal management and in writing and editing for publications in science, health, medicine, and the arts and humanities. She has an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College and also writes fiction.
The University of Michigan Library's Michigan Publishing maintains an electronic archive of past issues of Michigan Quarterly Review. To search through the complete electronic text of this archive you can use the search facility set up by Michigan Publishing