Then they abruptly began an extraordinarily vigorous recovery. The key man, by the nature of his job, was George M. La Branche, Jr. Floor specialists are broker-dealers who are responsible for maintaining orderly markets in the particular stocks with which they are charged.
In the course of meeting their responsibilities, they often have the curious duty of taking risks with their own money against their own better judgment. One big stumbling block seems to be the question: If the mechanical specialists should lose their shirts, who would pay their losses?
Not surprisingly, the ledger was known as the Telephone book. La Branche had, of course, been at the center of the excitement all day Monday, when Telephone was leading the market downward. As specialist, he had been rolling with the punch like a fighter´┐Żor to adopt his own more picturesque metaphor, bobbing like a cork on ocean combers. Then all of a sudden a great wind comes and whips up a giant wave. The wave sweeps over and deluges everybody; then it sucks back again. You have to give with it.
It touched the lower figure on three separate occasions, with rallies between´┐Ża fact that La Branche has spoken of as if it had a magical or mystical significance. And perhaps it had; at any rate, after the third dip buyers of Telephone began to turn up at Post 15, sparse and timid at first, then more numerous and aggressive.
Many commentators have expressed the opinion that that first sale of Telephone at marked the exact point at which the whole market changed direction. La Branche, while agreeing that the rise of Telephone did a lot to bring about the general upturn, differs as to precisely which transaction was the crucial one. To him, the first sale at was insufficient proof of lasting recovery, because it involved only a small number of shares a hundred, as far as he remembers.
He knew that in his book he had orders to sell almost twenty thousand shares of Telephone at And a man like La Branche, given to thinking in nautical terms, may have associated a certain finality with the notion of going down for a fourth time. It did not happen. Altogether, about half the supply of the stock at that price was gone when John J. Where-upon Telephone could no longer be bought for Steel was traded, and bid , the price of the last sale, for ten thousand shares.
But there are two crucial differences between the trade and the one. The moral may be that psychological gestures on the Exchange are most effective when they are neither intended nor really needed. At all events, a general rally began almost immediately. This was what it did during the early afternoon of May 29th with a speech delivered to the National Press Club by H. Ladd Plumley, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, which began to be reported on the Dow-Jones tape at , or at almost exactly the same time that the same news source declared the market to have turned strong.
As the speech came out in sections on the broad tape, it created an odd effect indeed. IT was during the last hour and a half on Tuesday that the pace of trading on the Exchange reached its most frantic.
The mood was cheerful, then, but the hours were long. Nor did the next day, Memorial Day, turn out to be a day off for the securities business. Wise old Wall Streeters had expressed the opinion that the holiday, falling by happy chance in the middle of the crisis and thus providing an opportunity for the cooling of overheated emotions, may have been the biggest factor in preventing the crisis from becoming a disaster. What it indubitably did provide was a chance for the Stock Exchange and its member organizations´┐Żall of whom had been directed to remain at their battle stations over the holiday´┐Żto begin picking up the pieces.
Steel at, say, 50, only to find later that they had paid 54 or The complaints of thousands of other customers could not be so easily answered. Badly shaken by a situation that seemed to cast doubt on the validity of the law of supply and demand, the brokerage house made inquiries and found that the buying order had got temporarily lost in the crush and had failed to reach Post 15 until the price had gone up six points.
In fact, the new ticker and various other automation devices, duly installed more or less on time, proved to be so heroically effective that the fantastic trading pace of April, was handled with only negligible tape delays. After a period of panic selling, the market has a habit of bouncing back dramatically and then resuming its slide. More than one broker recalled that on October 30, ´┐Żimmediately after the all-time-record two-day decline, and immediately before the start of the truly disastrous slide that was to continue for years and precipitate the great depression´┐Żthe Dow-Jones gain had been A follower of the antiperistasis system of security analysis might have concluded that the market was now poised for another dive.
Thursday was a day of steady, orderly rises in stock prices. Lost money was magically reappearing, and more was on the way. Markets in Europe, reacting to New York on the upturn just as they had on the downturn, had risen sharply. As for the Dow-Jones industrial average at closing, it figured out to The crisis was over. ALL that summer, and even into the following year, security analysts and other experts cranked out their explanations of what had happened, and so great were the logic, solemnity, and detail of these diagnoses that they lost only a little of their force through the fact that hardly any of the authors had had the slightest idea what was going to happen before the crisis occurred.
Probably the most scholarly and detailed report on who did the selling that caused the crisis was furnished by the New York Stock Exchange itself, which began sending elaborate questionnaires to its individual and corporate members immediately after the commotion was over.
The Exchange calculated that during the three days of the crisis rural areas of the country were more active in the market than they customarily are; that women investors had sold two and a half times as much stock as men investors; that foreign investors were far more active than usual, accounting for 5.
In sum, if there was a villain, it appeared to have been the relatively rich investor not connected with the securities business´┐Żand, more often than might have been expected, the female, rural, or foreign one, in many cases playing the market partly on borrowed money.
The role of the hero was filled, surprisingly, by the most frightening of untested forces in the market ´┐Żthe mutual funds. Exactly how this unexpectedly benign effect came about remains a matter of debate. Since no one has been heard to suggest that the funds acted out of sheer public-spiritedness during the crisis, it seems safe to assume that they were buying on Monday because their managers had spotted bargains, and were selling on Thursday because of chances to cash in on profits.
As for the problem of redemptions, there were, as had been feared, a large number of mutual-fund shareholders who demanded millions of dollars of their money in cash when the market crashed, but apparently the mutual funds had so much cash on hand that in most cases they could pay off their shareholders without selling substantial amounts of stock.
Taken as a group, the funds proved to be so rich and so conservatively managed that they not only could weather the storm but, by happy inadvertence, could do something to decrease its violence. Whether the same conditions would exist in some future storm was and is another matter.
In the last analysis, the cause of the crisis remains unfathomable; what is known is that it occurred, and that something like it could occur again.
I never said the Dow-Jones would go down to four hundred. I said five hundred. The point is that now, in contrast to , the government, Republican or Democratic, realizes that it must be attentive to the needs of business. There will never be apple-sellers on Wall Street again. As to whether what happened that May can happen again´┐Żof course it can. I think that people may be more careful for a year or two, and then we may see another speculative buildup followed by another crash, and so on until God makes people less greedy.
That year, American automobile makers sold over seven million passenger cars, or over a million more than they had sold in any previous year. The total amount spent on the Edsel before the first specimen went on sale was announced as a quarter of a billion dollars; its launching ´┐Żas Business Week declared and nobody cared to deny´┐Żwas more costly than that of any other consumer product in history.
As a starter toward getting its investment back, Ford counted on selling at least , Edsels the first year. To be precise, two years two months and fifteen days later Ford had sold only , Edsels, and, beyond a doubt, many hundreds, if not several thousands, of those were bought by Ford executives, dealers, salesmen, advertising men, assembly-line workers, and others who had a personal interest in seeing the car succeed.
How could this have happened? How could a company so mightily endowed with money, experience, and, presumably, brains have been guilty of such a monumental mistake? Even before the Edsel was dropped, some of the more articulate members of the car-minded public had come forward with an answer´┐Żan answer so simple and so seemingly reasonable that, though it was not the only one advanced, it became widely accepted as the truth.
Several years ago, in the face of an understandable reticence on the part of the Ford Motor Company, which enjoys documenting its boners no more than anyone else, I set out to learn what I could about the Edsel debacle, and my investigations have led me to believe that what we have here is less than the whole truth.
For, although the Edsel was supposed to be advertised, and otherwise promoted, strictly on the basis of preferences expressed in polls, some old-fashioned snake-oil-selling methods, intuitive rather than scientific, crept in. As for the design, it was arrived at without even a pretense of consulting the polls, and by the method that has been standard for years in the designing of automobiles´┐Żthat of simply pooling the hunches of sundry company committees.
But the facts of the case may live to become a myth of a symbolic sort´┐Ża modern American antisuccess story. Breech, the executive vice-president, that studies be undertaken concerning the wisdom of putting on the market a new and wholly different medium-priced car. The studies were undertaken. There appeared to be good reason for them.
Lewis D. Krafve, a forceful, rather saturnine man with a habitually puzzled look, was then in his middle forties.
The son of a printer on a small farm journal in Minnesota, he had been a sales engineer and management consultant before joining Ford, in , and although he could not have known it in , he was to have reason to look puzzled. As the man directly responsible for the Edsel and its fortunes, enjoying its brief glory and attending it in its mortal agonies, he had a rendezvous with destiny.
As a matter of fact, this part of the millennium arrived much sooner than the Forward Planners estimated. The G. The number of cars in operation would be seventy million´┐Żup twenty million. More than half the families in the nation would have incomes of over five thousand dollars a year, and more than 40 percent of all the cars sold would be in the medium-price range or better. The moral was clear. If by that time Ford had not come out with a second medium-priced car´┐Żnot just a new model, but a new make´┐Żand made it a favorite in its field, the company would miss out on its share of the national boodle.
On the other hand, the Ford bosses were well aware of the enormous risks connected with putting a new car on the market. They knew all about the automotive casualties that had followed the Second World War´┐Żamong them Crosley, which had given up altogether, and Kaiser Motors, which, though still alive in , was breathing its last. The members of the Forward Product Planning Committee must have glanced at each other uneasily when, a year later, Henry J.
Nevertheless, the Ford men felt bullish´┐Żso remarkably bullish that they resolved to toss into the automobile pond five times the sum that Kaiser had. Thus the company gave its formal sanction to the efforts of its designers, who, having divined the trend of events, had already been doodling for several months on plans for a new car.
Brown, who, before taking on the E-Car and after studying industrial design at the Detroit Art Academy , had had a hand in the designing of radios, motor cruisers, colored-glass products, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, and Lincolns. No one, of course, is better aware of this than the rivals themselves, but the cloak-and-dagger stuff is thought to pay for itself in publicity value.
Twice a week or so, Krafve´┐Ż head down, and sticking to low ground´┐Żmade the journey to the styling studio, where he would confer with Brown, check up on the work as it proceeded, and offer advice and encouragement. Krafve was not the kind of man to envision his objective in a single revelatory flash; instead, he anatomized the styling of the E-Car into a series of laboriously minute decisions´┐Żhow to shape the fenders, what pattern to use with the chrome, what kind of door handles to put on, and so on and on.
He reasoned at the time that if they arrived at the right yes-or-no choice on every one of those occasions, they ought, in the end, to come up with a stylistically perfect car´┐Żor at least a car that would be unique and at the same time familiar. As the world was to learn two years later, its most striking aspect was a novel, horse-collar-shaped radiator grille, set vertically in the center of a conventionally low, wide front end´┐Ża blend of the unique and the familiar that was there for all to see, though certainly not for all to admire.
In two prominent respects, however, Brown or Krafve, or both, lost sight entirely of the familiar, specifying a unique rear end, marked by widespread horizontal wings that were in bold contrast to the huge longitudinal tail fins then captivating the market, and a unique cluster of automatic-transmission push buttons on the hub of the steering wheel. On August 15, , in the ceremonial secrecy of the styling center, while Krafve, Brown, and their aides stood by smiling nervously and washing their hands in air, the members of the Forward Product Planning Committee, including Henry Ford II and Breech, watched critically as a curtain was lifted to reveal the first full-size model of the E-Car´┐Ża clay one, with tinfoil simulating aluminum and chrome.
According to eyewitnesses, the audience sat in utter silence for what seemed like a full minute, and then, as one man, burst into a round of applause. Nothing of the kind had ever happened at an intracompany first showing at Ford since , when old Henry had bolted together his first horseless carriage. Guessing future tastes is hard enough for those charged with planning the customary annual changes in models of established makes; it is far harder to bring out an altogether new creation, like the E-Car, for which several intricate new steps must be worked into the dance pattern, such as endowing the product with a personality and selecting a suitable name for it, to say nothing of consulting various oracles in an effort to determine whether, by the time of the unveiling, the state of the national economy will make bringing out any new car seem like a good idea.
Faithfully executing the prescribed routine, the Special Products Division called upon its director of planning for market research, David Wallace, to see what he could do about imparting a personality to the E-Car and giving it a name.
Wallace, a lean, craggy-jawed pipe puffer with a soft, slow, thoughtful way of speaking, gave the impression of being the Platonic idea of the college professor´┐Żthe very steel die from which the breed is cut´┐Żalthough, in point of fact, his background was not strongly academic. Before going to Ford, in , he had worked his way through Westminster College, in Pennsylvania, ridden out the depression as a construction laborer in New York City, and then spent ten years in market research at Time.
Still, impressions are what count, and Wallace has admitted that during his tenure with Ford he consciously stressed his professorial air for the sake of the advantage it gave him in dealing with the bluff, practical men of Dearborn. He insisted, typically, on living in Ann Arbor, where he could bask in the scholarly aura of the University of Michigan, rather than in Dearborn or Detroit, both of which he declared were intolerable after business hours.
Whatever the degree of his success in projecting the image of the E-Car, he seems, by his small eccentricities, to have done splendidly at projecting the image of Wallace. Wallace clearly recalls the reasoning´┐Żcandid enough´┐Żthat guided him and his assistants as they sought just the right personality for the E-Car. What we wanted to do, naturally, was to give the E-Car the personality that would make the greatest number of people want it.
All we had to do was create the exact one we wanted´┐Ż from scratch. To this end, he engaged the Columbia University Bureau of Applied Social Research to interview eight hundred recent car buyers in Peoria, Illinois, and another eight hundred in San Bernardino, California, on the mental images they had of the various automobile makes concerned. In undertaking this commercial enterprise, Columbia maintained its academic independence by reserving the right to publish its findings.
What we wanted was something that would show interpersonal factors. We picked Peoria as a place that is Midwestern, stereotyped, and not loaded with extraneous factors´┐Żlike a General Motors glass plant, say. We picked San Bernardino because the West Coast is very important in the automobile business, and because the market there is quite different´┐Żpeople tend to buy flashier cars.
Who, in their opinion, would naturally own a Chevrolet or a Buick or whatever? People of what age? Of which sex? Of what social status? From the answers, Wallace found it easy to put together a personality portrait of each make. The image of the Ford came into focus as that of a very fast, strongly masculine car, of no particular social pretensions, that might characteristically be driven by a rancher or an automobile mechanic.
Buick jelled into a middle-aged lady´┐Żor, at least, more of a lady than Ford, sex in cars having proved to be relative´┐Żwith a bit of the devil still in her, whose most felicitous mate would be a lawyer, a doctor, or a dance-band leader. By the time the researchers closed the books on Peoria and San Bernardino, they had elicited replies not only to these questions but to others, several of which, it would appear, only the most abstruse sociological thinker could relate to medium-priced cars.
We may infer that these respondents are aware of the fact that they are in the learning process. Wallace, dreaming of an ideally lovable E-Car, was delighted as returns like these came pouring into his Dearborn office.
But when the time for a final decision drew near, it became clear to him that he must put aside peripheral issues like cocktail-mixing prowess and address himself once more to the old problem of the image. And here, it seemed to him, the greatest pitfall was the temptation to aim, in accordance with what he took to be the trend of the times, for extremes of masculinity, youthfulness, and speed; indeed, the following passage from one of the Columbia reports, as he interpreted it, contained a specific warning against such folly.
Offhand we might conjecture that women who drive cars probably work, and are more mobile than non-owners, and get gratifications out of mastering a traditionally male role. But ´┐Ż there is no doubt that whatever gratifications women get out of their cars, and whatever social imagery they attach to their automobiles, they do want to appear as women.
Perhaps more worldly women, but women. The answer quite definitely is Yes. When there is a conflict between owner characteristics and make image, there is greater planning to switch to another make. In other words, when the buyer is a different kind of person from the person he thinks would own his make, he wants to change to a make in which he, inwardly, will be more comfortable. Should a make have a strong and well-defined image, it is obvious that an owner with strong opposing characteristics would be in conflict.
But conflict also can occur when the make image is diffuse or weakly defined. In this case, the owner is in an equally frustrating position of not being able to get a satisfactory identification from his make. The question, then, was how to steer between the Scylla of a too definite car personality and the Charybdis of a too weak personality. Younger: appealing to spirited but responsible adventurers.
Executive or professional: millions pretend to this status, whether they can attain it or not. Very early in its history, Krafve had suggested to members of the Ford family that the new car be named for Edsel Ford, who was the only son of old Henry; the president of the Ford Motor Company from until his death, in ; and the father of the new generation of Fords´┐ŻHenry II, Benson, and William Clay.
The three brothers had let Krafve know that their father might not have cared to have his name spinning on a million hubcaps, and they had consequently suggested that the Special Products Division start looking around for a substitute. This it did, with a zeal no less emphatic than it displayed in the personality crusade.
In the late summer and early fall of , Wallace hired the services of several research outfits, which sent interviewers, armed with a list of two thousand possible names, to canvass sidewalk crowds in New York, Chicago, Willow Run, and Ann Arbor. The interviewers did not ask simply what the respondent thought of some such name as Mars, Jupiter, Rover, Ariel, Arrow, Dart, or Ovation.
They asked what free associations each name brought to mind, and having got an answer to this one, they asked what word or words was considered the opposite of each name, on the theory that, subliminally speaking, the opposite is as much a part of a name as the tail is of a penny. The results of all this, the Special Products Division eventually decided, were inconclusive. Meanwhile, Krafve and his men held repeated sessions in a darkened room, staring, with the aid of a spotlight, at a series of cardboard signs, each bearing a name, as, one after another, they were flipped over for their consideration.
One of the men thus engaged spoke up for the name Phoenix, because of its connotations of ascendancy, and another favored Altair, on the ground that it would lead practically all alphabetical lists of cars and thus enjoy an advantage analogous to that enjoyed in the animal kingdom by the aardvark. He puffed on his pipe, smiled an academic smile, and nodded. THE card-flipping sessions proved to be as fruitless as the sidewalk interviews, and it was at this stage of the game that Wallace, resolving to try and wring from genius what the common mind had failed to yield, entered into the celebrated car-naming correspondence with the poet Marianne Moore, which was later published in The New Yorker and still later, in book form, by the Morgan Library.
Suspecting that the bosses of the Special Products Division might regard this list as a trifle unwieldy, the agency got to work and cut it down to six thousand names, which it presented to them in executive session. Before the weekend was over, the two Foote, Cone offices presented their separate lists of ten to the Special Products Division, and by an almost incredible coincidence, which all hands insist was a coincidence, four of the names on the two lists were the same; Corsair, Citation, Pacer, and Ranger had miraculously survived the dual scrutiny.
Just what we wanted. The epochal decision was reached at a meeting of the Ford executive committee held at a time when, as it happened, all three Ford brothers were away. There were to be four main models of the E-Car, with variations on each one, and Breech soothed some of his colleagues by adding that the magic four´┐ŻCorsair, Citation, Pacer, and Ranger ´┐Żmight be used, if anybody felt so inclined, as the subnames for the models. A telephone call was put through to Henry II, who was vacationing in Nassau.
He said that if Edsel was the choice of the executive committee, he would abide by its decision, provided he could get the approval of the rest of his family.
Within a few days, he got it. But it has a personal dignity and meaning to many of us here. Our name, dear Miss Moore, is´┐ŻEdsel. I hope you will understand. But their sense of disappointment was as nothing compared to the gloom that enveloped many employees of the Special Products Division. What were its free associations?
Pretzel, diesel, hard sell. What was its opposite? Still, the matter was settled, and there was nothing to do but put the best possible face on it. Besides, the anguish in the Special Products Division was by no means unanimous, and Krafve himself, of course, was among those who had no objection to the name. He still has none, declining to go along with those who contend that the decline and fall of the Edsel may be dated from the moment of its christening.
Krafve himself managed to remain earthbound, though he had his own reasons for feeling buoyant; in recognition of his leadership of the E-Car project up to that point, he was given the august title of Vice-President of the Ford Motor Company and General Manager, Edsel Division.
From the administrative point of view, this off-with-the-old-on-with-the-new effect was merely harmless window dressing. Above all, the campaign was to be classic in its calmness. Like a chess master who has no doubt that he will win, he could afford to explicate the brilliance of his moves even as he made them. Ordinarily, an established manufacturer launches a new car through dealers who are already handling his other makes and who, to begin with, take on the upstart as a sort of sideline.
Not so in the case of the Edsel; Krafve received authorization from on high to go all out and build up a retail-dealer organization by making raids on dealers who had contracts with other manufacturers, or even with the other Ford Company divisions ´┐ŻFord and Lincoln-Mercury.
Although the Ford dealers thus corralled were not obliged to cancel their old contracts, all the emphasis was on signing up retail outlets exclusively dedicated to the selling of Edsels. The goal set for Introduction Day´┐Żwhich, after a great deal of soul-searching, was finally established as September 4, ´┐Żwas twelve hundred Edsel dealers from coast to coast.
They were not to be just any dealers, either; Krafve made it clear that Edsel was interested in signing up only dealers whose records showed that they had a marked ability to sell cars without resorting to the high-pressure tricks of borderline legality that had lately been giving the automobile business a bad name.
On an Edsel, he will blame the car. The average dealer has at least a hundred thousand dollars tied up in his agency, and in large cities the investment is much higher.
He must hire salesmen, mechanics, and office help; buy his own tools, technical literature, and signs, the latter costing as much as five thousand dollars a set; and pay the factory spot cash for the cars he receives from it.
The man charged with mobilizing an Edsel sales force along these exacting lines was J. Larry Doyle, who, as general sales-and-marketing manager of the division, ranked second to Krafve himself. A veteran of forty years with the Ford Company, who had started with it as an office boy in Kansas City and had spent the intervening time mainly selling, Doyle was a maverick in his field.
Needless to say, we kept those offices locked and the blinds drawn. Dealers in every make for miles around wanted to see the car, if only out of curiosity, and that gave us the leverage we needed. We let it be known that we would show the car only to dealers who were really interested in coming with us, and then we sent our regional field managers out to surrounding towns to try to line up the No.
It worked very well. In fact, it missed the goal of twelve hundred by a couple of dozen. In retrospect, it would seem that Doyle could have given lessons to the Pied Piper. Now that the Edsel was no longer the exclusive concern of Dearborn, the Ford Company was irrevocably committed to going ahead. The matter was attended to with dispatch. In June, too, an Edsel destined to be the star of a television commercial for future release was stealthily transported in a closed van to Hollywood, where, on a locked sound stage patrolled by security guards, it was exposed to the cameras in the admiring presence of a few carefully chosen actors who had sworn that their lips would be sealed from then until Introduction Day.
For this delicate photographic operation the Edsel Division cannily enlisted the services of Cascade Pictures, which also worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, and, as far as is known, there were no unintentional leaks. Within a few weeks, the Edsel Division had eighteen hundred salaried employees and was rapidly filling some fifteen thousand factory jobs in the newly converted plants.
On July 22nd, the first advertisement for the Edsel appeared´┐Żin Life. A two-page spread in plain black-and-white, it was impeccably classic and calm, showing a car whooshing down a country highway at such high speed that it was an indistinguishable blur. Whoever wrote the ad cannot have known how truly he spoke. Gayle Warnock, director of public relations, whose duty was not so much to generate public interest in the forthcoming product, there being an abundance of that, as to keep the interest at white heat, and readily convertible into a desire to buy one of the new cars on or after Introduction Day´┐Żor, as the company came to call it, Edsel Day.
This was something new to me´┐ŻI was used to taking what breaks I could get when I could get them´┐Żbut I soon found out how right Dick was. It was almost too easy to get publicity for the Edsel. Early in , when it was still called the E-Car, Krafve gave a little talk about it out in Portland, Oregon.
Clippings came in by the bushel. Right then I realized the trouble we might be headed for. The policy was later violated now and then, purposely or inadvertently. And, for another, Edsels loaded on vans for delivery to dealers were appearing on the highways in ever-increasing numbers, covered fore and aft with canvas flaps that, as if to whet the desire of the motoring public, were forever blowing loose.
That summer, too, was a time of speechmaking by an Edsel foursome consisting of Krafve, Doyle, J. Copeland, its assistant general sales manager for advertising, sales promotion, and training. Ranging separately up and down and across the nation, the four orators moved around so fast and so tirelessly that Warnock, lest he lose track of them, took to indicating their whereabouts with colored pins on a map in his office.
And well they might have been, for developments in the general economic outlook of the nation were making more sanguine men than Krafve look puzzled. In July, , the stock market went into a nose dive, marking the beginning of what is recalled as the recession of Then, early in August, a decline in the sales of medium-priced cars of all makes set in, and the general situation worsened so rapidly that, before the month was out, Automotive News reported that dealers in all makes were ending their season with the second-largest number of unsold new cars in history.
Meanwhile, sales of the Rambler, which was the only American-made small car then in production, were beginning to rise ominously. Perhaps the least impressed of all was Judge, who, while doing his bit as an itinerant speaker, specialized in community and civic groups. He wandered restlessly around the auditorium as he spoke, shifting the kaleidoscopic images on the screen at will with the aid of an automatic slide changer´┐Ża trick made possible by a crew of electricians who laced the place in advance with a maze of wires linking the device to dozens of floor switches, which, scattered about the hall, responded when he kicked them.
At the last moment, Judge would descend melodramatically on the town by plane, hasten to the hall, and go into his act.
This is the Edsel story. It differed from previous automotive jamborees of its kind in that the journalists were invited to bring their wives along´┐Żand many of them did. Before it was over, it had cost the Ford Company ninety thousand dollars. Thus hobbled, Warnock could do no better for the reporters and their wives when they converged on the Detroit scene on Sunday evening, August 25th, than to put them up at the discouragingly named Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel and to arrange for them to spend Monday afternoon hearing and reading about the long-awaited details of the entire crop of Edsels´┐Żeighteen varieties available, in four main lines Corsair, Citation, Pacer, and Ranger , differing mainly in their size, power, and trim.
It went over fine. There was excitement even among the hardened newspapermen. In the afternoon, the reporters were whisked out to the test track to see a team of stunt drivers put the Edsel through its paces.
This event, calculated to be thrilling, turned out to be hair-raising, and even, for some, a little unstringing. Edsels ran over two-foot ramps on two wheels, bounced from higher ramps on all four wheels, were driven in crisscross patterns, grazing each other, at sixty or seventy miles per hour, and skidded into complete turns at fifty.
For comic relief, there was a clown driver parodying the daredevil stuff. All the while, the voice of Neil L. Krafve replied tersely that he would answer when it was over and all hands safe. But everyone else seemed to be having a grand time.
It was beautiful. It was like the Rockettes. It was exciting. Morale was high. The stunt driving, like the unveiling, was considered too rich for the blood of the wives, but the resourceful Warnock was ready for them with a fashion show that he hoped they would find at least equally diverting.
He need not have worried. Things were never again quite the same since between Brown and Warnock, but the wives were able to give their husbands an extra paragraph or two for their stories. The next morning, at a windup press conference held by Ford officials. One guy simply miscalculated and cracked up his car running into something. No fault of the Edsel there. One car lost its oil pan, so naturally the motor froze. It can happen to the best of cars. Fortunately, at the time of this malfunction the driver was going through a beautiful- sounding town´┐ŻParadise, Kansas, I think it was´┐Żand that gave the news reports about it a nice little positive touch.
The nearest dealer gave the reporter a new Edsel, and he drove on home, climbing Pikes Peak on the way. Then one car crashed through a tollgate when the brakes failed. That was bad. That was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. One of our reporters was tooling along´┐Żno problems´┐Żwhen a Plymouth driver pulled up alongside to rubberneck, and edged so close that the Edsel got sideswiped.
Minor damage. Indeed, during the period between the press preview and Edsel Day the spirit of everybody associated with the venture seems to have been one of wild optimism. A dealer in Portland, Oregon, reported that he had already sold two Edsels, sight unseen. On E Day, the Edsel arrived.
In the ad, Ford looked like a dignified young father, Breech like a dignified gentleman holding a full house against a possible straight, the Edsel just looked like an Edsel. Three days later, in North Philadelphia, an Edsel was stolen. It can reasonably be argued that the crime marked the high-water mark of public acceptance of the Edsel; only a few months later, any but the least fastidious of car thieves might not have bothered. This, in contrast to the wide and horizontal grilles of all nineteen other American makes of the time, was slender and vertical.
It was intended to suggest the front end of practically any car of twenty or thirty years ago and of most contemporary European cars, and thus to look at once seasoned and sophisticated. The trouble was that whereas the front ends of the antiques and the European cars were themselves high and narrow´┐Żconsisting, indeed, of little more than the radiator grilles´┐Żthe front end of the Edsel was broad and low, just like the front ends of all its American competitors.
Consequently, there were wide areas on either side of the grille that had to be filled in with something, and filled in they were ´┐Żwith twin panels of entirely conventional horizontal chrome grillwork.
The attempt at sophistication was so transparent as to be endearing. But if the grille of the Edsel appealed through guilelessness, the rear end was another matter. Here, too, there was a marked departure from the conventional design of the day. Instead of the notorious tail fin, the car had what looked to its fanciers like wings and to others, less ethereal-minded, like eyebrows. The lines of the trunk lid and the rear fenders, swooping upward and outward, did somewhat resemble the wings of a gull in flight, but the resemblance was marred by two long, narrow tail lights, set partly in the trunk lid and partly in the fenders, which followed those lines and created the startling illusion, especially at night, of a slant-eyed grin.
From the front, the Edsel seemed, above all, anxious to please, even at the cost of being clownish; from the rear it looked crafty, Oriental, smug, one-up´┐Żmaybe a little cynical and contemptuous, too. It was as if, somewhere between grille and rear fenders, a sinister personality change had taken place. In other respects, the exterior styling of the Edsel was not far out of the ordinary. Its sides were festooned with a bit less than the average amount of chrome, and distinguished by a gouged-out bullet- shaped groove extending forward from the rear fender for about half the length of the car.
Epitomizing this epitome, the automatic-transmission control box´┐Żarrestingly situated on top of the steering post, in the center of the wheel´┐Żsprouted a galaxy of five push buttons so light to the touch that, as Edsel men could hardly be restrained from demonstrating, they could be depressed with a toothpick. Of the four lines of Edsels, both of the two larger and more expensive ones´┐Żthe Corsair and the Citation´┐Żwere inches long, or two inches longer than the biggest of the Oldsmobiles; both were eighty inches wide, or about as wide as passenger cars ever get; and the height of both was only fifty- seven inches, as low as any other medium-priced car.
The Ranger and the Pacer, the smaller Edsels, were six inches shorter, an inch narrower, and an inch lower than the Corsair and the Citation. The Corsair and the Citation were equipped with horsepower engines, making them more powerful than any other American car at the time of their debut, and the Ranger and the Pacer were good for horsepower, near the top in their class. If anything or anybody happened to be in the way when the toothpick touched the push button, so much the worse.
WHEN the wraps were taken off the Edsel, it received what is known in the theatrical business as a mixed press. Magazine criticism was generally more exhaustive and occasionally more severe. Motor Trend, the largest monthly devoted to ordinary automobiles, as distinct from hot rods, devoted eight pages of its October, , issue to an analysis and critique of the Edsel by Joe H.
Wherry, its Detroit editor. After having put a Corsair through a series of road tests, Consumer Reports declared: The Edsel has no important basic advantages over other brands. The car is almost entirely conventional in construction. It embodied much of the spirit of its time´┐Żor at least of the time when it was designed, early in It was clumsy, powerful, dowdy, gauche, well-meaning ´┐Ża de Kooning woman.
The Edsel was obviously jinxed, but to say that it was jinxed by its design alone would be an oversimplification, as it would be to say that it was jinxed by an excess of motivational research.
The fact is that in the short, unhappy life of the Edsel a number of other factors contributed to its commercial downfall. One of these was the scarcely believable circumstance that many of the very first Edsels´┐Żthose obviously destined for the most glaring public limelight´┐Żwere dramatically imperfect. By its preliminary program of promotion and advertising, the Ford Company had built up an overwhelming head of public interest in the Edsel, causing its arrival to be anticipated and the car itself to be gawked at with more eagerness than had ever greeted any automobile before it.
Within a few weeks after the Edsel was introduced, its pratfalls were the talk of the land. An obviously distraught man staggered into a bar up the Hudson River, demanding a double shot without delay and exclaiming that the dashboard of his new Edsel had just burst into flame.
A former executive of the Edsel Division has estimated that only about half of the first Edsels really performed properly. A layman cannot help wondering how the Ford Company, in all its power and glory, could have been guilty of such a Mack Sennett routine of buildup and anticlimax.
The wan, hard-working Krafve explains gamely that when a company brings out a new model of any make´┐Żeven an old and tested one´┐Żthe first cars often have bugs in them. A more startling theory´┐Żthough only a theory´┐Żis that there may have been sabotage in some of the four plants that assembled the Edsel, all but one of which had previously been, and currently also were, assembling Fords or Mercurys.
Krafve, realizing what might happen, had asked that the Edsel be assembled in plants of its own, but his superiors turned him down.
On the other hand, at the distribution and dealer level, you got some rough infighting in terms of whispering and propaganda.
Doyle says that on Edsel Day more than 6, Edsels were either ordered by or actually delivered to customers. That was a good showing, but there were isolated signs of resistance. For instance, a New England dealer selling Edsels in one showroom and Buicks in another reported that two prospects walked into the Edsel showroom, took a look at the Edsel, and placed orders for Buicks on the spot.
In the next few days, sales dropped sharply, but that was to be expected once the bloom was off. The delivery total for the second ten-day period was off slightly, and that for the third was down to just under 3, For the first ten days of October, nine of which were business days, there were only 2, deliveries´┐Żan average of just over three hundred cars a day.
In order to sell the , cars per year that would make the Edsel operation profitable the Ford Company would have to move an average of between six and seven hundred each business day´┐Ża good many more than three hundred a day.
Now it was obvious that things were not going at all well. Krafve feels that the moment did not arrive until sometime late in October. Public Relations Director Warnock maintains that his barometric sensitivity to the public temper enabled him to call the turn as early as mid-September; contrariwise, Doyle says he maintained his optimism until mid-November, by which time he was about the only man in the division who had not concluded it would take a miracle to save the Edsel.
The obvious sacrificial victim was Brown, whose stock had gone through the roof at the time of the regally accoladed debut of his design, in August, Now, without having done anything further, for either better or worse, the poor fellow became the company scapegoat. By December, the panic at Edsel had abated to the point where its sponsors could pull themselves together and begin casting about for ways to get sales moving again. The Edsel Division picked up the check for the scale models´┐Ża symptom of desperation indeed, for under normal circumstances no automobile manufacturer would make even a move to outfumble its dealers for such a tab.
Up to that time, the dealers had paid for everything, as is customary. Krafve told a reporter that sales up to then were about what he had expected them to be, although not what he had hoped they would be; in his zeal not to seem unpleasantly surprised, he appeared to be saying that he had expected the Edsel to fail. The catch, as the Wall Street Journal alertly noted, was that the latter period embraced one more selling day than the earlier one, so, for practical purposes, there had scarcely been a gain at all.
Nance, who had been running Lincoln-Mercury. What advertising it did get strove quixotically to assure the automobile trade that everything was dandy; in mid-February an ad in Automotive News had Nance saying, Since the formation of the new M-E-L Division at Ford Motor Company, we have analyzed with keen interest the sales progress of the Edsel.
The car moved, as salesmen say, though hardly at the touch of a toothpick. In fact, as a stepchild it sold about as well as it had sold as a favorite son, suggesting that all the hoopla, whether about symbolic gratification or mere horsepower, had had little effect one way or the other. Shorter by up to eight inches, lighter by up to five hundred pounds, and with engines less potent by as much as horsepower, they had a price range running from five hundred to eight hundred dollars less than that of their predecessors.
Here, at last, was progress; sales were at almost a quarter of the minimum profitable rate, instead of a mere fifth. The largest number 8, were in California, which is perennially beset with far and away the largest number of cars of practically all makes, and the smallest number were in Alaska, Vermont, and Hawaii , , and , respectively. All in all, the Edsel seemed to have found a niche for itself as an amusingly eccentric curiosity. Its initial sales were abysmal; by the middle of November only one plant´┐Żin Louisville, Kentucky´┐Żwas still turning out Edsels, and it was turning out only about twenty a day.
The final quantitative box score shows that from the beginning right up to November 19th, , Edsels were produced and , were sold. The remaining 1,, almost all of them models, were disposed of in short order with the help of drastic price cuts. In other, harsher words, the company would have saved itself money if, back in , it had decided not to produce the Edsel at all but simply to give away , specimens of its comparably priced car, the Mercury. THE end of the Edsel set off an orgy of hindsight in the press.
Large corporations are often accused of rigging markets, administering prices, and otherwise dictating to the consumer [it observed]. And yesterday Ford Motor Company announced its two-year experiment with the medium-priced Edsel has come to an end ´┐Ż for want of buyers.
All this is quite a ways from auto makers being able to rig markets or force consumers to take what they want them to take. The tone of the piece was friendly and sympathetic; the Ford Company, it seemed, had endeared itself to the Journal by playing the great American situation-comedy role of Daddy the Bungler.
In fact, Krafve, like many a flattened pugilist, blames his own bad timing; he contends that if he had been able to thwart the apparently immutable mechanics and economics of Detroit, and had somehow been able to bring out the Edsel in , or even , when the stock market and the medium-priced-car market were riding high, the car would have done well and would still be doing well.
That is to say, if he had seen the punch coming, he would have ducked. Brown agrees with Krafve that bad timing was the chief mistake. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions! Why not is a mystery to me. Golly, how the industry worked and worked over the years´┐Żgetting rid of gear-shifting, providing interior comfort, providing plus performance for use in emergencies! And now the public wants these little beetles. It also leaves Wallace free to defend the validity of his motivational-research studies as of the time when they were conducted.
Christopher Hanlon. John Lie. Benedict Taylor. Jonathan Conlin. The Victorian novelist, historian and cleric Charles Kingsley ´┐Ż75 was a polymath who took a close interest in natural history. A friend and correspondent of T. Huxley and many other leading British and American biologists, Kingsley applied concepts familiar from evolutionary biology in his historical novels and lectures.
This encouraged him to present the history of Britain as the history of a divinely favoured Teutonic race, one with a mission to subdue the world.
Less favoured races were doomed to assimilation into this race or to complete annihilation. Such racialist thinking was, this essay suggests, not unusual in Victorian historical writing. Log in with Facebook Log in with Google. Remember me on this computer. Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link. Need an account? Click here to sign up. Download Free PDF. Heisman, Mitchell - suicide note. Centro de Estudios Historia.
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