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May 8, 1956 – HFII resigns as Ford Foundation chairman

Henry Ford II

The Ford Foundation was founded in 1936 with a mission statement that claimed it was created “for scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare.” On this day in 1956 Henry Ford II resigned as its chairman. Until the founding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, The Ford Foundation continually ranked as the highest giving US non-profit. 

A few highlights of the Foundations work include its first grant to support the development of the public broadcasting system, then known as National Educational Television (NET), which went on the air in 1952. In 1969 the Foundation gave US$1 million to the Children’s Television Workshop to help create and launch Sesame Street. In 1972, the Foundation provided a three-year, $1.2 million grant to the Native American Rights Fund.

The Foundation, as charitable as it was, did a lot for the Ford family on a personal level too. This is especially true in its infancy. When the FDR administration introduced “soak the rich” taxes that were forced on estates worth at least $50 million, the Ford family started the Ford Foundation. The family made it holder of a bulk of Henry Ford’s estate and an endowment from Edsel Ford. This resulted in a 95 percent non-voting stake in Ford, and potentially saved the family hundreds of millions over the years in taxes. Thanks to the foundation, the Ford family has saved more than $321 million in inheritance taxes. 

Cover image via Detroit Historical Society.

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