Henry Ford had a history of supporting unusual causes, often in even more unusual ways. Perhaps no attempted feat was more widely mocked than his World War I peace ship, an amateur attempt at ending the fighting in Europe. Henry Ford chartered the ocean liner Oscar II and invited prominent peace activists to accompany him on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The hope was that their mission would gain enough publicity to bring peace to the nations at the root of the war.
The ship launched from New York Harbor on this day in 1915. A crowd of nearly 15,000 people watched the head to sea as a band played “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” Not long after leaving those aboard realized the trip may not be successful. Aside from being dubbed the “Ship of Fools” by many members of the press, including some that joined the journey, there was constant fighting between the activists and later an onboard outbreak of influenza. Henry caught the bug and became physically ill, which prompted him to abandon his mission and return to the US just four days after landing in Norway.
While the mission was ultimately unsuccessful, but Henry, being the businessman he was, found a way to spin it in a positive light. He told members of the press that the Peace Ship “got people thinking, and when you get them to think they will think right.” It may have been his true belief that his do-goodness stimulated peace talks among nations, but the fighting continued for three more years.
Cover: The Oscar II leaving New York Harbor on December 4, 1915