Dakota Datebook

The Henry Ford Peace Ship

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On this date in 1915, the chartered steamship Oscar II sailed from New York to what is now Oslo, Norway. The voyage was the brainchild of Detroit automaker Henry Ford. Interestingly, the trip had a North Dakota connection.
With the outbreak of WW I the previous year, several well-known private American citizens became increasingly vocal about wanting to end the bloodshed in Europe. The United States had not yet entered the war, and it was Ford’s hope to keep it that way. To accomplish this goal, Henry Ford and others organized the Ford Peace Ship.
Ford’s plan was to bring one hundred prominent men of the United States to Denmark, Sweden and other neutral countries. There, according to his plan, a peace conference would be held with other prominent world figures, and a permanent peace commission would be established. Never before had a private citizen attempted such an enterprise.
Unfortunately, none of the American participants were policy makers or politicians; except for one.
The lone state governor to accept Ford’s invitation to attend was North Dakota Governor Louis Hanna. He was told that people such as Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison and John Wanamaker had also accepted offers to attend.
President Woodrow Wilson and many other world leaders opposed the Ford Peace Ship plan and would have no part of it. He and others believed that private citizens should not be involved with world politics. None of the countries that were then fighting were in attendance. Contrary to general political and public sentiment, many on the Peace Ship opposed any military buildup on the part of the United States.
Once in Europe, the Henry Ford Peace Ship plan was met with one setback after another.
Governor Hannah’s participation in the trip was ridiculed by many. Some believed it was a stunt to gain publicity. Was the governor trying to displace North Dakota’s current United States Senator McCumber? The governor’s critics believed his participation was a “personal move for hoped-for political favor.”
The Ford Peace Ship enterprise ultimately failed, unable to accomplish its goals. Governor Hanna returned to North Dakota after a two month tour of Europe. He had no apologies to make for his participation. He is quoted as saying, “If I was never an advocate for peace before, I certainly am now.”

Wilkins, Robert P., “North Dakota and the Ford Peace Ship”, North Dakota History, Fall, 1966. Volume 33, No. 4. pg. 379-398.
The Ford Peace Ship, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAWford.htm

Written by Dave Seifert

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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