Answered By: Archives & Library Staff @The Henry Ford
Last Updated: Nov 15, 2019 Views: 1116

Henry Ford started the Henry Ford Trade School to teach boys industrial arts and give them an opportunity to earn money while they learned. Boys age 12-15 were accepted, with an emphasis on low-income children who were orphans or breadwinners in fatherless families. Students split their time between academic classroom work and on-site shop training. Once graduated from the school at age 18 or 19, the boys were offered jobs at Ford Motor Company, took further training at the Ford Apprentice School, or moved on to other companies, college, and opportunities.

The school started in 1916 with six boys and one instructor in the AA building at the Highland Park Plant. Originally, half a day was spent on classroom work and half a day on shop, as more boys joined, the school switched to a rotating schedule with students divided into three sections M, T, and W with one day in class and the others spent in shop. In 1919, this was changed again with students spending one week in the classroom and two weeks in shop. In 1918, Frederick Searle was appointed superintendent, a position he held until 1946.  Over the years at Highland Park the school expanded to include a library through the Detroit Public Library and classrooms were established next door at the St. Francis Orphans Home (later Lawrence Institute of Technology). In 1927 a branch of the school was established on the 3rd and 4th floors of the B Building at the Rouge and in 1930 the Highland Park and Rouge Schools were consolidated at the Rouge. By 1935 the Detroit public schools accepted Trade School credits towards a high school diploma, the first Trade School diplomas were awarded in 1937, and the first formal commencement was held in the Rotunda Theater in 1939. In 1944, the Trade School acquired Camp Legion, the Academic Section of the school moved there and the curriculum was updated to meet requirements of high schools in the state in 1946. In 1948 the Trade School acquired status of an accredited high school and students could pursue higher education without completing their diplomas at other area high schools.

Ford wanted students to benefit from their education and their shop time was used productively; students produced and repaired tools and machinery for Ford Motor Company. From the beginning, students were paid an hourly wage, varying on their experience and time at the school, they were also given $2 per month as a thrift fund which must be placed in a savings account until graduation. Because the students’ work earned money, the school was able to give them 3 weeks vacation in the summer and 1 week at Christmas, as well as supply them with a hot lunch every day. The school also had its own first aid station and dentist.

The students were trained in a multitude of courses, both shop and academic. Over the years shop courses included: heat treat, tin shop, woodworking, welding, foundry, electrical, human engineering, pressure and vacuum gage repair, precision tool repair, nickel plating, air tool, and pre-flight aeronautics. Academic classes included: English, public speaking, Foremanship, Human Relations in Business, typing, advanced mathematics, American history, specialized drawing, physics, stresses and strains, strength of materials, electricity, chemistry, metallurgy, metallography, and driver’s training.

But it wasn’t all work, students participated in varsity and intermural sports and had an annual picnics at Bob-Lo. They formed the Exploration Club, Dramatic Club, Radio Club, Natural Science Club, Airplane Club, Glee Club, Camera Club, and Safety Club. They started a band, orchestra, German band, and choir. The students also published a newsletter starting with The Artisan in 1926, later the Craftsman in 1935, and lastly Times in 1950.

Students had opportunities to share their training and knowledge and traveled throughout the region and the United States at Ford Motor Company exhibits at industrial expositions and fairs, and in 1934 a group of Trade School students participate in the Chicago World’s Fair, demonstrating processes, tools, and materials.

During WWII a Civil Air Patrol squadron and pre-flight course work were started at the school. Students also worked alongside Naval Service School cadets, often teaching them how to use machinery at the Rouge.

Outside of the school, former students kept in touch and formed the Henry Ford Trade School Alumni Association in 1945. The association had annual meetups, produced its own newsletter, and continued to raise awareness of Henry Ford’s work in education until the members disbanded the group in 2017.

The Trade School was closed in July 1952 following Henry Ford II’s decision to reduce Ford Motor Company spending and cut all programs that were not income producing. In the 36 years the school operated it graduated over 8,000 boys from Detroit and surrounding areas. Trade School graduates worked at Ford Motor Company and elsewhere in a myriad of industries and professions. Graduates worked in diverse professions from the automotive industry to art and design, ministry and even medicine and dentistry. 



   Acc. 774 Henry Ford Trade School Student records (semi-restricted, must sign use agreement)
      Foreign Student Records, 1917-1927


   Acc. 864 Henry Ford Trade School Textbook List, 1952


   Acc. 983 Administrative Files series; Trade School files, 1921-1953


   Acc. 671 Henry Ford Trade School; Office of the Secretary


   Acc. 690 Henry Ford Trade School, F.E. Searle papers, 1919-1947


   Acc. 900 James Humberstone papers
      box 2 Alumni lists, class lists, syllabi, “The Craftsman”
      box 3 History, instructional material, misc., photographs


   Acc. 1 Fair Lane Papers
      box 174 Henry Ford Trade School; Administrative materials, reports, correspondence,
                     25th anniversary

      box 175 Henry Ford Trade School (England)


   Acc. 951 Ford Non-Serial Imprints
      box 11 Factory Facts From Ford, 1915, 1917, 1920
      box 15 Ford Industries, 1924-1931


   Acc. 390 A. M. Wibel records series
      box 62 M 1. Henry Ford Trade School, 1926-1964 (includes correspondence discussing
                     work permits, safety, the school library, and efforts by the Henry Ford Trade
                     School Alumni Association to reestablish the school in the early 1960s; also
                     some annual reports)


   Acc. 680 Building Construction and Maintenance records subseries
      box 1 Henry Ford Trade School
                   Text Book requisitions and listing of textbooks used, publishers, etc., 1925-1927
                    Michigan Labor Laws Memorandums
                    Clock card instruction
                    An unidentified photo of what may be one taken when it opened Oct. 25, 1916
                    Description of Trade school's purpose & organization


   Acc. 818 Russian Student Delegation to Trade School


   Acc. 36 Frederick E. Searle papers (small accessions)
      Henry Ford Trade School history, purpose, etc.


   Acc. 479 O.H. Husen records.
      box 1 Vol. 1. Henry Ford Trade School - accounting system, November 1928-1929
      box 1 Vol. 4. Ford Schools - Henry Ford Trade School, February 1931
            box 1 Vol. 4 Henry Ford Trade School operations, 1930


   AR-72-08274 Henry Ford Trade School Training Department Survey


   Acc. 572 Nevins and Hill Research, Original Documents and Notes series
      box 5 No.9.9.2 Henry Ford Trade School


   Acc. 506 Mills, Edmunds, and Nevins and Hill Series
      box 49 Henry Ford Trade School suggested reactivation, 1963-1964


   Acc. 997 Research paper entitled “Technical Education from the Henry Ford Trade School
      to the Henry Ford Community College,” 1916-1965


   Acc. 1117 David Lanier Lewis papers
      box 2 folder 17 Henry Ford Trade School


   Small Accessions
      Acc. 36 Frederick E. Searle papers
         Henry Ford Trade School history, purpose, etc.

      Acc. 864 Henry Ford Trade School, listing of publications, 1952


      Acc. 1193 Henry Ford Trade School, speech by R.R. Rausch and pamphlet, 1913-1944


   Acc. 833 General Photographs
      box 76 and 77 Trade School


   Acc. 1660 Photographs
      box 167 Vocational Education – Michigan – Dearborn etc. – Henry Ford Trade School


   Acc. 232 World’s Fair Photographs
      box 2 250-263 Henry Ford Trade School exhibit, Chicago 1933-1934
      box 4 2-50 Henry Ford Trade School exhibit, California 1935
      box 5 351-400 Henry Ford Trade School exhibit, California  1935
      box 8 167-190 Henry Ford Trade School exhibit, Dallas 1936-1937
      box 22 Henry Ford Trade School, New York 1939-1940


Ford News
See: Henry Ford Trade School

            -Articles about

            -Artisan Guild





            -Exhibits and Displays


            -Exploration Club

            -Extracurricular Activities

            -Field Trips

            -Foreign Division





            -Honor Cards




            -Model, as a




            -Radio Club

            -Radio Shows


            -Safety Training

            -Savings and Thrift




            -Teaching Methods



Oral Histories
   65_10 Bacon, I.

   65_98 Klann, W.C.

   65_106 Lepine, A.J.

   65_118 McCloud, J.L.

   65_174 Searle, F.

   65_230 Wolfe, A.G.

   Acc. 94.15.1 Claude Harvard


Vertical File
   Henry Ford Trade School (3 folders)
   Henry Ford Trade School Alumni Association


Books and Secondary
   Shop theory. Henry Ford Trade School
      621.9 H525 1934
      621.9 H525s 1942
      621.9 H525s 1955


   Henry Ford Trade School. Henry Ford Trade School
      378.01 H521 1948


   Shop safety at Henry Ford Trade School. Henry Ford Trade School
      670.423 H525 1935?


   The Craftsman. Henry Ford Trade School. 
      Land transport serial


   The History of the Henry Ford Trade School 1916-1952. Samuel Gaft. A dissertation
        370.113 G131 1998 REF


   Henry’s Lieutenants. Ford Bryan. Chapter on Frederick Searle
      338.76292 F699 B915 1993


   Henry Ford : educator. Searle, Frederick E.
      370.113 F699 S439 1950


   Automotive occupations. Leyson, Burr W.
      629.2 L685 1941


   Ford men and methods. Edwin P. Norwood; illustrated with photographs by Charles Sheeler.
          629.2 N894 1931


   For the good of all: a pledge respected. Thomas, Arthur D.
      378.052 H525 T454


Comments (2)

  1. I am the daughter of Ray W. Sevakis who graduated from Henry Ford Trade School in 1938. He passed away Nov. 27, 2018 at the age of 96. I have a large photograph of the graduating class and wondered if this is something that should be in the archive.
    by Nancy P Brimhall on Oct 05, 2020.
  2. Thank you for your interest in donating to the collections of The Henry Ford. One of the ways new artifacts are added to the collections is through the generosity of our members, individuals, and corporations. Donations assist The Henry Ford in fulfilling our mission to provide unique educational experiences based on authentic objects, stories, and lives from America's traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation. Please use the Artifact Donation Form (PDF) to begin the donation process. You may send the completed form to us via mail, e-mail, or fax: The Henry Ford Benson Ford Research Center 20900 Oakwood Blvd. Dearborn, MI 48124-5029 fax: (313) 982-6244 email: In order to ensure that your objects are properly tracked and cared for, we ask that you please not mail or drop off items for consideration unless asked to do so by The Henry Ford. We will confirm your donation request, assign it to a curator, and provide a reference number for your records. The curator will review our existing collections with regard to the donation request, and it will go before the Collections Committee for consideration. This can be a lengthy process and we appreciate your patience as we give your offer thorough and complete attention.
    by Stephanie at The Henry Ford on Oct 06, 2020.

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