James Couzens Papers

James Couzens (1872-1936) was a close associate of Henry Ford at the Ford Motor Company in Michigan from 1903-1915. After serving as Commissioner of Police of Detroit and then as mayor of Detroit from 1919-1922, he was Republican senator from Michigan from 1922-1936. The speeches included here, one delivered to a group of Birmingham, Michigan real estate men and another, prepared for radio broadcast, soliciting financial support from radio listeners for a Detroit convention and tourist bureau campaign, show that he enjoyed returning to his automobile days as a source of anecdote and instruction.

The speech to the real estate men Couzens Speech: . . . Before the Birmingham, Michigan Real Estate Board, October 7, 1925 sketches out a vision of "good" businessmen, who are ethical, and "bad" businessmen, who are unscrupulous in their dealings with the public, the ultimate consumer. The assumption in the 1920s was that industries could be exhorted and led to ethical behavior by the example and standard-setting of their own business leaders. (INTRO NOTE Coolidge Presidency) Commerce Secretary Hoover oversaw this effort by organizing industry-wide meetings, but his premise was that government could lead the way but should not interfere or regulate. (INTRO NOTE Herbert Hoover) For more on this approach, readers should consult the Coolidge Papers case file on the Federal Trade Commission.

The Truth in Fabric and Misbranding Bills (1924), legislation selected from the Library's General Collections, shows Senator Couzens in action at hearings before a Senate committee overseeing interstate commerce. The public outcry over "shoddy" or reconstituted wool in garments, used without any labeling to warn buyers that the garment was not made from "virgin" or "new" wool, resulted in a series of lively exchanges, at the hearings, over the rights and responsibilities of the consumer. (DETAIL NOTE Truth-in-Fabric)

The second Couzens speech selected for inclusion in the Coolidge-Consumerism collection exists in what appear to be two forms, a draft and a final version, providing insight into Couzens' employment of the spiritualized language widespread during the period. (INTRO NOTE Spirituality) In each speech Couzens attempts to raise money for a convention and tourist bureau campaign whose goal is to promote the city of Detroit nationwide as a major convention site and a haven for tourists and motorists. However, the second version of the address, Couzens Speech: Address . . . Over the Radio on the Convention and Tourist Bureau Campaign, is accompanied in the file by a memo asking Couzens to replace his "canned speech" with one that is less dependent "on a financial or monetary basis."

The Couzens Papers at the Library of Congress include three pre-1920 Ford Motor Company documents of great interest (containers 142 and 143). They are: a highly personal 1906 letter to Henry Ford from a former colleague, Charles Bennett, regarding Ford's business ethics or lack thereof; a "Report of Penalization Fund" for 1915, which lists the amounts and reasons (drunkenness, tardiness, etc.) for salary withheld from workers, and the amounts and purposes for which the money from that penalization fund was redistributed to needy widows and orphans; and a "Record of Investigation" dating to 1915-16, scrutinizing the home life of one of Ford's factory workers.



Selections from the Manuscript Division