Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ford, Sr., William Clay

Born on March 14, 1925 in Detroit to Edsel and Eleanor Clay Ford, William Ford was the grandson of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. He graduated from Hotchkiss Academy in Connecticut, a Ford tradition. Following a stint in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, he married Martha Parke Firestone, uniting two industrial empires.

During college Ford worked on the Ford assembly line. After graduating from Yale University in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he joined Ford’s sales and advertising department, later serving on the industrial relations staff. Ford became the executive in charge of design, development, and introduction of the Continental Mark II, the successor to the car his father, Edsel, had developed when he was the head of the Continental Division. However, the Continental division was short lived and later merged with the Lincoln Motor Company. Despite being credited with “exquisite taste,” and having a close relationship with his grandfather Henry Ford, William’s older brother, Henry Ford II, was chosen to succeed the company founder in 1945.

In November 1963, Ford purchased the Detroit Lions for $6 million from its previous owners, Edwin Anderson and Lyle Fife. His 50-year ownership of the team was marred by never winning a championship.

Prior to Ford’s May 2005 resignation as vice chairman, his son William Jr. was made chairman of the board in 2002. Ford Sr. served on the board of directors for almost 57 years, in addition to heading the finance committee from 1987 to 1995.

William Clay Ford Sr. passed away on March 9, 2014 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.