What a Difference a Century Makes!


| 8/15/2017 9:59:00 AM


Tags: September 2017, First Things, Leslie C. McManus,

Leslie C. McManus

Imagine a boy, born in 1984. He’s one of 11 children born to a farm couple, but farming holds no attraction – in fact, he claims the work is too hard for him. He’s an avid reader, but equally engaged by emerging technology. At school he’s in constant trouble with teachers; at 14, he drops out. He leaves home and heads for the city, presumably sponging for a time off an older brother who lives there, all the while drilling deeper and deeper into new and not yet totally proven technologies.

By now you’re ready to write this boy off as another .com dreamer consumed by video games and cellphones. But what a difference a century makes! History does not record whether James and Mary Ferguson were the objects of their neighbors’ pity. All we know is that, in about 1898, their barely teenaged son Henry George “Harry” Ferguson – with exactly the résumé cited above – said adios to the farm and set out for Belfast.

A couple decades earlier, another farm boy did roughly the same thing. Young Henry Ford, equally unenthusiastic about farming, was quick to form an opinion that drudgery made up too big a part of agriculture and set out to make his way in the city. Like Ferguson, Ford had a brilliant mind and, once engaged, was a formidable student. Success didn’t come overnight, but eventually it did come – and, for the most part, it stayed.

For Harry Ferguson, the 3-point hitch delivered not only the means to advance other projects and interests, but also immortality as a noteworthy inventor. For Ford, creation of an affordable motor vehicle, establishment of a fair wage and adoption of progressive industrial practices like the assembly line propelled him into the forefront of American industrialists.

In parallel articles in this issue by Sam Moore and Robert N. Pripps, we consider the trajectories of these lives and the points at which they intersect. While it is hard to imagine a handshake agreement ever taking place again on such a large scale, it requires almost no trouble at all to imagine the rise of brilliance and its potential impact on the world around us. All it takes is one kid willing to find a better way. FC