Friday, July 13, 2012

Ford Motor Company Consults a Poet

In October of 1955, Robert B. Young of Ford's Marketing Research Department contacted the American poet Marianne Moore (1887-1972) with an interesting challenge. It seems that Ford was in the process of designing an exciting new car, and they were looking for a name that would be distinctive. They would pay Ms. Moore "on a fee basis of an impeccably dignified kind."

Moore was up to the challenge. In a series of letters to Mr. Young she made interesting suggestions; here are a few:

Though Honda made a Civic and Mitsubishi produced a Diamanté, the Ford Motor Company never used Marianne Moore's suggestions. Ford's Marketing Research Manager, David Wallace, sent her a letter of apology, saying in part,

"We have chosen a name out of the more than six-thousand-odd candidates that we gathered. It has a certain ring to it. An air of gaiety and zest. At least, that's what we keep saying. Our name, dear Miss Moore, is — Edsel.

I know you will share your sympathies with us."

The Edsel was introduced in 1958. It was a spectacular failure, in part because it had been so hyped that the public was expecting a radically new kind of auto. Today, the Edsel is quite collectible — only about 10,000 exist.

Information for this posting comes from Letters of the Century, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler. It's a portrait, through fascinating letters, of the United States from 1900 to 1999. Twitter will never rival this!


  1. I guess the car that became the Edsel was doomed from the start, if these were the other naming choices. They are clever, sonorous and humorous, but they seem like car parody names from some comic novel. Each of these has the kernel of a good car name, which is then deftly eviscerated and emasculated.

    Of course, considering the huge gas-guzzlers of the time, Ms. Moore gives us some good social and psychological commentary. She tossed away her chance for that fee, but they probably would have reneged anyway.

    Thanks for this interesting nugget of history.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello, Parnassus,

      Interestingly, the Edsel started out as the "E" car, "E" standing for "Experimental." Perhaps it was natural that the name segued into Edsel, to honor Henry Ford's son. The Ford family, particulalry Henry Ford II, was opposed to the name, thinking that it was demeaning to the family. It turned out they were correct!

  2. Very interesting, Mark. Some of those are pretty silly: intelligent whale, utopian turtletop :-) But, popular culture would have been quite different during the 1950s, and those might have been appropriate. Thunder Crester I love!

    1. Hello, Loi,

      I like the Thunder Crester, too. And I picture the Anticipator as decidedly one of the bigger SUVs! Cheers