View Full Version : Henry Ford. Kingsford charcoal. What's the truth?

06-06-2003, 07:58 PM
A current running thread What happened to all the Model T Fords? (http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=188990).
The steel became new Fords, and the wooden body parts became Kingsford Charcoal. The charcoal grill industry was started because Henry couldn't bear the idea of all the scrap wood from his plants going to waste.
This has been repeated in other threads. It is detailed on a website at http://upclics.org/cityofk/history.htm

I guess it sounds like a somewhat urban legend to me. I won't categorically deny that it's true. But was there really that big a use for charcoal before the post-WWII era? For what? Grilling?

Kingsford first trademarked their name in 1951. Ford never trademarked anything about charcoal as far as I could find, using the US Trademark site.

Isn't it hard to believe that Henry Ford wouldn't trademark SOMETHING about his product?

06-06-2003, 08:44 PM
I never heard this Ford/Kingsford story before, but I know charcoal has been used by blacksmiths throughout history because it can produce a hotter fire than wood. Of course, they weren't using shaped briquets like you can buy at a modern supermarket. I remember several medieval legends that involve "charcoal burners" but I'm not clear on how wood is made into charcoal.

06-06-2003, 08:49 PM
Are you talking about charcoal or charcoal briquettes? Charcoal has been used for a very long time:

Man and charcoal go back a long way - many tens of thousands of years in fact. The link between man and compressed charcoal briquettes has been somewhat shorter - try the early 1920s. It was around then that Henry Ford Mark 1 decided to recycle the sawdust left over from making Model T body frames as fuel for his forges. As history has so clearly shown - there were no flies on Mr Ford when it came to boosting the bottom line. Before long, excess briquettes were being sold through Ford dealerships to backyard barbecuers.

From here (http://bbqblue.com.au/site_files/fuels_charcoal.html).

Charcoal, the black residue of wood produced by smothered burning, has been used in Britain since before the Roman invasion and was the smelting fuel of the Bronze and Iron ages. The most important use of charcoal in the past, apart from domestic fuel, was as a fuel for metallurgical processes, in bronze casting, brass making, copper smelting, and, particularly in the Felbridge area, iron smelting. It was used both as a fuel and ingredient in the glass industry, which was introduced by the Romans. Their traditions of glass making continued well into the 900s using charcoal to replace the soda ash in the mix, the purpose in both cases to reduce the melting point of the silica. Glass was later worked in a few isolated glassworks in the Weald area, where a course glass was blown from the 1300s. Also, from as early as 1300, charcoal has been an ingredient in the production of gunpowder in Britain. Crayons, pigment in ink and pigment for tattoos and body-decoration have all obtained their black colouration from charcoal. The medieval period saw it used in the manufacture of soap and medicines, and charcoal was the primary fuel used for drying hops, and later, in the Victorian period, in charcoal-irons halfway between a flat-iron and the electric iron. More recently, charcoal has been used as a filter, to remove toxins and colours from air and water, i.e. for removing undesirable flavour from drinking water, odour from sewage and in the manufacture of gas masks.
From here (http://jeremy-clarke.freeserve.co.uk/handouts/Charcoal.htm).

06-06-2003, 08:49 PM
By the way. I've e-mailed Roger Scott who created that webpage, asking for a cite. He is the current treasurer of the City.

06-06-2003, 09:01 PM
Here's (http://multimag.com/city/mi/kingsford/) a page that says it was "Ford Charcoal Briquettes" at first.
Henry Ford II eventually closed the sawmill and parts plant in 1951 and sold the chemical operation to a group of local business interests that formed an enterprise known as the Kingsford Chemical Company. The charcoal briquette plant continued and renamed their product Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes

06-06-2003, 09:14 PM
doneyoatey. Thanks for the help.

Your website merely parrots the info from the website I listed in my original post.

And I"m talking about Charcoal briquettes. I'm interested to know if there was a market for charcoal in that form before the post-WWII era.

Webpages tell me about how you could only buy that stuff from a Ford car dealer.

I contend that I need proof.

06-06-2003, 09:18 PM
when will I learn to preview
Sorry about your name, donkeyoatey

06-06-2003, 09:52 PM
Originally posted by samclem
I contend that I need proof. How about something evidently from Kingsford itself (http://ahooga.com/info/ads/ksf.jpg)?

06-07-2003, 05:31 PM
Originally posted by Jeff Olsen
How about something evidently from Kingsford itself (http://ahooga.com/info/ads/ksf.jpg)?

No cite but this is right from the back of the bag:
"In the 1920's, Henry Ford learned of a process for turning wood scraps from the production fo Model T's into charcoal briquets. As a result, Ford built a charcoal plant.

E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Fords, was instrumental in selecting the site for the new charcoal manufacturing plant. Later, Ford Charcoal was renamed Kingsford Charcoal in his honor."

06-07-2003, 07:11 PM
I truly appreciate everyone's help.

What I'm trying to find is some independent evidence that Ford made charcoal briquets from 1925-1950, and sold them as "Ford Charcoal Briquets." (If anyone can provide a cite that they were sold only at Ford dealerships, that would be a bonus. A BIG one). Or anything similar. I'll take anything that independently verifies this.

Corporate histories can be accurate. But they sometimes tell the story the way they heard it.

06-07-2003, 08:37 PM
samclem, did you check to see if Edison had a patent relating to briquettes? I ran across a couple sites that said he designed the plant, and I can't figure out how to search the US patent site that far back.
(I'm sorry about my name sometimes, too):D

06-07-2003, 08:42 PM
Originally posted by donkeyoatey
I ran across a couple sites that said he designed the plant, and I can't figure out how to search the US patent site that far back. Unfortunately, the online archives don't go into much detail that far back.

06-07-2003, 08:51 PM
Thanks, Jeff. I thought maybe I was missing something.

06-07-2003, 09:57 PM
The trademark index is a pretty useful tool, but sometimes frustrating. You need to be able to search for different spellings, etc.

But I've done it. There is NO evidence that Ford trademarked anything related to charcoal.

That doesn't mean that Ford didn't make and sell charcoal. He/they just didn't trademark it.

The webpages that assert that the charcoal was sold only in Ford dealerships kinda convince me that Ford, a sumbitch when it came to biz, would have trademarked his product. Hard to belive he didn't.

Charcoal briquets existed in the 1930's, according to the trademark index. I just can't find anything connected to Ford.

The Patent Site sucks for searching.

06-07-2003, 10:11 PM
Here's a personal experience description (http://taosnews.com/Features/Juan/JuansWanderings_020422.shtml)

When I was a kid my Dad used to buy the charcoal from the Ford dealers because no grocery store carried it. You could also find it at bigger hardware stores. I can remember going into the car dealerships, when they were downtown and had big showrooms, to see the annual lineup of new cars every fall. And in one side of the Ford dealership was a pile of charcoal bags. Frequently they would toss a bag in with the purchase of a car!

06-07-2003, 10:37 PM
astro Good help. I just emailed Farr about his memory. That's the kind of thing I needed.

06-08-2003, 02:30 AM
On page 44 of Alton Brown's cookbook "I'm Just Here for the Food"

Henry Ford was really into camping. The Ford archives are lined with photos of the godfather of the assembly line lined up with his cronies, all sitting around smoldering campfires in suits and morning coats and ascots and spats and things. (I'd love to spend more time camping but I just don't have the right cufflinks.) ....
Now it just so happens that during this time Ford's company was manufacturing an automobile called the Model A, and it was a ragtop. When engaged, the fabric top was held in place by wooden staves. The factory that made these staves had a lot of leftover wood chips to get rid of. One of Henry's buddies started thinking about the chip problem and the campfire problem and in a true flash of genius conceived the charcoal briquette. The fellow's name was Kingsford. Up until the 1950's, you could only buy Kingsford charcoal (boxed not bagged) from Ford dealerships. To this day, Kingsford charcoal controls 50 percent of the country's charcoal market.

06-08-2003, 03:03 AM
This isn't a very good picture, but it's definately bags (http://clubs.hemmings.com/clubsites/upantiquecc/briquettes.html) .

06-08-2003, 09:23 AM
Great work, don. (Can I just call you don?) :)

Those bags prove it existed. Now I guess I just want to find out "when" exactly did Ford start bagging up that charcoal for sale.

After reading your link this morning, after two cups of coffee rather than a few beers last night, I stand corrected about it parotting what my original cite said.

Ford most certainly turned sawdust and scrapwood into charcoal. I would assume that, in the 1920's and 30's it mostly went to fire the furnaces of steel plants.

I have no doubt that there are scholarly books on Henry Ford that give answers. I just didn't get to the library yet.

Thanks for all the help guys.

06-08-2003, 10:19 AM
The webpages that assert that the charcoal was sold only in Ford dealerships kinda convince me that Ford, a sumbitch when it came to biz, would have trademarked his product. Hard to belive he didn't.I just thought I'd point out the obvious: Ford did trademark his charcoal product. The trademark was Ford (as shown on Donkey's photo link). He evidently did not see the need for a brand separate from his automobile brand.

06-09-2003, 03:22 PM
Ford was advertising its charcoal by 1950 (http://rubylane.com/shops/aseparatething/item/rl-000113).

Found a newsletter ( that mentions someone wanting to know what color to paint a 1939 Ford charcoal grill.
link to the original PDF (http://clubs.hemmings.com/clubsites/missiontrailearlyfordv-8/DN-January-01.pdf)

Also found that Exhibitor Magazine (http://exhibitornet.com/exhibitormagazine/archives-category.asp?category=History) had an article on this subject back in August. I don't feel like going through the (free) registration process in order to read it, though.

Happy Lendervedder
06-09-2003, 03:43 PM
Found a newsletter that mentions someone wanting to know what color to paint a 1939 Ford charcoal grill.
link to the original PDF

"You can paint it any color, so long as it's black." --Henry Ford



06-09-2003, 09:13 PM
Jeff. As usualy, you are sterling with searching for stuff. Thanks a lot.

I registered for that newsletter, and the story was brief. It asserted that Ford started producing charcoal in 1921.

The (1939) charcoal grill thing was great. I may call the guy. I guess I'm too much of a skeptic. Didn't realize that people were grilling out in 1939. At least not to the extent that there would be a market for grills and briquettes.

06-10-2003, 01:40 PM
You're quite welcome.

Ford was clearly into camping, as evidenced by this pic found elsewhere on don's link (http://clubs.hemmings.com/clubsites/upantiquecc/camp.html) and this RV (http://adcache.collectorcartraderonline.com/10/7/2/48592372.htm) made long before "RV" ever entered the lexicon.

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