1959: Ford Motor Company Announced It Was Halting Production Of The Unpopular Edsel

By | November 14, 2021

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The 1956 Ford Edsel is displayed at The Museum of Failure in Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

In 1957, the Ford Motor Company unveiled its Edsel after 10 years and millions of dollars of research and planning, but instead of being the company's next big-selling model, it flopped like a fish. On November 19, 1959, Ford admitted failure and halted production of the unpopular Edsel.

The Ford Edsel

In 1919, Henry Ford's 26-year-old son, Edsel, became president of the Ford Motor Company. Although he introduced several important innovations to the company's products during his 24-year reign, including seat belts and hydraulic brakes, his tenure—as well as his life—was tragically cut short by stomach cancer in 1943 at the age of only 49. Henry Ford returned as president and immediately directed his research and development team to design a new series of models to be named in his son's honor. It took the Ford Motor Company almost a decade and roughly $250 million to roll the first Edsel off the assembly line in 1957.

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Edsel Pacer interior, showing the Teletouch system and Rolling Dome speedometer. (dave_7/Wikimedia Commons)

What Went Wrong With The Ford Edsel?

Expectations were high for the Edsel, which was designed to be an ideal mid-size car for the young professional and expected to be as popular as the Model T had been decades before, but things went wrong right from the goal-setting stage. Ford's sales goals for the Edsel were so high that they would have had to produce far more cars than any other model on the market to achieve them.

Not that keeping up with demand was a problem. While initial sales seemed promising, they soon plummeted due to a number of factors. Consumers were overwhelmed by the task of differentiating between the Edsel's 18 models, and it soon became clear that the car was fraught with mechanical and reliability issues due to an assembly line system that used whichever parts were available and no quality control. The Edsel's unique push button transmission, which was placed on the steering column, was also confusing for drivers, and there were numerous reports of people accidentally shifting gears when they were trying to honk on the horn. To make matters worse, the United States experienced an economic recession in 1957 and 1958, and sales of new cars were down among all car manufacturers.

Thanks to this perfect storm of corporate disaster, the Ford Motor Company was forced to halt production of the Edsel just two years after it debuted at a loss of $2 million, and Henry Ford's mission to honor his son's name backfired as spectacularly as his latest creation. To this day, the name Edsel is synonymous with a product failure.