Edsel & Eleanor Ford, 100 years of love

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
Edsel and Eleanor Ford enjoy a baseball game on July 13, 1934.

His father was one of the wealthiest men in America, a Detroit icon and entrepreneur. But when Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only child, married Eleanor Lowthian Clay on Nov. 1, 1916, it wasn’t a lavish affair. If anything, it was relatively modest.

Roughly 100 people attended the fall ceremony, held at Clay’s uncle’s house, department store tycoon J.L. Hudson. According to the newspapers that reported the nuptials at the time, it was “very comfortable, almost informal,” said Kathleen Mullins, president and chief executive office of the Ford House, which oversees the estate where the couple eventually settled with their four children, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House.

“It was very much who they were,” Mullins said. “They were very much about family and friends.”

To mark what would’ve been the 100th wedding anniversary of this iconic Detroit couple, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores this month is launching a six-month “A Century of Love” celebration. It will include a group Vow Renewal and Garden Party on Saturday with 100 couples, along with a new exhibit called “Down the Aisle: 100 years of Ford Family Weddings.”

“When you look at the story of Edsel and Eleanor it was a love affair and it was a great partnership,” Mullins said.

Edsel Ford, second from right, stands with his wedding party on Nov. 1, 1916.

The exhibit, which runs through November, will explore the evolution of wedding traditions and trends as seen through four generations of Ford family weddings. It will include more than 14 wedding dresses from Ford weddings, including Eleanor’s dress, which was designed in a Russian style by the House of Lucile in New York.

“We have dresses going from Eleanor and her bridesmaids up to the most recent family brides,” Mullins said.

The exhibit also will include some video footage unearthed from Edsel and Eleanor’s rehearsal dinner. The video shows them “having a ball,” Mullins said. “They’re playing games. They’re just having a ball.”

Eleanor Lowthian Clay, the niece of department store tycoon J.L. Hudson, met her future husband Edsel Ford at a dance lesson. They dated for five years before they married in 1916.

This weekend’s festivities come just days after the couple’s estate also unveiled a new life-size bronze statue of Edsel and Eleanor in the garden. Designed by Brooklyn, New York-based StudioEIS, the statue depicts the couple arm in arm from roughly 1939-1940.

“It’s rare that we add anything to the grounds, and this is an extraordinary supplement to the estate,” said Edsel B. Ford II, the couple’s grandson and chairman of the Ford House board of trustees, in a press release.

To create just the right look and one that’s historically accurate, StudioEIS studied family photos, portraits and clothing.

“Our job is to try — with the help of our clients, family members and the historical record — and find the essence of our subject, the real person as it were,” said Ivan Schwartz, StudioEIS founder and director.

Working over a 15-month period, they created a silicone rubber mold, which was then shipped to a Phoenix, foundry. The foundry, Bollinger Atelier, cast a hollow wax copy from the StudioEIS mold. Later, the wax was emptied out of ceramic shell material and bronze was poured into the mold.

The bronzes create an image of who Edsel and Eleanor really were, Mullins said.

“What you see on the landscape really represents what Edsel and Eleanor looked like,” she said. “It brings, I think, a real understanding when the visitors come to the estate. When you see them three-dimensionally, it creates a whole new experience.”

Edsel and Eleanor met at Annie Ward Foster’s Dancing School when she was 15 and he was 18. They lived just blocks apart at that time. When they married in 1916, she was 20 and Edsel was almost 23.

After their wedding, they left on a honeymoon trip out west, going as far as Hawaii. Eleanor kept a scrapbook that details their trip.

Eventually, they had four children and settled at their estate on Gaulker Pointe in Grosse Pointe Shores. Edsel died at the age of 49. Eleanor, who never married again, died in 1976.

“He was the love of her life,” Mullins said.

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Henry Ford, left, greets Edsel Ford, far right, and his family after their trip to Europe on the SS Berengaria on June 21, 1929.

‘A Century of Love’

■Vow Renewal and Garden Party from 4:30-8 p.m. Saturday. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel will officiate. Register at

■“Down the Aisle: 100 Years of Ford Family Weddings.” Exhibit opens Sunday and runs through Nov. 6.