Henry Ford had a plan to get rid of cows

He wanted milk to be made by machines so that farmers could take up factory jobs in their spare time

Looks like we’ll be drinking lab-grown or artificial milk in a few years. Cow milk is wonderful, but all the methane cows fart is said to make the earth too warm for comfort. If all 7 billion of us humans are going to drink milk, cows (or buffaloes) probably are not the best way to go about producing it.

The idea that milk should be produced by machines in a factory predates worries about global warming, though. Henry Ford, the man who put horses to pasture by making cars a mass-market product, disliked cows. “The cow is the crudest machine in the world,” he told Wilbur Forrest of the New York Tribune in 1921.

Ford thought cows shackled farmers, who could have taken up factory work in their ample leisure time. “The food raising season is comparatively short and the farmer is today a slave to enforced idleness and a few cows in winter.”

He had a plan to decentralise car production and decongest cities by taking manufacturing to the countryside. “During the next few years we will enter many of the smaller towns and even villages where the townspeople and even the farmer, if he cares to, may have all the work wanted. This work for the farmer will come when he is not busy on his farm and so will add to his earnings.”

For that, farmers would need to be freed from cow duties. And Ford had a plan going to do it. The Ford laboratories, wrote Forrest, “took hay, oats, green grass and water, and other elements which a cow masticates to make milk, and experimented with machine-made milk.”

Scientists today would find the attempt naive, but Ford was hopeful. “It is a simple matter,” he said, “to take the same cereals that the cows eat and make them into milk which is superior to the natural article and much cleaner… Our laboratories have already demonstrated that cow’s milk can be done away with, and the concentration of the elements of milk can be manufactured into scientific food by machines far cleaner than cows and not subject to tuberculosis.”

Ford thought both milk and meat could be made artificially some day — in which he was right—and he was realistic enough not to claim he would be the one to introduce them on the market.

“I asked the inventor if the Ford company planned to manufacture this concentrated food,” wrote Forrest. “He explained that no such plan was contemplated, but reiterated his belief that the day would come when the farmer can make Ford parts in a small town factory until the time comes to till the fields. Cows, at least, Mr Ford believes, should not enslave him in the winter barnyard.”

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Also read: Inspiration from the life of Dr Werner Siemens

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