The Way It Was — The Wedding of Martha Parke Firestone and William Clay Ford

Take a closer look at this historic photo of Martha Parke Firestone and her father on the way to her wedding in 1947.
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Photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

1947

As reported in newspapers across the country, on June 21, 1947, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio, two of the most powerful industrial families in the nation were united through nuptials when 21-year-old Vassar College graduate Martha Parke Firestone, a granddaughter of Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. founder Harvey S. Firestone Sr., married 22-year-old William Clay Ford, who was the youngest grandson of auto tycoon Henry Ford and had resumed his studies at Yale University after serving in the U.S. Naval Air Corps.

The late grandfathers had first formed a lasting friendship and highly successful business relationship more than 50 years earlier.

Wearing, as the Detroit Free Press reported, “exquisite bridal robes … made of the rarest antique rose pointe and duchesse lace” designed by noted New York dress designer Carrie Munn, the young bride is pictured arriving at the church with her father, Harvey S. Firestone Jr., about 10 minutes before the 4:30 p.m. ceremony. A few of the more than 1,000 curious onlookers held back by the local police force are seen peering through the car window to catch a glimpse of Akron royalty.

The groom’s best man was his eldest brother, Henry Ford II, the president and CEO of the auto company, while the bride’s sister Elizabeth Firestone was the maid of honor for the candle-lit ceremony, which lasted 12 minutes. There were 450 attendees, including some of the most influential people of the time, like Laurance Rockefeller; Charles Edison, the son of Thomas Edison; and newspaper publisher John S. Knight.

A reception for 900 guests was held at Harbel Manor, the sprawling Firestone estate, before the happy couple left for a Bermuda honeymoon.

William Clay Ford eventually became an executive and board member at the auto company, but was more well known as the sole owner of the Detroit Lions from 1964 until his passing in 2014 at age 88. Martha Firestone Ford, now 98, succeeded her late husband as principal owner and chair of the football franchise before turning the reins over to her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp in 2020. William and Martha’s other children are Martha Ford Morse, Elizabeth Ford Kontulis, and William Clay Ford Jr., currently the executive chair of Ford Motor Co.


This story is from the March 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition. Plus, find even more The Way It Was articles at hourdetroit.com