The Most Expensive Photo Ever

Ford

The title of the most expensive photo ever is a dubious one.  This list provides the reader with the most expensive photos ever bought, not the most expensive photo ever taken.

That latter honor probably belonged to the photo above, where the entire 12,000-strong workforce of Ford Motor plant at Highland Park where photographed in 1913 when the world’s first fully-fledged assembly line was installed at the plant.

Fittingly for a company whose axiom was “Time equals money”, the photo cost thousands of dollars. In 1913, Ford paid $2.34 a day — minimum wage then was $1 — and employed them for nine-hour working day. (The next year, he doubled the pay to $5 a day and reduced the daily work hours to eight). Assuming a working day lost because of the photo, Ford paid out $28,080 daily wages – almost equal to amount of seed money he had to found the company in 1903. To add to that, Ford lost out on making 600 cars (in 1913, Ford produced 250,000 cars annually), each of which cost $600. In total, the cost of the photo was over $9 million in 2013 dollars.

Ford himself was a grumpy, tyrannical figure. His employees were subjected to a Sociological Department, which forced them to change their hygiene, consumption, sexual, and social habits to fit in with Ford’s puritanical and health-obsessed worldview. His wage increases – today portrayed as a revolutionary act of magnanimity – was spurred by high employee turnover (370% in 1913) caused by these restrictions. Ford drove away two talented executives, Knudsen and Couzens; William Knudsen went on to turn around money-losing Chevrolet into an auto powerhouse.

When he died in 1946, Ford left behind a fortune of $ 188.1 billion (in 2008 dollars), which made him top five richest industrialists ever. When his company finally IPO’d in 1956, the company had the market capitalization of $3.2 billion (real US GDP that year was $460 billion) and its initial offering was so large that over two hundred Wall Street firms had to subscribe to it.

9 thoughts on “The Most Expensive Photo Ever

  1. I was expecting the picture of the Earthrise taken from the Moon. In real dollars, getting that camera into position and getting the film home has to be up there in the list of most expensive photos ever taken.

  2. You’re double-counting. You can either say it cost the wages of having people stand around for a photo or it cost the production of 600 cars. To add them together is to imply that if the photo had not been taken, then those people would have produced 600 cars for free. Since that is obviously not true, you could either have the wages back or the cars produced by not taking the photo, so you only count one.

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  4. “I was expecting the picture of the Earthrise taken from the Moon. In real dollars, getting that camera into position and getting the film home has to be up there in the list of most expensive photos ever taken.”

    As was I. But you know, the Inconceivable-Billions spent by government, are just the things we choose to do together. Any cost associated therewith is obviously irrelevant Yay, for our collective awesomeness. Group hug.

  5. Can we really assume a full working day was lost because of this photo? More like an hour of lost time I think. In that case: 12,000 employees * $2.34 per day / 9 hr. work day = $3,120 (or about $75,000 today)

  6. […] When he died in 1946, Ford left behind a fortune of $ 188.1 billion (in 2008 dollars), which made him top five richest industrialists ever. When his company finally IPO’d in 1956, the company had the market capitalization of $3.2 billion (real US GDP that year was $460 billion) and its initial offering was so large that over two hundred Wall Street firms had to subscribe to it. πηγή […]

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