Henry Ford was awarded Nazi Germany’s Grand Cross of the German Eagle on July 30, 1938, his 75th birthday. He was the first American to receive the medal, the highest decoration Germany bestowed on foreigners.
Fritz Hailer, the German vice consul in Detroit, presented it to him at Ford Motor’s Dearborn offices, explaining that Adolf Hitler wanted to recognize how the automobile tycoon made cars available to the masses. The previous year, the same medal was given to Benito Mussolini, the founder of Fascism and leader of Italy from 1922 to 1943.
Sportswriter Grantland Rice called it the “high spot” of the 1936 Olympics. Bill Henry, who called the race for CBS, said it was “the outstanding victory of the Olympic Games.” The event they’re describing wasn’t staged in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, and it had nothing to do with Jesse Owens. It took place in the suburb of Grunau, when a group of college kids from the United States took on Germany and Italy in front of Hitler and 75,000 fans screaming for the Third Reich.