The History of Ford Motor Company is filled with larger-than-life figures, starting with the founder himself and continuing right up through Lee Iacocca. So many characters, as it happens, have cropped up in Dearborn history that some have been unfortunately overlooked to a great extent. John Bugas, better known as Jack, was one of them.
Bugas was one of 10 children born to Austro-Hungarian immigrant Andrej Bugos, who adopted the name Andrew Bugas and served six terms in the Wyoming State Legislature. In addition to politics, Andrew was a serial entrepreneur and a rancher. The family ranch, called Eagle’s Nest, would be John Bugas’ home from shortly after his birth in 1908 until he enrolled in the University of Wyoming.
In college, Bugas was an outstanding athlete. He studied law and supported himself by working jobs as diverse as forest ranger and trucker. Upon graduation, in 1934, he went to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It was the height of the Public Enemies era, and the brave and capable Bugas was a valued asset to the Bureau. In 1938, he was appointed to head the Detroit office. There he would liaison with the auto industry, something the federal government was already viewing as a strategic asset as totalitarian regimes in Europe and the Far East made no secret of their territorial ambitions.
Even as he proved adept at fighting more mundane crimes like kidnapping and bank robbery, Bugas was particularly renowned for the work he did protecting Detroit’s defense plants from espionage. He broke up a Nazi spy ring centered on Canadian socialite “Countess” Grace Dineen, and could boast that no sabotage occurred in the Arsenal of Democracy while he was in charge.
Naturally, Bugas met many of the Motor City’s leading lights at this time. Henry Ford, apparently still fearing that his grandchildren might be kidnapped like the unfortunate Charles Lindbergh Jr., hired away Bugas to work under the notorious Harry Bennett, head of Ford’s euphemistically named Service Department— essentially, a private army answerable only to Henry.
The tough westerner was not overawed by the ex-boxer to whom Henry was so inexplicably devoted, but had been impressed with the cultured, sensitive Edsel, whom he had met before Edsel’s untimely death in 1943. A self-described “Edsel loyalist,” Bugas determined to carry out the younger Ford’s wishes rather than those of the thuggish Bennett.