Lee Iacocca

More than 500 of Lee Iacocca’s speeches are now available and easily searchable online. Photo: Associated Press

Lee Iacocca’s Iconic Speeches Digitized

Lehigh Libraries Special Collections has made more than 500 of Iacocca’s speeches searchable and available online.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Lee Iacocca ’45 gave hundreds of speeches full of anecdotes about his time presiding over and turning around the beleaguered Chrysler Corporation.

The renowned businessman had a way with words.

In 1980, he convinced President Jimmy Carter and Congress to provide a $1.5 billion loan to save Chrysler. Iacocca felt so strongly about Chrysler’s vehicles, he became known for his television commercials featuring the bold catchphrase, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”

binders of Iacocca's speeches

More than 500 black binders containing Iacocca’s speeches are housed in Lehigh Libraries Special Collections. Photo: Christa Neu

And in 1982, when he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as leader of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Iacocca’s powerful speeches encouraged people across the United States to donate nearly $500 million for the restoration of the two historic sites.

More than 500 of Iacocca’s speeches are now available and easily searchable online, thanks to a digitization effort by Lehigh University Libraries Special Collections. The speeches, gifted to Lehigh in 2012, cover a period from 1978-2011.

During that time, Iacocca, who became known as a symbol of American ingenuity and resilience thanks to his legendary career presiding over operations for two of the Big Three automakers, was invited to speak at Apple Computer, the 1984 Rose Bowl, the National Football League (NFL) Alumni Association and Maserati, among other well-known businesses and events.

Throughout his stellar career, Iacocca was proud to remain loyal to Lehigh, delivering Lehigh’s commencement speech in 1983, returning in 1988 to dedicate the Iacocca Institute and again in 2011 to launch the Lee Iacocca International Internship Challenge.

“The Iacocca speeches have always been a priority for us, particularly getting them in the hands of our faculty and students,” said Lois Black, curator of Special Collections.

But digitizing the speeches involved a lot of time and energy. “Part of it is just a challenge of scale. … It’s a complex project,” said Alex Japha, a digital archivist for Special Collections.

Iacocca often wrote in the margins of his typed speeches.

Iacocca often wrote in the margins of his typed speeches. Photo: Christa Neu

Librarians had to take an inventory of the 515 black binders containing Iacocca’s large-print speeches, many of them featuring his scrawling handwriting in the margins.

“There would be the speech itself in the binder, then all the supplementary material,” Japha said. “Sometimes it was a photocopy of the speech, but in other cases there were printouts of slides he would have presented, or Q&A questions he was preparing for … I personally wasn’t expecting that.”

Two to three students scanned the items, and four students added the metadata, which is a spreadsheet documenting what was scanned. The fi rst binder was scanned last October with the project to be completed over winter break this year. The speeches are searchable by title and keyword.

Ilhan Citak, an archives and Special Collections librarian, believes the collection will appeal to many individuals and researchers.

“He was an alumnus, a leader, a labor leader, involved with life-changing events in the history of the United States,” Citak said. “He’s a local person from Allentown who still has family roots here. If you talk to anyone from the Lehigh Valley, they are proud to be mentioned as being from the same region as Lee Iacocca.”

The son of an immigrant hotdog vendor, Iacocca began attending Lehigh after graduating from William Allen High School in Allentown in 1942. After graduating from Lehigh in 1945 with a degree in industrial engineering, Iacocca realized he preferred business and went into sales for Ford, where he worked for 32 years, eventually becoming the company president when he was 46 years old.

During his tenure at Ford, Iacocca was credited with introducing the design of the 1964 Mustang and appeared on the cover of Time magazine that same year. He was also partially responsible for the Lincoln Continental Mark II, the Ford Fiesta and the revival of the Mercury brand.

His move to Chrysler came in 1978 following a power struggle with Henry Ford II, grandson of Ford’s founder. Iacocca was hired as president for the nearly defunct Chrysler Corporation and would eventually help reverse the firm’s misfortune. In addition to the $1.5 billion governmental loan he was able to acquire, Iacocca also had to close plants and negotiate with labor unions to accept layoffs and wage cuts. His success at Chrysler landed him another cover of Time in March 1983.

Iacocca died at his home in Bel Air, California, on July 2, 2019, when he was 94 years old.

Story by

Christina Tatu

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