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Pictured in Its Prime

Ford R. Bryan

Publication Year: 2003

When Ford Motor Company was formed in 1903, its primary assembly plant was a wooden one-story wagon shop, but as the auto manufacturer grew, so did its factories. By 1917, building on his experience with the Piquette and Highland Park plants, Henry Ford began constructing his ultimate vision of an efficient and effective industrial complex on the banks of the Rouge River. In its time, "The Rouge," as Detroiters called it, was the largest integrated automobile factory in the world, with facilities that included an electric power plant, blast furnaces, foundries, coke ovens, open hearth furnaces, a steel mill, stamping plant, engine plant, glass plant, and miles of conveyors bringing manufactured parts to moving assembly lines. The Rouge was able to provide over 100,000 jobs and effectively gave birth to the city of Dearborn. Rouge: Pictured in Its Prime, featuring 389 photographs taken within 45 different departments of the Rouge by Ford photographers from 1918 to 1940, provides a realistic portrait of buildings, machinery, and employees at work during a twenty-two year period. The illustrations were selected from a collection of more than 70,000 Rouge photographs located in the Benson Ford Research Center of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. In the accompanying text, Ford R. Bryan chronicles the history of the Rouge plant, from its earliest conception to its future in the twenty-first century. The Rouge dominated an era of industrial progress and this photo story brings the monumental facility to life in stunning fashion.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 7-8


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pp. 9


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pp. 10

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pp. 11-12

Now, in this new millennium, when the famous Rouge factory site in Dearborn, Michigan, is undergoing an industrial renaissance, it is imperative that we vividly portray its illustrious past before it is entirely forgotten. Once the largest, most efficient, and most highly integrated automotive...

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pp. 13-20

The Ford Motor Company was formed on June 16, 1903. Henry Ford, with several earlier partners — the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, the Henry Ford Company in 1901, and the Ford and Malcomson Agreement in August 1902 — had failed in attempts...

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1. Early Construction

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pp. 25-28

Ironically, on the same December 2, 1916, that the company passed its resolution approving the Rouge development, the Dodge brothers, minor stockholders of Ford Motor Company, filed a bill of complaint insisting that additional company dividends be given...

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2. Eagle Boats

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pp. 29-34

In the summer of 1917, Henry Ford was asked by President Woodrow Wilson to serve on the U.S. Shipping Board. At that time, German submarines were sinking U.S. cargo ships in large numbers. It was assumed that Ford would offer some ideas concerning...

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3. Powerhouse

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pp. 35-41

Steam powerplants were dear to Henry Ford. Ever since he saw his first steam traction engine on a country road at age thirteen, he was charmed by them. He loved to display his powerplants as he had in his “Crystal Palace” at Highland Park. At the Rouge, however...

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4. Blast Furnaces

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pp. 42-48

When Henry Ford spoke of steel operations, he meant from the very beginning to the end. The very heart of these operations was the blast furnaces — the devices that reduced iron oxide ore dug from the earth to metallic iron. Eagle boat building at the Rouge...

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5. Foundry

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pp. 49-53

The foundry at the Rouge, the largest, cleanest, and coolest production foundry in the world, could pour 2900 tons of automotive and tractor castings every twenty-four hours. Molten iron from the blast furnaces, arriving in 75- ton ladle cars, was poured...

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6. Coke Ovens

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pp. 54-58

Essential for the operation of the blast furnaces were coke for reducing the iron ore and gas for heating the furnaces. Therefore, concurrent with the building of the blast furnaces, groups of Semet-Solvay and Wilputte coking ovens were constructed immediately south...

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7. Storage Bins

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pp. 59-61

The gigantic storage bins of the Rouge Plant extended along the east side of the boat slip for half a mile. Their total capacity was in the neighborhood of 2 million tons. These huge bins, walled in concrete, are said to have been constructed using cement from the Edison Portland Cement Company...

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8. Railroads

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pp. 62-66

From the very beginning of work at the River Rouge site, hauling of soil from place to place was done by rail car. In the very beginning, on narrowgauge tracks, a few small cars were pulled by horses. As needed, heavier rails, much larger hopper cars...

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9. Carpenter Shop

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pp. 67-70

When Henry Ford first operated the Rouge Plant, both sedan and touring- car automobile bodies were manufactured with stout wooden frames. Ford purchased approximately 400,000 acres of hardwood forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he established several sawmills...

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10. Paper Mill

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pp. 71-76

Henry Ford believed in cleanliness and abhorred waste of any sort. At the Rouge, it took at least 5000 cleaners to keep the immense plant “shipshape.” In one month, 32,500 gallons of paint were applied, 7000 mops and 2700 brooms were worn out...

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11. Tractors

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pp. 77-82

The River Rouge Plant was first conceived by Henry Ford as solely a tractor plant. His highly successful farm tractors were being assembled in 1916 by Henry Ford & Son five miles away in Dearborn, and he visualized his tractor as being perhaps more important...

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12. Marine Operations

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pp. 83-88

The River Rouge Plant was located in 1917 on the banks of the Rouge River so that Henry Ford could bring his raw materials in by boat and ship his manufactured products out by boat. The dredging of the river channel and boat slip by the U.S. government...

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13. Dock Operations

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pp. 89-94

The mile-long docks at the Rouge were just one of the many ports of call provided to Ford ships as they carried goods from place to place around the world. Smaller dock facilities were provided at several Great Lakes locations, coastal cities in the United States...

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14. Ship Salvage

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pp. 95-99

In negotiating for the ocean freighters Oneida and Onondaga, Henry Ford became aware of hundreds of surplus World War I merchant ships, most of them built on the Great Lakes and called Lakers. In August 1925, Ford purchased 199 of these 1500-ton surplus ships...

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15. Glass Plant

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pp. 100-107

The Ford Motor Company pioneered the manufacture of automotive plate glass. Following World War I, when sedans were becoming popular, Henry Ford noticed distortion in the purchased glass used in his Model T sedans. His solution was to manufacture...

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16. Cement Plant

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pp. 108-112

The composition of Portland cement was patented in 1824 and named after the stone quarried on the Isle of Portland on the east coast of England. In 1890, the introduction of the rotary kiln completely revolutionized the manufacture of Portland cement, making its preparation...

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17. By-Products

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pp. 113-118

Henry Ford abhorred waste.Wherever there was scrap, he found a use for it.Whenever his manufacturing operations resulted in a by-product, he found a market for it. Surplus electrical power generated at the Rouge was diverted for use at the Highland Park...

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18. Motor Building

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pp. 119-122

In the design of automobiles, Henry Ford’s talents lay predominantly in engines. As early as 1901, his reputation was established as a racing-engine engineer. The four-cylinder Model T motor, introduced in 1908, was still being manufactured at...

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19. Pressed Steel

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pp. 123-128

The first pressed-steel building at the Rouge was erected during 1924 opposite the north end of the steel mill. The first automotive parts were produced there in June 1925. Using railroad tracks within the building, 2500 tons of milled steel was supplied...

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20. Open Hearth

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pp. 129-134

Although the Model T automobile contained an inordinate number of iron castings through the ingenuity of Charles E. Sorensen (“Cast Iron Charlie”), it was steel that was necessary for the bulk of the Ford car. In fact, no fewer than fifty-six different...

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21. Rolling Mills

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pp. 135-140

One of the largest buildings in the Rouge, the rolling mill (460 by 1500 feet), was attached directly to the open-hearth building in order to receive hot steel ingots produced by the open-hearth furnaces. Steel rolling operations were begun...

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22. Spring and Upset

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pp. 141-145

The spring-and-upset building of the Rouge Plant was about the same size as the pressed-steel building and was attached to its north end. The upper floors of the two buildings together formed a bridge over Road 4 of the plant. The spring-and-upset building...

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23. Electric Furnaces

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pp. 146-151

To prepare many of the specialty steels needed for the manufacture of automobiles and tractors, electric furnaces were best. They were used especially for the production of high-grade alloy steels in which the impurities had to be held to a minimum...

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24. Materials Testing

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pp. 152-158

From raw materials to finished vehicles, high-quality specifications were applied. Whether it was coal from Kentucky, iron ore from Minnesota, or latex from Indonesia, strict chemical specification limits were established. Purchased shipments were routinely...

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25. Chassis Assembly

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pp. 159-164

The automotive chassis assembly line, operating on the ground floor of the B building, was the beginning portion of the Rouge final assembly line. Parts manufactured in the pressed-steel building, the spring-and-upset building, and the motor building...

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26. Body Assembly

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pp. 165-171

Wooden body frames for Ford cars gradually disappeared with late Model Ts. At the Rouge Plant, automotive body structures were assembled primarily from steel stampings. Throughout the 1930s, when sedans were more popular than open cars and Tudors...

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27. Painting and Plating

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pp. 172-176

Ford Motor Company was in the automotive painting business very early. The color black, for which Ford was famous, was formulated to provide durability together with speed of application. Paint manufacturing was centered at the Highland Park...

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28. Final Assembly

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pp. 177-182

The logistics of moving assembly lines had already been well developed by Ford at Highland Park and other assembly plants through the building of 15 million Model Ts by 1927. Rouge Plant assembly procedures incorporated all that previous experience...

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29. Engine Reconditioning

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pp. 183-187

There was no separate building for engine-rebuilding operations; the work was accomplished in a special area of the motor building.Approximately 35,000 engines per month were reconditioned at the Rouge during the Depression period...

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30. Product Shipping

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pp. 188-193

Efficient shipment of fully assembled cars and parts from the Rouge Plant was an ongoing challenge. The bulk of manufactured automotive parts had to be shipped either by rail or by water to other assembly plants, while the relatively small...

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31. Trade and Apprentice Schools

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pp. 194-200

The Henry Ford Trade School was organized in 1916 at the Highland Park Plant for benefit of boys from ages twelve to eighteen whose circumstances compelled them to leave school and go to work. It gave them a chance to continue their education...

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32. Employee Commute

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pp. 201-206

At the start of the Rouge in early 1918, there was no public transit service available, and very few workers possessed automobiles. As the plant workforce grew in size, streetcar and bus lines were extended from Detroit to the Rouge at both Miller...

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33. Workers with Disabilities

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pp. 207-213

The policy of Henry Ford was to give equal opportunity for work to all, including those who did not have full use of their physical faculties. For blind applicants, in particular, a number of specific jobs were available in such departments as motor...

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34. Industrial Relations

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pp. 214-220

The first few dozen employees hired by Ford Motor Company were acknowledged one by one as friends by Henry Ford himself. As the numbers grew to thousands by 1913, Ford organized the Sociological Department at the Highland Park...

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35. Food Services

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pp. 221-225

The tens of thousands of employees at the Rouge Plant largely took care of their own food requirements while at work. Most brought lunches from home. A considerable number purchased lunches from the food carts that arrived at...

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36. Ford Commissaries

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pp. 226-228

In 1919, Ford Motor Company became a retailer of household commodities. As Henry Ford stated, “We opened these stores as one means of raising our employees’ salaries.” Because of the postwar inflation, retail prices had risen to such heights...

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37. Hospital

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pp. 229-234

Perhaps the most widely promoted policy at the Rouge Plant was employee safety. Signs throughout the plant constantly reminded workers of the need to be careful. Rules enforced by foremen required the use of safety glasses, breathing...

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38. Fire Department

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pp. 235-239

Although the City of Fordson and, later, the City of Dearborn possessed excellent firefighting equipment and responded to fires within the Rouge complex when needed, the Rouge had its own facilities for fighting fires. Located centrally...

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39. Administration Building

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pp. 240-245

Facing west on Schaefer Road, the administration building was at the far northwest corner of the Rouge property. Designed by Albert Kahn, constructed during 1927, and first occupied on January 26, 1928, this building became the headquarters...

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40. Photographic Department

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pp. 246-251

Henry Ford was an early advocate of photography. He had purchased a still camera for personal use in 1896 and took it to New York when he first met Thomas Edison. He purchased his first moving-picture camera in 1913 and, in 1914, ordered...

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41. Ford Rotunda

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pp. 252-256

The Ford Rotunda was built in 1934 for the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. The Rotunda’s popularity at Chicago convinced Ford management that the same structure would serve well as a welcoming center for the approximately...

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42. Soybean Operations

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pp. 257-262

Farmers had always made up the majority of customers for Henry Ford’s automobiles and tractors. So when the Great Depression struck in 1929, Ford was searching for a crop that farmers could raise and sell to industry, providing money with...

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43. Tool-and-Die Shop

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pp. 263-268

Henry Ford’s success in the automobile business was largely a result of continually having improved production machinery designed and built within Ford Motor Company as needed for special purposes. In addition to his automotive chassis...

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44. Tunnels

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pp. 269-274

The largest tunnel serving the Rouge Plant was 2.2 miles long and brought water from a point downstream on the Rouge River and close to the Detroit River to a pumping station adjacent to the Rouge main powerhouse. Following negotiations...

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45. Tire Plant

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pp. 275-280

Although he was a very close friend of Harvey Firestone, and indeed Firestone’s major customer, Henry Ford felt the need to control his own supply of raw materials, including rubber for tires. Especially in 1922, when the British rubber...

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pp. 281-285

The period covered by this book (1917 to 1940) includes primarily the formation of the Rouge and its concentration on the manufacture of automobiles, trucks, and tractors. At the end of this period, focus quickly shifted to the manufacturing...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336830
Print-ISBN-13: 9780972784306

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 397
Publication Year: 2003