Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant was the location of the first moving automotive assembly line a century ago this year. Henry Ford started to build the Highland Park complex in 1910, needing more capacity than he could produce in the Piquette Avenue plant. Getting away from Detroit taxes and more effectively being able to influence politics in the small municipal enclave within the Detroit city limits were also factors in Ford’s move. Much of the large complex, designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, has long since been demolished but a Detroit economic and community development group is trying to buy the plant’s office building, which still stands, and turn it into a center for information on automotive related attractions in the Detroit area.
Starting yesterday, the Woodward Avenue Action Association is going to try to use crowdsourcing to raise the remaining $125,000 needed to purchase two former Ford Motor Co. buildings in Highland Park. If successful, later funding will be needed to turn the buildings into a tourist information center. “We’ve not been very good at telling our own story,” said Deborah Schutt, interim director of the community group said about Detroit area automotive history. “So we’ve decided, let’s pull everything together and tell our story.”
In 1914, Henry Ford instituted a $5/day wage for Ford auto workers. That wasn’t out of the kindness of his heart but rather because he was all about productivity. Henry didn’t invent the assembly line, though FoMoCo is likely to have been the first car company to use one effectively. No, Henry’s contribution to mass production was breaking assembly down into discrete, simple tasks that even untrained labor could do. The result was a mentally stultifying job. The year before, in 1913, Ford had to bring on 42,000 new hires just to keep 14,000 positions staffed. To reduce that turnover rate and improve productivity, Ford started paying more for labor.
In tribute to that socially groundbreaking act, the Woodward Avenue Action Assoc. has started a “Five Dollars a Day” campaign so it can finalize a $550,000 purchase agreement to acquire the plant’s 40,000 sq ft administration building and an adjacent 8,000 foot garage by the agreement’s Sept. 19 deadline. They hope to raise the $125,000 that is needed to complete the deal, after securing $415,000 in grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corp and Michigan’s state Department of Transportation. The site was granted National Historic Landmark status in 1978.
Those who wish to donate can call 248-288-2004 or visit the Woodward Avenue Action Association’s crowdsourcing site for more information.