By on August 20, 2013
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What remains of Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant, where the moving assembly line was developed and implemented.

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.”

Ford Highland Park plant Administration Building

Ford Highland Park plant Administration Building

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.

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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.

 

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46 Comments on “Preservation Group Crowdsources Purchase of Ford’s Highland Park Buildings, Reprises “Five Dollars a Day”...”


  • avatar
    Aquineas

    Cool, and I think most of us can appreciate the automotive and music history. But basically, outside of the cars that were once built there (or the ones that are still designed there), or the great songs that were once written there, respectfully, I don’t really care about Detroit. It would be one of the last places in the USA I’d choose to live. And yes, I’ve been there, and no, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      But you care enough to author the first comment in a story about Detroit. Detroit appreciates how much you really care.

      PS: Please send money

      • 0 avatar
        Aquineas

        That’s a fair semi-flame :-). I guess I’m commenting on it because of all the press I’ve been seeing about it recently. With the frequent stories of urban revitalization, bankruptcy, etc, it’s been in the news a lot lately. I think part of my resentment is really directed at the auto-industry itself. Detroit auto manufacturers have themselves to blame for the crappy cars they put together for so long in the 70s and 80s. They were the envy of the world for so long, then got fat and lazy with engineering and manufacturing and got their asses handed to them. Now they’re trying to make a comeback, and to that I say, “good for them!” Heck, I just bought my first American-designed car in 14 years. But if they hadn’t started making crappy, thrown-together cars in the first place where assembly-line workers were intentionally leaving loose-screws behind panels, we wouldn’t be talking about a “comeback.” We’d be talking about a decades-long economic miracle that is still the envy of the world.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I don’t disagree with your main premise. Detroit is more than rough around the edges and the Big 3 weren’t as competitive as they should have been for a long time. However, the city of Detroit started the spiral of decay while the automakers were doing well.

          The urban renewal is really isolated to a few areas in the city that are adjacent to downtown or Wayne State University/Detroit Medical Center.

          At this point, even if the the Detroit automakers make world class vehicles, it doesn’t really help the city of Detroit. Only Chrysler builds vehicles in the city, and only GM has its HQ in the city. Everyone that works in the RenCen is out of downtown by nightfall. All Detroit can do is grab the 1% income tax from automotive workers. They certainly aren’t getting any property taxes.

          Detroit needs to lower property taxes. I pay higher mils than most Detroit suburbs, but my tax burden would be double in the city. To go along with the extra cost, I would recieve less services, and my wife and child wouldn’t be able to go for a walk to the playground. Until someone can make tough and smart decisions over a few years, not much will change.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            I wonder if a reduced sales tax zone for downtown Detroit would help? It would be a way to draw in suburban shoppers.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            You realize Highland Park is a separate city from Detroit? As the post noted, Henry Ford moved there to escape Detroit’s high taxes.

  • avatar
    ash78

    “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. ”

    A big part of the issue was the need to hire skilled, passionate craftsmen to do repetitive piecework. It was such a soul-sucking endeavor for many of them, the only way to overwhelm their desire to jump off a bridge was to simply pay them more.

    And thus modern corporate America was born!

    • 0 avatar

      On the contrary, Henry Ford’s contribution was eliminating the need for skilled workers. Anybody, just off the farm or the boat, had the skills needed to work in Ford’s factory, because few skills were needed. It was still mind numbing, but you didn’t have to hire any geniuses to do it (though perhaps Henry Ford’s greatest talent was surrounding himself with a number of very smart and very creative men who also had the ability to get a megalomaniac to see things their way). Before converting the entire Highland Park facility to moving assembly lines, FoMoCo first did it with the department that assembled the flywheel/magneto. Originally the work was done by one person, who assembled the entire subassembly. That was fairly skilled work. Breaking the assembly down to its simplest tasks meant that you didn’t need to be trained beyond that discrete task. Using a moving assembly line and simplifying the labor meant that fewer, less skilled, workers could produce more magnetos than had been done with a greatrt number or higher skilled employees.

      BTW, nobody jumped off of bridges. They just quit, creating a new hire turnover rate of 300%.

  • avatar

    Henry Ford (as much as he later came to regret it) essentially built much of the modern world and it is sad to see these historic buildings in Highland Park fall apart. I live in an area in Europe that was once heavily industrialized but the steel and iron making and mining are mainly gone but a lot of effort has been put into maintaining sites of significant industrial architecture. I will probably never visit Detroit myself but as an automobile enthusiast will contribute to this worthwhile project.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    Aquineas,

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your visit to Detroit; I’ve had both good and bad experiences in cities such as Chicago and New York where people LOVE their city and where some can’t stand it.

    I personally love the area as I’m in the automotive industry, love cars, love their history and still get thrilled by a grass roots event like the Woodward Dream Cruise where thousands of people like me get together and enjoy cars and their culture. I grew up in Ohio and wanted to move here and help people build cars, and that’s what I’ve been able to do my whole adult life.

    As a fan of the history I’m glad we’re finally starting to preserve this through more private efforts as our local governments have proven incapable of doing much of anything except line their pockets (not just recently but going back 50+ years).

    As Sprocketboy notes Europe is much better at recognizing and preserving this history… Henry Ford may not have been a good man in many respects but he did put America on wheels and I likely have a job and an industry today because of him.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford was a piece of work 8 ways to Sunday. A genuine crackpot in so many areas and on so many levels. I argue with Michael Lamm about Henry Ford from time to time. Mike’s written books about the man and his cars and thinks he was a genius. I think he was an idiot savant. In many ways FoMoCo survived and thrived despite him. He was mean to his son. He pretty much openly cheated on his wife with Evangeline Dahlinger. He hired gangsters. He was a notorious Jew-hater (though his grandson, HFII, was a bit of a Judeophile). He didn’t trust accountants or engineers, and as his wealth and power grew, so did his megalomania.

      Still, you can’t deny the man his due. He changed the world, the greater part for the better. My mom will be 89 in a couple of months and she gets treated by the Henry Ford Hospital group. My sister graduated from Henry Ford II high school in Detroit. That’s aside from putting the world on wheels.

      Also, it’s important to remember that Ford was not the only person who made the industry. I think that there are times when the planets align and God smiles and we end up with a critical mass of creative people in the same time and place. Renaissance Italy, the American founding fathers, and Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th century are examples.

      Ford could never have accomplished what he did without the Dodge brothers. Without business from Ransom Olds, the Dodges might not have been in the position to supply Ford. David Buick and Henry Leland also had seminal roles beyond the car companies they started. Then there were businessmen like Durant, Nash and Chrysler, who recognized the potential in the young industry. Not all were from Detroit, but they gravitated to the city, which already had foundry capacity from the stove making industry (the world’s biggest stove company was in Detroit) and had engine builders like the Dodges and Leland who supplied the Great Lakes marine industry with engines, steam and gasoline. One very important figure was Benjamin Briscoe, a financier who can be said to have founded two of the Big 3 domestic automakers. Briscoe hedged his bets and spread his money around, investing in more than one car company. Two of the companies he helped start were Buick, the foundation of General Motors, and Maxwell, which eventually became Chrysler.

      BTW, if anyone’s interested, I have a list of about 120 locations in and around Detroit that are historically significant when it comes to automobiles. I don’t know if something similar to tours in NYC or Hollywood could turn a profit, but there are plenty of historic sites to visit in and around the Motor City.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        The nod to Ransom Olds should include the fact that Henry got the idea for the moving assembly line from him after a visit, right on the banks of the Grand River in Lansing, Michigan where vehicles have been built continuously for 116 years now. Well, they did build cannons and shells a few years in the 40′s, to be precise.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Ronnie,
        Is your 120 list on your website?

        • 0 avatar

          No, but thanks for the good idea. I’ll get it up right away. I was toying with the idea of starting a tour company. If I had the money, I’d do it using the 1956 Cadillac Broadmoor Skyview station wagons with the clear acrylic roof panels that are for sale ($125K for the lot of three, two of them look kinda rough), mount the Caddy bodies on custom Art Morrison chassis with modern drivetrains. Detroit being Detroit, you don’t want a mechanical failure stranding your passengers.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        I have to commend Ronnie on his insight. I agree on everything except his anti-semeticism because nobody can pin that whole thing down. Some historians argue for, others against. I’m openly pro-ford but as a good historian I recognize he was probably somewhat anti-semetic but the fact a book was authored involving his name always came across as a stretch and most agree he had little if anything to do with it.

        That being said, spot on analysis. Detroit was really built by all the nameplates we’ve seen. Leland, dodge, ford, sloan, Chrysler, and Olds. Detroit in the early 20th century was a literal commune of engineers, inventors, and visionaries. Ford’s 999 racer was stupendous and awful at the same time. But you cannot deny, Ford had the best combination of mind, body, and soul and it’s why his business stood the test of time…even if it nearly went bankrupt atleast a half-dozen times.

      • 0 avatar
        jnik

        I’d really be interested in your map, especially if you put it on line.I wish I’d had one when I visited the Detroit area a few years ago as a part of my automotive history vacation. Before reacing Detroit, I went to the Cord – Auburn – Duesenberg Museum (Incredible)!, the studebaker Museum in South Bend (now part of a larger site), the Gilmore Museum in Battle Creek (my jaw dropped to the floor in each building of the complex).Kalamazoo has a museum dedicated to the cars built there, including the Checker and the Corvair. I spotted a number of classic cars on the street, as well.
        I visited the Sloane Museum and the 1936 Sit Down Strike site in Flint, the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, (I still think about that refrigerator – white Airflow)!, Fair Lane, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Museum in Dearborn. My hotel was in Dearborn, which wasn’t as scary as Detroit was. In Detroit, I kept to well – traveled roads in or close to downtown, visiting Ren Cen, the old GM Building, Music City and the Museum of the City of Detroit. Like the residents, I got out of there before dusk. I just didn’t want to risk getting lost or mechanical trouble going off the beaten path. Such a map would have been of great value to me. And if you get a tour going, I’d like to take it one day.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    The city of Detroit is not a very nice place these days, no doubt, but the suburbs are vibrant, great places to live. Costs are low and there is a lot to do, with many lakes in the area. Next door, Oakland County is often cited as the 4th wealthiest county over 1,000,000 in the country, thanks primarily to the auto industry and its supply base.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Oakland County also has four or five of the top fifty suburbs in America according to a Coldwell Banker list last year.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        It is a very nice place to live. When they said there was killing to be made in Oakland County real estate, I didn’t expect it to be me who was killed! Prices have recovered substantially, but are still low these days.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          Berkley and Royal Oak are booming again. Ferndale’s property value was vastly over priced for what you got about 5-6 years ago. It’s right sized itself.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            tres, have you ever been to Gusoline Alley in Royal Oak?

            A good selection of eclectic beers (including many Belgian/Trappist Ales) in a very tiny dive of a bar, along with one of the best jukeboxes in existence (assuming you’re a gen Xer with good taste and a healthy dose of skepticism about the world).

            It’s almost complimentary to many of the personalities on TTAC (writers and readers).

            It’s managed to mostly defy the creeping pop culture that swallowed Royal Oak whole.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            DW: yes I have. I liked it a lot but it never caught on with my friends. I’m a fan of The Rock and unashamedly love the duck burger at Vinsetta Garage. I can not get enough of Toast, either (go on a weekday morning).

            I just moved away back down south, but when I wasn’t traveling, I did enjoy the RO / Ferndale area. (lived in both cities right off Woodward)

        • 0 avatar
          doctor olds

          My 34 yo son sometime regrets getting a house in suburbia rather than a place in Royal Oak.

          He also participates in an informal biking event in downtown Detroit that brings out a lot of folks. Says the city is becoming more interesting and viable to younger folks these days. I hope so. I just locked in a mortgage at 3.75%, am here for the duration.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I would disagree a little on the “inner ring” suburbs (with the exception of the “old money” Grosse Pointes). Suburbs like St. Clair Shores (where I was born and raised, until my family moved to the Toledo, OH area in 1984 because of my Dad’s job promotion), Roseville and southern Warren. Probably need to mention Eastpointe (formerly known as “East Detroit”) and Harper Woods in there, too. All of these places have taken it hard on the chin, even before the latest economic collapse in 2008. My Dad’s 95 year-old mother still lives in “the Shores,” which aside from the “Nautical Mile” along Jefferson, is just DEPRESSING! Not a dump! Depressing! (As you state, though, Oakland County is booming just fine, and northern Macomb County (Romeo area, where my Mom’s family is from) is doing well. It almost seems like say, 15-or-16-Mile Road to the south and Woodward Avenue to the west, is the line of economic demarcation in the “new” Detroit area between the 1% and 99%, with the Pointes the exception.)

      Couple more examples:

      What used to be a nice neighborhood around the church where I was baptized and confirmed, along 7-Mile between I-94 and Greater Mack (by St. John’s health complex) is now a crack house-ridden ghetto where you take your life into your hands if you choose to venture out at night! I suspect the area a little southeast of there, towards Chandler Park, is someplace where you do not want to venture forth at any time of the day OR night.

      Unfortunately, the “blight” is coming northward. I know that the area around Eastland Mall (if it’s still there), 8-Mile and Kelly, which was a nice shopping center with a Hudson’s and Penney’s back in my day, is now considered “no man’s land,” and dangerous 24/7.

      I think that if something doesn’t happen to turn the tide, in twenty years, I could see the remainder of Harper Woods and Eastpointe along and west of I-94 going downhill, as well. (Don’t recall what cities are north of 8-Mile between I-94 and Gratiot, up to 10-Mile, Roseville and southern Warren, perhaps.)

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    FYI – I believe most of this plant still stands. It’s owned by ‘Ford Land’ and is a contract storage facility for old dies, etc. The properties adjacent to the Piquette plant (and possibly this location) also house documents / artifacts controlled by Ford’s salaried historian. When St. Louis Assembly closed I was a FCG, the historian indicated he was sorting through a trailer full of SLAP stuff at what I presumed to be the Piquette facility.

    If you drive around back of the Highland Park facility, you will see die after die stored outside and inside of the plant.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    Nice article though the “mental stultifying job” begs the question of other mental stultifying jobs of the era. Like working the cotton fields, orchards, grain crops or say…modern day commuting in traffic (which is producing more zombies than any modern day assembly lime).

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      Are you serious?

      Sitting in your air conditioned mid sized beige piece of crap listening to political talk radio does not compare to work that trashes your ligaments, back and joints.

      Get some perspective and get outside of your 1st world problems bubble.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Oh, it felt good reading that.

        • 0 avatar
          mikey

          Really…Somewhere around day seven,on the assembly line, I didn’t think I would make it through the day. I looked at some of the my older co workers. Some of these guys were nearly 40. They had put twenty years in on the line.

          I’m thinking “Im not going to see day eight” Twenty f–in years! I don’t think so.
          A couple of days later the foreman comes around with a handful of brown envelopes. He reached down into the pit,and handed me one. At the tender age of eighteen,it was double the largest pay check I’d ever seen.

          Well….maybe I can do another week. My job was to drive three skirt bolts to secure the inner fender to the rad support. I put my gun down, and installed an S hook to the park brake cable. I then reached up and secured the speedo cable to the transmission, and tightened it with a custom made tool. I had it mastered.

          Two weeks in,and I got bumped to wheels. The number one,bar none, worst job in the chassis plant. 5ft 10″ and 145lbs..I just couldn’t do it. May God bless the little Polish man with his thick accent.” You can do it boy” use your head,not your arms. bounce the wheels like basketball.

          A month later I’m back in the pit. Now i’m installing gas tanks in 1973 Impalas. Not the best, but a big improvement over wheels.

          5 months in, and I have a nice car. I got nice clothes. I can take my girl friend out for steak dinners.

          I’m thinking “this job sucks” but that pay check, ain’t too shabby. Maybe i’ll do another 6 months.

          36 years later,and a whole lot of fat paychecks, I walked out through the gate for the last time. Today, on the first of every month they still pay me.

          I had some great times, and worked with some wonderfull people.

          For all it was..Money! cold hard cash, was the only reason I stayed.

          • 0 avatar
            doctor olds

            When it comes to a job, most everyone is in it for the money!!

          • 0 avatar
            SoCalMikester

            Ill just assume youve read “rivethead” at least once.

            Probably one of the best books id ever read.

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            Yes I have read Rivethead. Maybe a little “poetic license” there. All in all ,a fairly accurate description of that particular era.

            Don’t get me wrong,its a great read. Having never worked in a U.S plant it hard for me to pin point the truthfulness.

            In the know critics give Rivethaed about 95 percent in accuracy.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            That is awesome. I’m now on the receiving end of QR’s from OAC.

            My current plant is a stark contrast to a Final plant for a OEM – workers work because they have to. Most are through a temp agency. Total overhead is less than $18/hr (they see maybe 10-12), it’s almost criminal but its necessary to beat $3/hour Mexican overhead. 2nd and 3rd generation mill village residents.

            It sure as hell beats working in Mexico.

            The OEM laborer is the over politicized, spoiled endangered species of the manufacturing world. The parts that pass through their fingers are globally sourced from plants that employ 2 to 42 heads on their compensation (And to think, there are anywhere from 3500 to 16000 tooled end items on an automobile). Their processes are gone through with a fine toothed comb by engineers who source engineers to make tools and work away assembly launch issues.

            But nothing can fix working on chassis, or doing any trim above the belt line.

            Edit: I’d like to point out that I am overpaid, technically have a desk job and am a spoiled POS
            I’ve seen every aspect of manufacturing for NAFTA nations – highs and the lows

          • 0 avatar

            I just want to say that this comment thread is what makes TTAC, in my estimation, the premier automotive site on the web.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Yep.

            I will be the 1st to admit that I couldn’t handle a line job due to the monotony, OR the repetitive stress on joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.

            I can’t even fathom doing that for a year, let alone decades.

            Tresmonos has a colorful & unique way of describing what is involved in the actually doing of these jobs that gives me complete confidence that I couldn’t do them.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            I just wish I could have worked with Mikey when I was OEM side. I probably worked with similar men – I had some very good product specialists (that’s what Ford called guys we would temporarily promote from the line to help identify manuf issues) both in the US and Mexico.

            The insanity of it all was how similar it was on both sides of the border. How I witnessed a guy that just barely entered his twenties work his but off to give the Mexicans the same ergonomic standards that other plants had rights to that previous launches and 5 years of manufacturing engineering neglect did not yield. 1st manuf engineer that genuinely cared for his work in ergonomics that this plant probably saw.

            Manufacturing is such a thankless and glamor less job. You work in a steel coffin in the most basic conditions and you’re lucky if your building has AC. But you get to build the world. It’s rare when I meet someone that sees the same romanticism I do about making things. Last week I met a young guy that is brilliant with ‘native’ method-time-measurment and can knock out a repeatable process like Coltrane can knock out jazz. I couldn’t replicate his efficiency no matter how many parts I tried to build. Circumstances had him working a night shift at a auto supplier plant. I literally begged this guy to go into tool & die apprenticeship and I hope he takes up my company’s 100% tuition reimbursement. He actually gives a sh1t a about making a quality part and efficiency. Plants are mindless, ugly, error prone machines that are piloted by a few caring men and women that stick through multiple shifts and will be there to start up the machine and will be there to cut the switch gear when it’s time to shut off the lights permanently because your sh1t got outsourced, underbid, or the platform ended and service parts commitments are through.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Holy crap, tresmonos… never stop writing.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            @DK

            I echo your sentiments! The B&B commentariat here is a true treasure!

            Some said that this site would degenerate into a free-for-all after “BS” was given the heave-ho, but after a couple months, in my estimation, this site is back to what it once was!

            Mad props to you and Jack! Keep up the good work! :-)

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            I should have acknowledged Mikey, Jay & others (if I didn’t mention by name, apologies) for the all too real, yet seldomly discussed (at least in the mainstream) suck-ish aspects of “manufacturing” jobs.

            Oh, and thanks to SoCalMike, for the tip on ‘Rivethead.’ It’s on to read list now.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I read that most excellent book: “Ford, the men and the machine”, many years ago. Highly recommended, it fueled my appetite to visit Detroit and the “Ford World”.
    Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Detroit area on a business trip. I took some time off, specifically to see several of the Ford places mentioned in the book, including Highland Park.

    It did not disappoint me. True, the buildings are derelict and the surrounding areas dirty and scary. The only way one knows about the significance of the place is by a small plaque attached to the building.
    But all of the old automotive plants have a certain grandness, certain majesty that I’m sure in the future will be compared to some of Europe’s great cathedrals and palaces. And like them, if one knows just a little history, one understands that something that actually changed mankind happened at the place.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    Ford and Chrysler are currently rejecting 80% of their applicants for the “new” lower wage UAW jobs… unable to meet the physical requirements after testing and training.

    The jobs have gotten easier since the 1920′s but they’re not easy yet, and you still need people to make cars.


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