Decision to Build in Long Beach
On June 29, 1926 when the Long Beach newspapers carried the story that Henry Ford was planning to locate an assembly plant in Long Beach, events in Detroit were hardly pointing toward expansion. Ford's percentage of the total nationally produced cars had steadily fallen from 56 percent in 1921 to 45 percent in 1925. Ford had responded with six different price cuts bringing the cost of the runabout down to $260. The Company managed to keep first place in sales among the auto manufacturers, but the challenge of other companies and cuts in their Ford sale profits were causing ten percent of his car dealers to go over to General Motors each year. Discouraged with the "dead weight of the Model T" even sales supervisors were switching over. Ford advised retrenchment, and at the San Francisco branch in June, 1926 a slash removed 41 percent of his sales employees. In Dearborn, Henry Ford had still not given in to the pressure for a new model, and was in fact still tinkering unsuccessfully with a heavier engine for the Model T.
On the other hand, Henry Ford believed that good business depended upon ongoing expansion. To Ford, what we see above simply amounted to some pressure to make adjustments while attending to ongoing plans. Henry Ford, and he made all major decisions, at this time entertained no ideas of cutting back. He was moving ahead. For example, the timing for his acquisition of a rubber plantation in Brazil almost parallels that of planning for and installing the Long Beach assembly plant: 1924 through 1930, Highways in America were expanding, and overall demand was expanding. The Rouge, with its 159.62 acres of floor space, was almost completed in character by 1926, yet, it and the Highland Park plant could only provide a fraction of the cars he marketed. While the Rouge was under construction so were branch plants. In 1928 there were 35 of these active in the United States and others abroad. Ford believed in decentralization, in cottage industries, and even castings and motors were to be fabricated elsewhere. As the population and the market moved west, so did Ford Assembly Plants.
Although California had enjoyed continuous growth ever since gold was discovered, that growth was punctuated by spurts of rapid growth, and one of these was the decade of the 1920s. In 1914 population stood at under 3 million; at 1930 it was five and two-thirds million, most of the increase taking place in the twenties. The growth was unequal, the larger share of it showing up in the south as a redistribution of congressional seats demonstrated. Avid users of the car. Southern Californians geared their culture to it.
Traffic congestion in downtown Los Angeles was acute in 1925. A decade later California would even surpass New York in the number of traffic accident fatalities. As early as 1923 Ford's Western District Manager reported, "California is consuming more automobiles per capita than any other similar section, and the Ford Motor Company has given official recognition to the tremendous growth and sales possibilities of this district."
Sales possibilities out west were not limited to California. Ford needed a plant to supply cars to the American Southwest and one that could ship cars to the Orient and south to Mexico as well. The company needed a plant with harbor facilities so that it could bring in parts and materials cheaply and ship out assembled cars the same way, if the long distance market materialized. Long Beach faced out on the Pacific rim. American- Hawaiian Steamship Company was down the Cerritos Channel at Los Angeles Harbor's Dock A. To the east in the Long Beach Harbor were the Dollar Line docks, and with Signal Hill oil money to pay for them, harbor improvements were constant. Long Beach was actively seeking industries to add to those already in place. In addition, the city's oil income kept local taxes low.
Ford had two assembly plants west of Chicago in 1923: one in the San Francisco area and one in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Ford Plant had been in operation since 1911: first at 12th and Olive Streets and after 1914 at East Seventh Street and Santa Fe Avenue. In January, 1923 Byron L. Graves, Ford Motor Company Manager of all interests west of the Mississippi, told the press that expansion was planned in Los Angeles that would make it the largest factory on the Pacific Coast, a class "A" Ford plant second to none west of Chicago. The floor space would be expanded by 90,024 square feet. A portion of that would be in the existing five story building with a basement while the balance would be two stories. Employing 1,100 workers it would turn out all the runabout, touring, coupe and sedan bodies for the Los Angeles territory as well as coupe and sedan bodies for the San Francisco plant. Enameling ovens would handle its tremendous output of parts and of some 300 cars daily. The Los Angeles Plant at the time had 650 employees turning out 70 coupe and sedan bodies a day, cushions and seat backs and assembling some 200 cars daily. One of its more Important functions was that of maintaining a parts reserve stock worth $1,500,500. According to archival data, an 89,120 square foot addition was completed that spring bringing the total square feet at the plant to 241,946 sq. ft.
We also know that when the Long Beach Plant opened the L.A. plant was still employing only 700 men and producing but 225 cars daily. The 1923 expansion was a temporary expansionary move, because during that same year Ford management was looking for a new and better site to which It could move the entire operation.