Ford Long Beach Assembly Plant Development: The Post-War Years
The Army turned back the Ford plant to the company on September 7, 1945, and on December 11 the first new Ford rolled off the assembly line. Supervisor A.E. Edwards announced it would be a Tudor sedan, but the plant would produce both cars and trucks. With a payroll of 650 men, they hoped to be producing 250 cars a day once the bottlenecks were cleared up,
September 21,1945, marked a turning point in the Ford empire. Henry Ford, who had been in charge, and who had been allowing the ex-bodyguard Harry Bennett to take a major role in running the company, finally stepped down. Ford had been suffering paralytic strokes. Henry Ford II took over as President and at all levels of decision making. Clara Ford and Mrs. Edsel Ford had forced the decision, and within minutes after Henry Ford II was in office he got rid of Bennett. Getting rid of Bennett's men in the empire took time, and with old management in shambles, post-war machinery needing reconversion, and post-war strikes (none at their own plants) the new President took bold steps. He gathered around him a new team and formed new policy. Henry Ford II picked men like Robert McNamara of the Harvard School of Business and a group called the "Whiz Kids" to place Ford back in a position of automotive leadership.
The Long Beach plant benefited from these changes, but they were too many and too high level to belong in a branch plant history. One, however, the separation of plant manager from the Sales Department, was actually initiated at Long Beach with Ford II coming out personally to supervise the execution of the plan.
Returning to post-war production at Long Beach, we found the plant reacting to strikes, coal shortages causing freight embargoes, and parts shortages. Although there were illegal work stoppages within the company, the United Auto Workers (UAW) called no strikes during these years in Ford plants. Henry Ford II gave a speech in 1946 entitled "The Challenge of Human Engineering," in which he called on labor and capital to come together and to solve their common problems. A UAW official called it the best speech he had heard in ten years. (See section on Labor.) Long Beach Ford was in a way a victim of the times, and suffered the problems common to the whole industry. On April 22, 1946, the local newspaper reported that the plant had been closed about half the time since it reopened. That April it was turning out only 132 cars a day. In December critical parts were being shipped in by air freight. On the positive side. Long Beach was selling more parts than ever before: over $4,750,00 worth of parts and accessories during 1947. It had a new bonderizing unit installed with a 570 foot conveyor. To its immediate west and just east of the bascule bridge, a new Terminal Island Freeway neared completion with its own new bridge, the Commodore Helm Bridge alongside the bascule. The new bridge would afford covered parking for 500 employee cars.
In January 1947 the company announced that a new Los Angeles plant was under construction: the Maywood Lincoln-Mercury plant at the corner of Slauson and Eastern Avenues, just across the street from the Chrysler plant in greater Los Angeles. In its three buildings it would employ 1,500 people. That month the new Long Beach plant newspaper. Long Beach News also printed the following:
"The period since V J day has been an unhappy and costly period of reconversion to peacetime production. The Ford Motor Company has lost millions of dollars since V J day, even after all tax adjustment. But the crisis of this wild aftermath of war seems to have been passed. Our own production [here at Long Beach] though still limited by material shortages, is now steadier. The Company made a modest profit for the last three months of 1946, and we intend to continue to operate in the black. The economy now stands at a turning point. “
"Taking the lead in the USA to combat spiraling costs, the Company has announced reductions in prices of every model of Ford. This is our down payment on a continued high level of production."
In June 1947, the company spent $34,000 at Long Beach to enlarge the front offices. With a design that converted the plant show room into offices, all the sales and service offices were relocated in a new northern section north of the main lobby which itself opened out onto Ford Avenue. With the departure of the sales group from the south wing of the offices, room was then available for the industrial relations head, traffic department, stock checkers, work standards, employment, inspection, and the assistant superintendent in addition to the plant superintendent and plant manager. The move was completed in October 1947.
In July 1947 the Long Beach plant completed its 50,000th post-war car. In August it produced 1,892 Ford passenger cars and 526 trucks. Demand was unfulfilled. In October it had over 50,000 back orders in its sales district. That district included nine Southern California counties, two counties in Nevada, one in New Mexico, and the State of Arizona. Long Beach Ford would continue only to produce Ford passenger cars and Ford trucks for the life of the plant, thus all production figures which lie ahead will be presented in those terms. Ford showed profits in 1947 and every year after in which the Long Beach plant operated. Henry Ford II visited Ford Long Beach twice in 1947, in March and in November and impressed the employees with his warmth. His grandfather, founder of the company, died April 7, 1947.