Ford Long Beach Assembly Plant Take Off into Sustained Production

As 1950 rolled around and the Long Beach Ford people looked back on 1949 they saw a successful year. Average daily production had been 262 units for an eight-hour day or 49,941 cars and trucks for the year. The plant assembled vehicles for 162 dealers getting its major chassis and body parts from the Rouge in Dearborn. It employed between 1400 and 1500 hourly-rated and salaried employees. The operations required the shipment of about 27 carloads of materials daily into the plant and five freight carloads daily out. Some vehicles were shipped out by motor truck convoy.

The most dramatic change to the Assembly building since the addition of the pressed steel building in 1930 came in 1950 in the form of a northern rectangular wing for test and repair. Called the Dynamometer building, it contained modem automobile road testing equipment. Although it did not disturb the facade of the two-story office building, It did cover over most of the bays at the north end of the Assembly building. Its flat roof and lack of style made it a sharp departure from the Albert Kahn design. Executive parking took up space in the west end, and it added 38,930 square feet to the plant. This brought the total space devoted to auto production up to 501, 222 square feet. An aerial view of the plant taken in 1951 demonstrates that the road test track was by then no longer extant. New testing machinery had taken its place. Extensive modernization work started in the plant In June 1951 which introduced the most advanced and modern techniques of automobile assembly line production methods. These included automatic transfer of car bodies from one moving assembly line to another, an automatic paint spray system for painting small auto parts, and paint spray booths that Ford claimed were so well ventilated that workmen did not need to wear respirators.

Robert G. Armour succeeded A. L. Edwards as Plant Manager in May 1951. He had been with the company 30 years and had come to Long Beach as Assistant Plant Manager in 1948. Under him on June 1, 1951, the service stock facility was moved to the new Los Angeles Parts Depot. This freed 66,037 square feet of floor space for manufacturing operations. The Sales Department moved to the same location on September 1 of that year. Part of the space that was now available was the 37,840 square feet of the upper warehouse, which had been filled with 60 boxcars of stock items, representing a weight of over 3 million pounds. About 80 tons of auto stock items were involved in the daily turnover of incoming and outgoing stock handled by the service stock department.

The year 1952 passed uneventfully with the usual Family Day to view the new model and a brief shutdown due to a steel strike in the east. In June 1953 it was announced that Ford would build a new plant 40 miles southeast of San Francisco near San Jose. The Richmond plant would close and all of its employees would transfer to the new plant. New Long Beach office locations were diagramed in the company newspaper of July, 1954. The plant increased their office space and radically changed the location of personnel placing the plant manager at the extreme northwest corner of the office building. This gave him easy access to the new executive garage. The November 1954 company newspaper printed a layout of the plant with instructions for emergency evacuation.

A plot plan drawn in 1951 and aerial views of the plant since that date have shown that four good-sized sheds were built on the property. We have no construction drawings or building permits with which to document these additions, but they are extant, at least in part in 1990. Designated sheds A, B, C, and D on later drawings. A, the Carpenter Shop, lay east of the pressed steel building and was "L" shaped to accommodate the oil well there. The other three long sheds lay north of it. An additional shed-like structure referred to, we believe, as the Engineering Building, appears on photographs after 1950 parallel to the Assembly building and north of the executive parking lot.

In 1955 as the company experienced record sales, the Distribution Offices were moved out of the District Sales Offices and into Assembly Plant locations to shorten the elapsed time between receipt of orders from dealers and the delivery of vehicles to the dealer. Key punch and IBM cards were introduced to speed up the orders.

Meanwhile, Ford Division had brought out a striking new model, the Thunderbird to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette of 1953. It was a winner from the start, but was not produced at Long Beach where they continued to turn out Fords in the high volume field such as the Mainliner and Skyliner. Upgrading of equipment at changeover marked the news of 1954 as the plant was readied for the new 1955 model. Downtime was an ideal time to do some necessary repair work on the outside of the Plant. At the east end of the Dynamometer building concrete was poured Into a 3,197 square foot area. The smooth surface was to make work easier for the lift operators who handled stock there.

!n 1955 Ford Vice-President Robert McNamara toured the Long Beach Plant in both May and December. His visit reflected the maturation of Henry Ford II policy, Henry Ford II's grandfather’s formal education had ended when he left the one-room schoolhouse, and Henry Ford I hired men like himself. Those days were in the past. Visitors from the Middle East also toured the plant in their Arab robes. The major plant improvement that year were the flammable liquid unloading facilities. Pipes from these carried gasoline, oil, and spirits to tanks lying on either side of the oil house.

These were the good years. By 1953 the total payroll to employees at Long Beach had amounted to $8,500,000. The plant established its peak production in September 1953 turning out over 392 cars and trucks per day to give a month's total of 8,614 cars and 1,006 trucks. The annual production for the plant in 1953 was 86,570 units of all kinds produced by a total of 1,800 employees. By April 1954 this total had dropped to 1,700 employees. The plant supplied 163 dealers and had been supplying various trucks and pickups to all branches of the armed services since the beginning of the Korean Police Action In 1950. On November 23, 1954, the plant reached the 500,000 mark in vehicles completed since production had resumed after World War II. Nationwide, Ford sales lead the nation over all competitors, a goal long sought after. As a reminder of how much material this demanded to achieve this, during normal production the daily consumption consisted of 39 freight-car loads and 22 truck loads. Without unloading this amount of stock each day, the plant would not have been able to operate for more than four hours.

Ford was expanding in California, opening a new plant at Rosemead and Washington Boulevards in a suburb called Pico-Rivera for Lincoln and Mercury production. The Richmond plant closed on February 25, 1955, and the new San Jose plant produced its first car on March 1, 1955. Key Long Beach men transferred to both of these plants. The company predicted a continued high in auto sales for the next ten years and noted that the 2-car family was on the horizon.