Ford River Rouge Plant

River Rouge Site Description
Aerial Photo of the Complex
"B" Building (Assembly Plant)
B Building Photos
Glass Plant
Power House
Blast Furnaces
Iron Foundry
Steel Mill
Medical Center
Other Buildings

The Ford Motor Company made the shift from multi-story to single-story branch assembly plants in the early 1920s following the huge River Rouge plant development in the Detroit area. Located in Dearborn, the new plant had several advantages over Highland Park, which was fast becoming inadequate during the late 1910s. The undeveloped site along the Rouge River was vast, which would allow for continuing expansion. The river would afford Ford the option of shipping materials to the plant by water as well as by rail. The potential of the site inspired Henry Ford and his engineers to think big, so they planned a new facility that would allow the company to start with raw materials and make nearly everything needed to assemble new cars. The Rouge plant would receive iron ore, coal, and limestone to smelt iron and then make steel. It would receive raw rubber and make tires. Building a new plant at the Rouge site also allowed the company to construct factory buildings designed by Albert Kahn to accommodate flows of materials and parts through the processes of fabrication and assembly newly configured according to the engineers' experiences in fine-tuning the processes at Highland Park. Construction began in 1918, portions of the plant began operating in early 1920, and by November the River Rouge assembly line was rolling out 800 cars per day. The Rouge plant became the next of Henry Ford's marvels as it produced finished cars as well as millions of parts to be shipped to the company's network of branch assembly plants

This plant was the first step intended to realize the company policy to "manufacture near the source of supply and assemble near the point of distribution." The system may be summarized as follows: The River Rouge plant received raw materials, many of which, like iron ore, coal, and limestone, came from the Great Lakes region. The Rouge plant had its own blast furnaces for smelting iron ore and its own coking ovens, which were also necessary for smelting iron. The foundry at the plant, said to be the world's largest, was close enough to the blast furnaces that the molten iron produced could be cast into such components as engine blocks without reheating. Additional departments stamped body parts from sheet steel, fashioned other parts of wood, and made glass from sand and then rolled the glass into sheets for windows and windshields. Ford still used the Highland Park plant to manufacture certain components, like radiators, Fordite (a hard rubber composition used for making steering wheel rims), roller bearings, textiles for upholstery, and batteries. All those parts and components were either sent to the "B" Building at the Rouge plant or were shipped throughout the network of thirty-one branch plants to be assembled into finished autos. During the course of a year, the Ford Motor Company used more than 500,000 freight cars to ship materials and parts and accrued about $150,000,000 in transportation costs.

With the River Rouge plant operating, the Ford Motor Company turned its attention to up-grading its network of branch assembly plants, replacing many of the old multi-story facilities with new one-story structures, again designed by Albert Kahn. The New Orleans assembly plant that opened in 1923 was the first of this new generation of branch plants.