Ford River Rouge Site Description

The Ford River Rouge Complex, one of the industrial wonders of the world and the only industrial area encompassing all the basic steps in automobile manufacturing, is situated west of Detroit in the city of Dearborn. Designed largely by noted industrial architect Albert Kahn and constructed for the most part between 1917 and 1927, the Rouge epitomizes Henry Ford's commitment to improved production methods and his dream of nonstop flow from raw material to assembled automobile. Because the complex was envisioned as constantly changing to take advantage of improved techniques, buildings were designed so that they could be easily modified. As a result, almost all structures have undergone some degree of alteration over the years, but a number of buildings like the Dearborn Assembly Plant, the Dearborn Iron Foundry, and Power House still exhibit much of their original architectural vitality. Also, a number of additional buildings have been constructed in the complex over the years.

The River Rouge Complex resulted from Henry Ford's constant search for improved manufacturing methods which would enable him to cut automobile prices arid increase sales. Although the Highland Park Plant had been the scene of numerous breakthroughs like the moving assembly line, Ford, by the outbreak of World War I, had become convinced that it was obsolete. Not only did Highland Park lack adequate water and sewage facilities, but it could not be enlarged sufficiently to fulfill Ford's production dream of a million cars yearly. In 1915 Ford purchased nearly 2,000 acres along the Rouge River west of Detroit. At first, he envisioned using the site only to make coke, smelt iron, and build a tractor plant, but he soon began to envision the area as a giant industrial complex which would not only assemble automobiles but produce a large proportion of automotive components from raw materials as well.

The first major impetus to development of the Rouge came after the United States entered World War I in 1917, and Ford received a contract to build sub-chasers or Eagle Boats for the government. The Rouge River was widened in the area around the Ford property to make it navigable to the Detroit River; a factory, the present Dearborn Assembly Plant or B Building, was constructed to build ships on an assembly line basis; and a turning basin and boat slip was dug from the river to a point near the factory to facilitate launching of the mass produced craft. Although the war ended Just as large scale boat production had gotten underway, Ford quickly converted the facility to peacetime uses and launched an expansion program. During the war, his automotive operations had been hampered by raw materials shortages and steep price increases, and so he had grown increasingly determined to become at least in part self-sufficient.

In the early 1920's Ford added blast furnaces, coke ovens, miles of railroad tracks, large concrete storage bins for stock- piling raw materials, a foundry, and a power plant to the Rouge Complex. At the same time he purchased iron and coal mines plus ore boats and a railroad to transport ore and other raw materials to the Rouge. Within a short time, the Rouge produced enough coke and electricity to supply both itself and Highland Park; made half the iron needed for Model T's; dressed lumber for Model T bodies; and shipped engines, chassis, and body parts to the Highland Park assembly line.

By the time the final assembly line was shifted from Highland Park to the Rouge in 1927, the year in which Model A manufacture began, the complex had been expanded to include a glass plant; a cement plant; a paper mill; a coke by-products plant which produced cosmetics, laxatives, and aspirin; a motor assembly plant; an open hearth steel mill; and a steel rolling mill. In addition to miles of conveyors which cut manufacturing time and costs, the complex contained 53,000 machine tools and 90 miles of railroad track. Nearly 75,000 men worked at the Rouge, of whom almost 5,000 did nothing but keep it clean.

Over the years, the River Rouge Complex has been enlarged and modernized. Automobiles still roll off the assembly line here at the rate of one every 53 seconds, but the complex is far more important today as a manufacturing and supply plant for automotive components. Almost every day, 1,500 freight car loads of automobile, parts leave the Rouge for Ford parts depots and assembly plants.