Ford Expansion

At the onset of World War I Henry Ford, an adamant peace advocate, was on the brink of a great expansionist project on the River Rouge southeast of Dearborn. Nonetheless, he substituted wartime contracts for car manufacture during the war and turned back his own personal profits on them to the government. During these years he was at logger heads with the other company stockholders over the matter of how to disburse or spend company profits. Ford believed that a company's prosperity depended upon expansion, and he had selected a site on the River Rouge where he could integrate production and assembly. His stockholders wanted their dividends instead. Calling the inactive stockholders anti-social parasites, he bought out all of them in 1919 becoming master of his company. Expansion continued throughout the 1920s, carried his industry out to Long Beach in 1927, and led to continued expansion even after the onset of the Great Depression.

After World War I Ford had a new concern. Wartime shortages and price increases demonstrated to him that he needed to control raw materials and transportation. Thus, he purchased a controlling interest in 16 coal mines, 700,000 acres of timberland, a rubber plantation in Brazil, and purchased a fleet of Great Lakes freighters to transport ore from his mines and sand for his newly acquired glass works.

The Rouge Plant Ford laid out encompassed production of auto components such as engines and the chassis, assembly, and complete vertical production of materials. It had its own railroad and a harbor to accommodate ocean going cargo ships. He built the largest foundry in the world there for its time, a steel mill and a sawmill all at the Rouge. Twenty-eight hours after the iron ore arrived it would emerge on a finished automobile, but the ore would also be diverted to component production for the other factories springing up all over the United States and the world. Cargo ships loaded with the parts traveled from the Rouge to the docks of these assembly plants. Thus, harbor access was a prerequisite for any new plant.

In 1926 this large-scale success story was on the brink of decline. Trusting his instinct for the market, Ford had refused to introduce innovations such as the hydraulic brake, six or eight-cylinder engine, or choice of color (black on every car since 1914) . As sales went down Ford lowered the price, but that tactic enjoyed short-lived success- While he still led the field in low-priced cars, his sales were declining as Chevrolet sales grew. Bending to the wishes of his son, Edsel, to company managers, and to dealers all over the country who were facing bankruptcy, Ford finally consented to a new "X-car" design. At the Highland Park plant the 15,000,000th Model T rolled off the line on May 26, 1927 and the last ever on May 27. Calling the "X-car" the Model A, Ford finally announced and began to retool. It took 5 months and a thorough overhaul was required in the 34 United States and 12 overseas assembly plants. Since the industry had no union contracts, that meant months without pay for thousands of workers. Meanwhile, at the Rouge where up to then only engines, chassis, and other parts had been produced, a much improved assembly line was installed in Building B. This would complete all functions at that plant. The new unit was established there in September, 1927 and thus identified the Rouge with the new Mode! A.

Ford's clinging to the Model T lost him the industry's leadership. The Model A did well, but it was outsold by both the Chevrolet and Plymouth leading Ford to introduce the V-8 in 1932. Except for his foray into the camp of anti-Semitism, 1918-1927, when he attacked the mythical International Jewish Conspiracy, and up until the Depression, Ford left an astonishing record on the American scene. He was recognized as a mechanical and business genius. He taught the industry, leaving the doors to his Highland Park Plant open to all for study and for adaptation to their own factories. Socially responsible, his workers received not only high pay, but industrial safety, a clean and healthful work place, prohibition of discharges by foremen, medical care, a trade school for boys, and the use of company gardens where they could grow vegetables. Ford employed the handicapped, and he was the only employer in the industry who hired blacks for every manufacturing operation.