Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ford Highland Park Plant

The birthplace of the moving assembly line, the Ford Highland Park Plant opened its doors on January 1, 1910 on Woodward Avenue and Manchester Street, former site of the Highland Park Hotel and a racetrack. The factory was designed by Albert Kahn, kickstarting a long relationship with Henry Ford. The facility eventually included offices, factories, a power plant, and foundry and became a model after which many factories and production plants were built. The principle component of the plant was a four-story factory running 865 feet parallel to Woodward. Kahn used some of the elements incorporated in his 1903 Packard factory, such as widely spaced concrete columns, adding a glass roof and walls of windows that prompted the nickname the Crystal Palace. The extra light and ventilation provided a more pleasant work environment and allowed for more machines and workers in the space.

The Highland Park Plant was the second manufacturing facility for the Model T, which began production in 1904 at the Piquette Avenue Plant. Two significant historical events occurred in the Highland Park Plant: in 1913 Ford began using a moving assembly line to first assemble automobiles, and in 1914, Ford began paying a five dollar a day wage for an eight-hour work day.

In the 1920s, automobile production was moved to the new River Rouge Plant, though the Model T was assembled in Highland Park until 1927, when the 15 millionth car rolled off the assembly line. After that, the Model A began production at the Rouge Plant, and the Highland Park Plant began to focus on automotive trim manufacturing, and truck and tractor production, building tanks and aircraft engine parts during World War II.

While tractor production continued over the next few decades, some buildings were leased out, others were demolished. In 1960 the power house, with its iconic smokestacks that at one time held letters spelling “Ford” between them, was torn down, along with the Crystal Palace. In 1974 all production at what remained of the facility ceased.

More recently, Ford Motor Company used some of the buildings for record storage until 2012. In 2013 the Woodward Avenue Action Association purchased two of the buildings with the goal of renovating them and creating an informational and historical Welcome Center by 2018. 

The Highland Park Ford Plant was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and named a National Historic Landmark in 1978. A plaque from the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites is located by the former Administration Building on Woodward.

 


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