Henry Ford really was a man with vision


Can you imagine a car factory that was 2.5 km wide and 1.6 km long?  Henry Ford built one long before WWII.  It had 93 buildings housing almost 200 km of conveyors.  This was Ford’s Rouge River plant.

But that was not where the ‘vision’ came stopped with size.  There were ore docks, steel furnaces, coke ovens, rolling mills, glass furnaces and plate-glass rollers.  Buildings included a tire-making plant, stamping plant, engine casting plant, frame and assembly plant, transmission plant, radiator plant, tool and die plant, and, at one time, even a paper mill.  A massive power plant produced enough electricity to light a city the size of nearby Detroit, and a soybean conversion plant turned soybeans into plastic auto parts.

This was a plant that produced its own steel, with iron ore going in one end, and complete cars out the other.  One new car rolled off the line every 49 seconds.  Each day, workers smelted more than 1,500 tons of iron and made 500 tons of glass.  At its peak in the 1930s, it employed more than 100,000 people.  The plant had its own fire department, a police force, a fully staffed hospital and a maintenance crew of 5,000 people.

The Rouge soon became the destination of massive Ford lake freighters filled with iron ore, coal, and limestone.  The first coke oven battery went into operation in 1919, while blast furnaces were added in 1920 and 1922.  Iron from the furnaces was transported directly to the foundry where it was poured into molds to make engine blocks, cylinder heads, intake and exhaust manifolds, and other automotive parts.  The foundry covered 30 acres and was, at its inception, the largest on earth.  In 1926 steelmaking furnaces and rolling mills were added.  Eventually, the Rouge produced virtually every Model T component, but assembly of the Model T remained at Highland Park.

“Self-sufficiency” is a phrase used these days, and Henry Ford’s dream was to own, operate and control all the resources required in automobile production.  True self-sufficiency.  I don’t think anyone has got closer.