The Henry Ford
Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village IMAX Theatre Benson Ford Research Center Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Explore & Learn

ford motor company chronology

Before the attack
UAW organizers Robert Kanter, Walter Reuther, Richard T. Frankensteen, (second and third from the right) and J. J. Kennedy outside Gate 4 at the Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford Motor Company men from the Sociological Department advancing from left of photograph. Photo ID P.833.68529.21

Richard Frankensteen attacked by servicemen
The attack on Frankensteen. His coat was pulled over his head to constrain his arms. Photo ID P.O.4951

Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen after the beating
Walter P. Reuther and Richard T. Frankensteen after the beating. Photo ID P.833.68529

Battle of the Overpass, May 26, 1937

The story of the labor struggle reached a turning point with the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Informally known as the Wagner Act, after Senator Robert Wagner of New York, it established workers' rights to collective bargaining and sought to stop unfair practices by employers, employees, and unions. Finally, union organizers felt they had a mechanism to organize the mass production industries, including the reluctant automobile industry. By 1936 and 1937, the fledgling United Auto Workers (UAW) had coordinated successful sit-down strikes at both General Motors and Chrysler. However, Ford Motor Company proved slightly more resistant to unionization. The UAW felt it had a sufficient base for membership at Ford's Rouge plant, but the workers were apprehensive because of their unfamiliarity with unions and Ford Motor's anti-union stance.

However, in May 1937, union organizers obtained a permit to distribute handbills at the gates of the Rouge plant. Over fifty union representatives, including many women, arrived at the plant to distribute circulars which cited the Wagner Act and entreated workers to join the UAW. Walter P. Reuther, Richard T. Frankensteen, Richard Merriweather, Ralph Dunham, and Rev. Raymond P. Sanford among others left for the plant early in the afternoon and arrived an hour before the change of shifts at the main entrance of the Rouge, Gate 4. The entrance was at the end of an overpass that the company had built across Miller Road so the shift changing would not interfere with traffic. The UAW representatives talked with reporters and posed for photographers of the Detroit newspapers. Meantime, several men had been stationed around the entrance to the Rouge including Angelo Caruso, boss of the Down River gang, wrestlers Warshon Sarkisien and Ted Gries, boxer Oscar Jones, and Ford servicemen. The organizers were ordered to leave, but witnesses say, before they even had a chance, the attack began.

Frankensteen's coat was pulled over his arms. He was then kicked in the head, kidneys, and groin. Witnesses also testified that as he lay on the ground, the attackers ground their heels in his stomach. Reuther was picked up and thrown down repeatedly and was kicked in the face and body. He was then thrown down the steps of the overpass. Merriweather's back was broken, and Dunham was also severely injured. The women too were attacked. Newspapers and magazines published the photographs all over the country and several witnesses testified before the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB found Ford in violation of the Wagner Act and ordered it to stop interfering with union organization. Henry Ford and the company denied the charges, but the Battle of the Overpass had already become a lasting symbol in the labor struggle.

Also of interest:

For more information on Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company:

· Henry Ford Biography
· Ford Motor Company


Visit the Ford Motor Company Web Site for more information on the company, their products and events at



Copyright © 2014 The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford is an AAM accredited institution. The complex is an independent, non-profit, educational
institution not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company or the Ford Foundation.