History of the Rouge (Part 2)
The First Assembly
The first land vehicles actually assembled in the Rouge were not cars but farm tractors. No sooner had Henry Ford achieved low-cost transportation with the Model T than he set his sights on doing the same for the world’s farmers. In 1921 production of the world's first mass-produced tractor, the Fordson, was transferred from the original Dearborn plant to the Rouge.
Ford put a mammoth power plant into operation in 1920 that furnished all the Rouge's electricity and one-third of the Highland Park Plant's needs as well. At times, surplus Rouge power was even sold to Detroit Edison Company.
An innovative glass plant began operation in 1923. Utilizing a continuous process that Ford had helped develop, it produced higher quality glass at lower cost. In 1928 the Model A became the first low-priced car to use laminated safety glass. By 1930 the Ford was making its own safety glass at the Rouge.
The Rouge achieved the distinction of automotive "ore to assembly" in 1927 with the long-awaited introduction of the Model A. Building B would be the home of assembly operations from that time forth.
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Albert Kahn Design
Most of these buildings, and several hundred more in the Ford empire, were designed by Albert Kahn, one the most renowned architects of his day. Although the buildings were designed pragmatically for their manufacturing function, Kahn managed to add a sense of light and air. When the Rouge glass plant was erected with heavily glassed upper walls and ceiling, it was called "the single factory that carries industrial architecture forward more than any other."
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By 1928, the complex was complete, yet it was never settled. The Rouge continued to operate throughout the Great Depression, yet Ford’s obsession with ever-increasing cost reductions through methodical efficiency studies made life difficult for workers.
On May 26, 1937, when a group of union organizers led by Walter Reuther attempted to distribute union literature at the Rouge, Ford security and a gang of hired thugs beat them severely. It would be known as the Battle of the Overpass and became a pivotal event for the United Auto Workers and other unions.
The Rouge settled with UAW representation before World War II broke out. During the war the giant complex produced jeeps, amphibious vehicles, parts for tanks and tank engines, and aircraft engines used in fighter planes and medium bombers.
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