The Rouge after Henry Ford
In 1947, at the pinnacle of the Rouge’s success, Henry Ford died.
The roar of the Rouge began to fade as Ford Motor Company embarked on a new era that stressed decentralization and a more global approach.
Henry Ford II and his new team of "Whiz Kid" managers continued to fully employ the Rouge through the late 1960s, operating in a distinctly different world from Henry Ford. For one, there was a growing awareness of the environment. In the early days of American industrialization, smoke rising from a stack was a positive sign of full employment. As industry matured, government and manufacturers alike became aware that black smoke had other implications.
Air and water quality standards were developed by government agencies. More manufacturing facilities located within a community, accumulatively adding to emissions, meant more stringent controls. This, in part, led to closure of some older facilities. The Rouge, the largest single industrial complex in the world, probably would be the last of its kind.
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The company grew to rely more and more on an ever-increasing cadre of suppliers and to methodically extract itself from other fields such as mining, lumbering and glass making.
In 1981, steel-making operations at the Rouge became part of a new independent company. When these operations were sold to Rouge Steel in 1989, Ford gave up ownership of all Rouge River frontage and boat docks, as well as about 45 percent of the original 2,000 acres.
Over time, the number of operations and jobs at the Rouge dropped. Economic pressures mounted to retire old brownfield manufacturing facilities and to replace them with state-of-the-art greenfield plants.
The Rouge, however, had evolved into a community with a strong sense of its own identity. Families worked from generation to generation in the Rouge, and few were willing to walk away from their hard-earned heritage.
That fact became clear in 1992 when the only car still built at the Rouge, the Ford Mustang, was about to be eliminated and assembly operations in Dearborn Assembly terminated.
UAW Local 600, in cooperation with Alex Trotman, then president of Ford’s North American Operations, set out to keep the Mustang in production and to keep production in the Rouge. "Save the Mustang" became synonymous with "Save the Rouge." Working together, the company and the UAW established a modern operating agreement and fostered numerous innovations to increase efficiency and quality. The company, for its part, would redesign and reintroduce the Mustang, and invest in modern equipment.
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The Rouge Enters the New Millennium
In 1997, the Rouge was making a comeback. UAW Local 600 membership and the company approved the Rouge Viability Agreement, and the Ford Board of Directors agreed to modernize the company’s oldest and largest manufacturing complex. The first efforts focused on extensive renovations to the Dearborn Engine and Fuel Tank Plant and other plants at the Rouge. Dearborn Assembly Plant would get an environmentally advanced paint operation, and plans called for CMS Energy to develop an entirely new power plant by 2000.
Ground was already being cleared for the new high-efficiency power plant when tragedy struck. The Number Six boiler at the Rouge Power Plant exploded and six employees were killed. A dozen more were seriously injured.
Within two hours of the explosion, Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford arrived at the scene, offering whatever support he could. "Our employees are like extended members of our family," Ford said, "My heart sank. It’s about the worst feeling you could ever have."
The Rouge entered the new millennium humbled by disaster and downsizing, yet still an industrial giant. About 6,000 Ford employees work at the Rouge.
Now called the Ford Rouge Center, the 600-acre site remains Ford Motor Company’s largest single industrial complex. And a massive revitalization effort is under way to restore this icon’s glory.
The new Ford Rouge Center will include one of the world’s most advanced and flexible manufacturing facilities, capable of building up to nine different models on three vehicle platforms. The plan includes numerous pilots of advanced environmental concepts designed to balance the needs of auto manufacturing with social and environmental concerns – and save money.
The Dearborn Truck Plant will become the centerpiece of the new Ford Rouge Center, the largest industrial redevelopment project in U.S. history and the flagship of Ford’s vision of sustainable manufacturing for the future.
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