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Parking Lot Series: View what Ford Workers Drove to Work in 1953

Monday’s feature contains a pair of images taken in 1953 of parking lots at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge Plant located in Dearborn, Michigan. Contrary to what you may have read, heard or thought in the past about automobile factory workers owning and driving one of the automaker’s vehicles to show loyalty to their employer, it was not the case at this Ford plant at the time.

The lead image contains a small portion of the enlargeable photo (below) of a large lot at the Complex and a second picture of another parking spot follows. While hardly being a scientific survey of both spaces, a count of the identifiable vehicles in the lower three rows in each view with the front end of the cars and trucks facing the camera show that Ford products are outnumbered by those produced by other manufacturers.

Calculate the exact ratio of Ford-built machines to those by different automakers using the same formula or share with us what you find of interest in the two photographs courtesy of Automobile Historian Alden Jewell.

View more parking lot photos in earlier coverage here at The Old Motor and a very interesting short video by PBS showing the River Rouge Complex after it went online in the late-1920s.

37 responses to “Parking Lot Series: View what Ford Workers Drove to Work in 1953

  1. David,

    Great pictures !!!

    In the lead photograph, lower right, is a 1947 or ’48 FRAZER. In the same picture, 5th row back, 7th car from the right, is another 1947 or ’47 FRAZER !!


    • I think they were, Doug, but it was “gentle” persuasion. At Chrysler, where my dad worked, you were free to drive any car you wanted, but if it was a non-Chrysler product, you were required to park in the far reaches of the parking lot and walk to the gate. We had 3 Chrysler products and my Olds Cutlass. If dad drove my car to work for some reason, he had to park far out and “hoof it” to the gate.

    • I’ve seen a few photographs of the Packard Assembly plant from the early 1950’s and there is nary a Packard to be seen parked on the lot, nor are there any readily visible in these pictures. Autoworkers it seems merely drove whatever cars they wanted to when reporting to work.

    • I worked a summer job at the Ford assembly plant in Hegewisch (Chicago) in 1967. I drove a 1960 Chevy Biscayne to work. I also had a 1967 Galaxie 500 XL. You wouldn’t expect me to drive that to work, would you?

  2. It’s one thing to support other American manufacturers, but how many cut the throats of fellow employees by buying foreign models?

  3. In Photo #1 of interest is a ‘47-1/2 – ’48 Frazer beside a ’51 Ford Tudor Sedan. Six or so cars to the left, a Packard, possibly a ’50 Super.
    In the next row back, two cars to the left of the Ford pickup there appears to be a ’51 Hudson Commodore Hollywood hardtop…and to the right of the pickup, a likely ’50 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Sport Sedan.

    In the center of the photo, maybe six double rows back…and above and a bit to the left of the late-’20’s/early-‘30s sedan might be a ’51-ish Kaiser at the end of the center aisle.
    Three cars to the right of that ‘20s/’30s sedan could be a ’47 Kaiser…and two more to the right, a ’51 Nash Ambassador 2-dr sedan.

    In Photo #2, five rows back along the right side, a ‘’52-’54 Henry J

  4. I read, Ford had an incredibly high employee turnover rate. Not everyone in the world could drive a Ford. What’s odd, I only see one “jalopy” and only one each of the orphans, One Studebaker truck, one Packard, one Hudson, one Frazer(?) one Nash, even though, most were made in Michigan anyway. I wonder if Ford gave incentives to buy Fords?

    • Guy used to work in a car plant 1960-70s told me foremen and up got a discount on new cars. The hourly rated workers didn’t. BTW: in the mid-sixties I was on a tour of the Rouge plant and my buddy commented how many Oldsmobiles were in that parking lot.

  5. Eight years after the end of WWII yet there are relatively few new cars in the photo and which may reflect an aspect of the great migration of folks from the south to the north in search of jobs. By 1953 many had still not caught up economically to the extent that they could afford a new car even though they had found employment at the Ford Rouge complex.

    • Dale,

      My head isn’t exploding, but having a tuff time keeping my fingers off the computer keys. Don’t want to be a showboat.

      Enjoy reading others’ comments who identify vehicles just as much as doing so myself !!


    • LONG time follower, never made a comment, just hung out in the rear seats. I guess a tad bit younger to not know some of the vehicles. Dale this is the funniest thing I have ever read here. Ha ! Sorry A M L. That was pretty funny you have to admit.

  6. I’m struck not only by the relative lack of Ford products, but by the number of fairly high-end cars. There are a lot of utilitarian pickups and prewar sedans, but there’s a healthy smattering of relatively new Buicks and Packards, as well. I think that may say something about how well factory work paid at the time.

    And is that a Kaiser to the right in the lead photo?

    • Dave,

      Good observation that there’re a number of high-end cars and about the lack of FORD products. Did notice there are very few CHRYSLER products.


    • Perhaps the Ford alternative to Packard’s “Ask the man who owns one” tag line would be “Ask the man who builds one?”

  7. I suspect the reason the parking lot has so few Fords is because the drivers of the Fords seen in this photo showed up too late to park in the “Ford Automobiles Only” parking lot. I don’t know for sure that Ford had that, but Chrysler sure did. Employees driving a company branded car could park in the closer parking areas. Those driving other brands, or those driving company branded cars that arrived later, had to park in the outback.

    My grandfather worked for Chrysler after the war . He said Chrysler cars always had trouble starting in cold, wet weather (a common occurrence in Michigan), whereas at the times, the Ford’s would start without a problem. (as I recall in the 1970’s, those characteristics swapped, with Fords not starting in the rain). So , despite working for Chrysler, my grandfather always drove Fords. He had to park in the remotest parking lot at the factory. He would joke though that he could walk the 1/2 mile to his Ford, start it with no problem, and be leaving the site before many of his colleagues driving Chryslers had their cars started.

    Interestingly, I worked for Chrysler in the 1990s. They still had “Chrysler products only” parking, right up until the day DaimlerBenz bought Chrysler.

  8. In the lead and Photo #1, behind the Studebaker pickup (’49-’53), a step-down ’48 or ’49 Hudson to the right of a ’49-’51 bathtub Nash

  9. There are a few pre war cars in the photo. Most interesting is what looks like a 1931 Model A, slant windshield, possibly a Victoria? Might not even be a Ford. That 1951 F1 pickup is only a couple years old and looks like it’s seen some rough duty.

  10. I noticed that a large majority of the cars are parked so that they could pull forward out of the parking spots. Very few are nosed in . Was there a rule that you had to pull through the parking spot? And, even if there was, how do you get all the cars parked tail – to – tail? Can’t imagine what a mess it would be if everyone was trying to back in to a parking spot.

    • I was a union employee. I worked at a plant you were required to pull out of a parking spot. Reason I was given was, ” at the end of the day you could back over someone going to their car. ” Yea, I know didn’t make sense to me either. What about backing in the spot in the AM?

      • I worked briefly as a rural mail carrier, and the Post Office training also recommends backing into parking spaces. The argument was, backing into an empty space was safer than backing into possible traffic. Also, if you had to do your backing at the beginning of your shift, you were still fresh. Backing out after eight hours on the line, you were a lot less alert.

  11. Don’t think it was mentioned that there are several Mercurys, another Ford product. A vehicle rarely seen in the parking lot series is the International pick up, 2nd photo, 5th row back.

  12. What were the streets or highways like when the shift was over. Did Ford have their own police to direct traffic .
    There had to be some kind of system to empty the lots. After working really hard,I can see some tempers being blown or radiators!

  13. My late father-in-law sold machine tools and automation equipment to the various auto makers as well as their suppliers. He made the trip from southwestern Indiana to the Detroit area two or three times a month for close to 20 years. Big Bob was partial to Cadillacs and bought a new one every three years or so. If he was going to a GM plant then the Cadillac was fine; however, if he was going to a Ford facility or a Chrysler operation then he would make sure to rent an appropriate vehicle to make his calls. I’m sure that the people he dealt with were aware of this but I’m also sure that they appreciated that he was playing the game correctly. On a somewhat related note a friend of mine was fired from a really good job at a Budweiser brewery for showing up to work in a Miller Beer cap.

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