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The History of the Ford River Rouge Plant

The photo above shows the body-drop station on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge Complex in 1939. This complex may have been the world’s largest and most famous auto manufacturing and assembly plant in the world.

Henry Ford started out in 1915 by buying two-thousand acres along the Rouge River west of Detroit, intending to use the site only to make coke, smelt iron, and build tractors. His plans changed and by the late 1920s Ford had built the complex up to the point where it included virtually every element needed to produce a car: a blast furnace, an open hearth mill, a steel rolling mill, a glass plant, a huge power plant and an assembly line that was first used during 1927, the last year the Model T was produced.


Photos (above); Aerial views of the vast complex taken in 1931 and a photo of one of the office buildings in the late 1920s.

In the aerial views one can see the some ninety miles of railroad track, which was both outside and inside. What these tracks could not service was connected by some 120 miles of conveyer belts. The complex is still in use today after many changes, but some of the buildings still stand and continue to service the company.

More can be learned about the very interesting story of the plant in a three-part history of; as was being built, the first assembly line and the complex after Henry Ford and up to today at The Henry Ford.


Left to right (above); Looking down the long Model A assembly line. An aerial view taken in 1927 showing the 600 acre sight that is 1.5 miles wide by 1 mile long. The assembly line during 1935.

The photos above are courtesy of the Henry Ford.

10 responses to “The History of the Ford River Rouge Plant

  1. A few years ago a friend and I went to Michigan to visit the Rouge plant, and it was a great experience. It is an amazing place to see and I recommend anyone who is thinking of it to go. Dave thanks for the posting the video, I’ll be sharing this with my buddy.

  2. In photo RRV, the expanse of naked real estate in the foreground became Oakwood Heights, a residential community that was recently cleared out for an expansion of the Marathon Oil Refinery.

  3. Hello.

    I just found one of 7 tour buses from the rouge plant. The owner said it was built in 1937. located in Southern California

  4. I enjoyed the Rouge Plant 1937 show …I worked for Cat and wondered how things would be if Cat made their own castings from their own mines like Ford had been doing, in 1937… Cat has castings from Japan and uses out side venders that all competed for the dollar price to keep in line with competitors..Ford bet the system at this…Thank you for this History online…..

  5. I had heard from family members that my grandfather was hired into Ford Motor back in the 1920’s – 1933 and worked in the “core room” which was a pretty nasty (dirty) place. Have you any idea of what area that might be. I personally worked for Steel Division in the 80’s and it does not seem to be familiar to me. I had also heard that he worked at the tire plant which was in the Rouge facility as well. Any help to point me in the right direction would be appreciated.

    • The core room would have been in the old Grey iron foundry that ran parallel with Miller road running from gate 4 to gate 3. It would have been dirty.

  6. My grandfather was working construction at the Ford Rouge complex in 1967 when a gas explosion claimed his life. Havent identified which building sits on that site but would love to visit that complex someday when Im in the area.

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