Highland Park Ford Plant in Highland Park, Michigan, is famously recognized as the birthplace of moving assembly lines and designated a National Historic Landmark. Ford Motor Company produced millions of Model T cars at this facility between 1910-1927.
Albert Kahn designed an industrial complex that combined offices and factories. This new approach to automotive production eliminated hand fitting of parts, significantly decreasing costs while decreasing car costs significantly.
The Ford Highland Park Plant in Detroit, Michigan, United States, is an essential landmark of American industrial history. The revolutionary moving assembly line first appeared to establish Ford as the world’s largest carmaker. Outgrowing their original facility on Piquette Avenue, this enormous new plant was constructed to meet their increased production.
Location: Highland Park in Detroit. The plant quickly became one of the world’s most advanced factories along Manchester Street, west of Woodward Avenue. As one of the first companies to use an automated moving assembly line system and pay workers $5.00 daily wages. One Model T could be manufactured every minute at this facility at its peak production rates.
As the first to integrate administrative offices, a foundry, and power generation on one site with their manufacturing facilities – an approach that significantly reduced costs while increasing productivity by eliminating unnecessary material movements – this unique model was soon replicated across other factories and production plants worldwide.
Henry Ford used his engineering talents to successfully organize production lines at Highland Park that produced 15 million Model Ts by 1917; these methods included division of labor, cost-cutting, and process optimization to bring down their price from $728 in 1908 to $350 by 1917, making the automobile affordable to most Americans.
However, the company continued to thrive and, by the late 1920s, had outgrown its enormous Highland Park complex. Most production was moved to the River Rouge Plant, but Highland Park continued being used for auto trim manufacturing, World War II-related tractors, and tank assembly.
Ford Motor Company owns and currently preserves this sprawling Highland Park complex as a National Historic Landmark, with plans underway to transform it into an Automotive Heritage Welcome Center, offering visitors an education about Ford’s groundbreaking achievements in automobile production.
Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant was the world’s first factory designed by industrial architect Albert Kahn to employ moving assembly line mass production, revolutionizing automobile manufacturing and making Ford the leading auto manufacturer worldwide. Additionally, this groundbreaking factory used an on-site power plant that supplied electricity directly to all assembly operations for powering their process.
Henry Ford pioneered the moving assembly line as a game-changer in car manufacturing, enabling him to dramatically increase production while slashing its price, making his Model T more accessible to masses of people. This was accomplished through division of labor, relentless cost-cutting, and experience curves, which improved processes, machinery, and workers, speeding production from seven days down to ninety-three minutes and decreasing prices from $700 in 1910 down to $350 by 1917.
As soon as it was constructed in 1908, the Highland Park Plant was considered one of the world’s most modern and efficient factories, with an unparalleled size and enough capacity to handle Model T production volumes effectively. Furthermore, its spacious design became a standard practice among subsequent factories and production plants built worldwide.
The new factory could manufacture every Henry Ford’s Model T component, from its chassis to the engine. Unfortunately, this left the Dodge brothers, who manufactured chassis products, angry when they discovered that this new factory would also produce their products, putting them out of business; further aggravating them was Henry Ford reducing stockholder dividends to pay for the construction of this plant.
By 1914, Ford’s moving assembly line had become a reality and significantly increased production capacity. Additionally, his ability to raise worker wages led to an influx of immigrants seeking out better-paying employment in Detroit.
The Highland Park plant operated as an automobile factory until the River Rouge Plant complex in Dearborn, Michigan replaced it. During WWII, the Highland Park facility produced Fordson tractors and later Sherman tanks; today, the Highland Park plant is on the National Register of Historic Places and designated National Historic Landmark status, while portions are leased out to Forman Mills while remaining areas serve as offsite storage for Henry Ford Museum.
The moving assembly line revolutionized automobile production. Before its creation, automobiles were assembled by teams of people working on different parts of a car at once – leading them constantly on alert for their next assignment and being subject to lengthy delays when assembling one car at a time. Henry Ford recognized this problem and created his moving assembly line solution as an answer.
Albert Kahn and his firm began developing the moving assembly line with the design of their plant itself. Kahn had designed Packard’s Detroit factory, using similar principles of steel-reinforced concrete construction at Ford.
In addition to requiring a building, the moving assembly line needed numerous pieces of equipment to function effectively. First and foremost, parts required to assemble cars had to be delivered in sufficient quantity to keep the line moving quickly – this was no simple feat as some were shipped by rail before being trucked directly to each station on the line and carefully placed onto each car before finally being trucked back out again for assembly. However, its success proved its worth within just over a year of operation!
Utilizing division of labor principles and aggressive cost-cutting measures, Highland Park became ever more efficient until the production of Model T’s increased from hundreds to thousands daily, and their price decreased to become affordable to most Americans. When the open exhibition moved to the Dearborn River Rouge Plant Complex for mass production of Model Ts, Highland Park still served as an outlet for trimming operations and Fordson tractor manufacturing.
Over time, the plant was also utilized for manufacturing other items, such as military tanks and aircraft parts. Today, this building serves as a National Historic Landmark while housing Henry Ford Museum storage.
Ford took advantage of this facility’s large storage capacity to increase car sales by keeping production lines operating at full throttle and directly delivering finished automobiles without going through car dealers.
Albert Kahn was responsible for designing the main building. Previously, he had intended the 1903 Packard factory in Detroit and used similar elements in this new design; one such element being its glass roof and walls, which earned it the moniker “The Crystal Palace.” This structure ran along Woodward Avenue for 865 feet, with four floors on each.
Ford set out to create affordable automobiles for mass consumption. He did this through mass production with lower costs through mass production methods such as mass assembly lines. For this purpose, his Highland Park plant’s location was carefully considered, with access to rail lines and rivers. Raw materials like iron ingots and coal could then be transported by rail and river directly into his facility before finished cars could be delivered directly by rail or ship for customer delivery.
Ford used division of labor and cost-cutting measures to dramatically decrease production time from 728 minutes in 1908 to just 93 minutes by 1910 – this enabled them to drastically lower vehicle prices, making the vehicle accessible and affordable for working-class Americans.
After the inaugural moving assembly line was activated in October 1913, vehicle production increased exponentially from hundreds to thousands each day – coupled with the five-dollar daily wage introduced in 1914, which made automobile ownership available to almost everyone who desired one.
By the late 1930’s, Ford had outgrown his Highland Park facility. Beginning to design the River Rouge complex in 1924, most manufacturing was moved there, while Highland Park continued producing tractors and components until the 1970s.