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Henry Ford: Innovation On The River Rouge

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    On the heels of Henry Ford’s 150th birthday, I couldn’t help but cook up an outing to Dearborn to commemorate the auto maker’s legacy. Having visited The Henry Ford museum and Greenfield Village on several occasions, one well-known spot was still foreign territory to me: The Rouge Factory. What better way to celebrate Henry Ford than spending a day at one of his namesake auto plants? As I planned for the afternoon outing, I was excited to find out more about Ford’s legacy and the journey he took to lead the “Big Three” contender to where it is today.

    An overhead view of the plant-covered Rouge Factory roof
    An overhead view of the plant-covered Rouge Factory roof
    Shuttle bus for the Rouge Factory Tou
    Shuttle bus for the Rouge Factory Tou

    The tour started off at The Henry Ford museum, where a bus shuttle transported me and several other sightseers across town to the factory site on the Rouge River (prior to this, I had just assumed that the factory was located somewhere on the grounds near the museum and Greenfield village). Upon reaching the factory, we were ushered inside a visitors’ building for a brief introduction, then to a small theater for a documentary on how the Ford Motor Company flourished throughout the 20th century, surviving hard times such as the stock market crash and World War II. Next, a second theater gave us a look at the start-to-finish process of Ford vehicle manufacturing, complete with multiple screens, special lighting and temperature effects, and movable chairs that rotated 365 degrees for an immersive movie experience. If all of that wasn’t cool enough, the film was set to music performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, further driving the “home-grown” feeling of the Ford plant and its roots in Detroit history.

    Outside the Henry Ford Rouge Factory
    Outside the Henry Ford Rouge Factory

    Our third stop was an upstairs viewing deck, where we were surrounded by walls of windows for a better look at the factory grounds. The main attraction here was a view of the factory rooftop, which was carpeted in a layer of mossy plant matter. This design, we were told, worked together with the factory’s vine-covered outer walls to insulate the factory and regulate indoor temperatures year-round. Truly remarkable, actually—a simple, yet innovative way to keep a large, industrial building at a cool 60 degrees throughout every season.

    Finally, we made it to the main attraction: the inner-workings of the Rouge factory. Set up as an aerial walkway around the top of the factory, the self-guided tour allowed us to view several assembly stages of the Ford F-150, from windshield installation to quality inspection. Everything worked like clockwork—pulleys and gears circulated truck pieces throughout the building while employees manned organized posts, attaching doors, logo hardware, and other essential pieces to the vehicles. It was awe-inspiring to see how many people were actually involved in the production of each vehicle, and the whole thing got me thinking about how my own car was assembled (not by magic, mind you).

    Inside the visitors' area of the Rouge Factory tour
    Inside the visitors’ area of the Rouge Factory tour

    In the end, I got a better idea of all that goes into the products we rely on each and every day. It’s difficult to fathom how one man can come up with an idea that spins into a successful business venture, followed by a long line of successors and related innovations that continue to evolve over the years. That success story, however, is exactly what Henry Ford brought to the world—and as a result, the automobile, factory, and environmental technology industries will never be the same.

    – By Jennifer Bowman, Contributing Writer

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