The Great Depression hit Ford Motor hard. Wages were lowered, employees feared frequent layoffs, and workers were striking with the help of union organizers. Henry Ford was a well known pacifist and publicly opposed U.S. entry into World War II. Nevertheless, he agreed to build airplane engines for the British government.
Even Henry Ford, however, could not resist being patriotically inspired by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ford Motor Company built the giant Willow Run plant to produce B-24 Liberator bombers using an assembly line one mile long. The plant produced its’ first bomber in May 1942, and made several hundred aircraft a month from thereon. Willow Run produced at a record rate: one plane per hour (Henry Ford: Helped Lead American World War II Production Efforts)! By the end of the war, Ford had built 86,865 complete aircraft, 57,851 airplane engines, 4,291 military gliders, and thousands of engine superchargers and generators (Henry Ford: Helped Lead American World War II Production Efforts)! In addition to aircraft, Ford plants built 277,896 of the versatile vehicles (tanks, armored cars, and jeeps). Ford Motor had plants in Great Britain, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, and even Nazi Germany.
Henry enjoyed visiting his factories, even at the age of 81. His frequent appearances with Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison were well-known around the world. In 1944, the American Legion awarded Henry its Distinguished Medal for his contribution to the rehabilitation of veterans of both world wars.
Rosie the Riveter:
During WWII, everyone was asked to “Do Their Part.” Willow Run was the largest factory under one roof in the world. Before Willow Run, it was deemed impossible to build an aircraft on an assembly line. Ford Motor proved this wrong.
At peak production, Willow employed 42,000 workers (Save the Willow Run Plant). A third of the workers were women, who received equal pay for equal work. These pioneering women industrial workers were collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter.” “Rosie the Riveter,” “Acetylene Annie,” and their female friends look over highly paid jobs, once reserved for men, and preformed admirably. This firmly laid the groundwork for sweeping social change.
Willow Run changed the local landscape as well. I-94 was opened to connect the new industrial complex to Detroit. Willow Village was built adjacent to the plant providing housing to 15,000 plant workers (Save the Willow Run Plant).
Today, there are efforts to preserve this historical plant. A campaign called “Save the Bomber Plant” was created to preserve a critical portion of the plant and repurpose it as the “Yankee Air Museum,” which will tell the story of Willow Run and store WWII-era aircraft (Save the Willow Run Plant).