Ypsilanti: Willow Run

Willow Run was built in 1941 after the Ford Motor Company came to an agreement with the federal government to start building B-24 Bombers. Although there was very rough beginnings for this plant it had a huge impact on Ypsilanti. The Willow Run Plant was meant to employ anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 workers which was five to ten times the population of Ypsilanti at the time. There was a huge shortage in housing for all of the workers, even stories of landlords who would rent the same room to two different people, one who would work during the day and sleep at night and another who would sleep during the day and work at night. Until 1943 when there was finally dormitories built at the plant there were many people who had set up trailers and tents to sleep outside of the plant. By the end of 1943 there was shelter outside of the plant for more than 15,000 people, surpassing the population of Ypsilanti at the time. (Sesquicentennial Committee 30-33)


Once the plant started finally hitting its stride in 1944 it started to hit production of one B-24 every hour. The Willow Run Plant started to produce the majority of B-24 bombers for the United States, annual production peaked at 9,000 bombers a year. The Willow Run Plant was famous to Americans as part of the Arsenal of Democracy that helped us win World War 2. However with the war now over there was not much need for building bombers, and the population of the plant and Ypsilanti dropped significantly by the end of 1945. (Rosentreter 302-306; Sesquicentennial Committee 32-33)


In 1946 the Willow Run Plant was sold to the Kaiser-Frazer Company. Kaiser-Frazer used this plant to produce hundreds of thousands of cars, becoming the nation’s fourth leading automaker. This success would not last however after The Big Three came back into car production, Kaiser-Frazer ended up leaving the Willow Run Plant in 1953 and quitting automobile production in 1955. Soon after Kaiser-Frazer left the plant it was bought by General Motors after their plant in Livonia had caught fire. General Motors ran this plant manufacturing parts until 2010 after it was closed due to General Motors entering bankruptcy and now the plant is no longer in use for manufacturing. There is however a museum near the plant now that is dedicated to preserving the history of this plant and the planes that Michigan helped build during this time. The Yankee Air Museum has five fully restored World War 2 planes in it and has many artifacts of Southeast Michigan’s contributions to aviation. (Rosentreter 320)

For more info visit http://www.yankeeairmuseum.org/

Aerial view of Willow Run - 9.27.1944



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