Ford River Rouge Complex, Michigan

River Rouge, Michigan

Ford River Rouge Complex

Ford's River Rouge complex in Dearborn is one of the largest industrial complexes ever built in the US. Ford began work on it in 1917. It is about a mile wide and almost 2 miles long. The complex was comprehensively designed before construction started. Its overly wide streets are landscaped and perfectly straight. The complex buildings are arranged for maximum efficiency. When Ford built the complex in the late teens and 20s, he was establishing the relationship that big auto companies would have with the city of Detroit for the rest of the 20th century. Ford hated the city. He moved production out of Detroit to suburban Highland Park in 1908, only 5 years after he founded his company. He sold his original production facility in Detroit in 1911. Highland Park was quickly engulfed by Detroit, leaving Ford little room to expand. So he moved further away from the city to Dearborn. Ford was a control freak. He famously supervised his employees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The city was too chaotic and too big for him to control. Ford never built company housing at River Rouge. The lessons of Pullman were perhaps still fresh in industrialist's minds at the time. The River Rouge plant was designed to take raw materials and produce a finished car. River Rouge had blast furnaces for making steel from iron ore, had wood shops, etc. The entire complex was surrounded by defensive perimeters of either of rail yards, waterways or greenspace. It is a self-contained industrial city without any residents. Over 100,000 people worked at River Rouge during peak years. Less than 6,000 work for Ford at River Rouge now. Ford has sold some of the River Rouge facilities to other companies, spun some off and closed and demolished others. The bast furnaces are still standing and owned by AK steel. I don't think they're operational anymore. The wide roads that surround the complex are in disrepair and weirdly empty. I was recently on Miller Road, on the east side of the complex and it was like a ghost town. The other sides of the complex might be more lively. The entire complex is designed to be secured. Access to the interior of the plant or locations with good views of the shipping channel eluded me. When I was a child I took the Ford tour of the plant. It was one of those must do things people did when visiting Detroit. I'm not sure if Ford still offers tours. Ford's use of the space has declined so much that I'm not sure what there would be to see. Dearborn is healthy, prosperous even. Unlike Highland Park, Dearborn has managed to attract new residents, many immigrants, to replace the departed auto workers.

 

Zug Island, an apocalyptic industrial hellscape is just a few miles east of the River Rouge plant. Historic Fort Wayne, which is a great place to walk around is also just a few miles east.

 

River Rouge, Michigan

Ford River Rouge Complex


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