Ford Rouge Factory Tour

The Henry Ford

"The Henry Ford" is the nation's largest indoor-outdoor history museum complex, and just about the main attraction around Detroit, and more specifically in Dearborn, the birthplace of Henry Ford.

It consists of several parts ;

  1. the Henry Ford Museum,
  2. Greenfield Village,
  3. the Ford Rouge Factory Tour,
  4. the Henry Ford Imax Theater, and
  5. the Benson Ford Research Center.

The most spectacular part of "The Henry Ford" in Dearborn, MI, is the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour

Where the name Rouge came from, is mentioned nowhere, but we discovered later that the factory was built near the Rouge River, and so the link becomes obvious.

The first part of the Tour is somewhat pompously called the Historic Driving Tour. The bus drives ten miles to the factory, and every point of Interest along the way is commented. At least, that was the plan !

However, the first feat of arms of our bus was the failure of the DVD-player, which meant that most points of Interest fell flat on their face. For sure, our driver did make a very reasonable attempt to comment as best he could, but if one was sitting in the rear, that was definitely it...

At the time of our visit (2004), photography or taking notes during the Historical Driving Tour was not allowed. As a matter of fact, the windows in the bus were covered with a special "solar" film, that made photographing impossible... According to recent info from readers, this is not the case anymore, and it is now allowed to take pictures and make notes during the Historical Driving Tour.

Through the unending line of fences, we saw a monstrously large factory, to which all sorts of raw materials are brought in by sea and land, with trains, boats and trucks. Ford actually owned his own coal mines, iron mines, steel mill, plate mill and paint factory. He made everything himself !

The River Rouge Plant

Before Ford came up with the idea of the Assembly Line, assembling a car took on average 92 hours. His inventive process immediately reduced this time span to twelve hours. Since the sales price remained unchanged, his profit multiplied by ten !

After he built his new factory, the duration of the assembly continued to decrease, until at present barely ninety-two minutes are needed to assemble a car !

In 1908, Ford had 400 workers in his service. In 1913 (after the pay was doubled) that number increased to 14,000, and in his top-period around 1930, he employed more than 100,000 workers

The Legacy Theater

The Legacy Theater presents a movie about the plant's construction.

In 1915, Ford bought 2,200 acres of wetlands for the bagatelle of $ 1,100. However, the land had to be drained and strengthened, which meant that numerous stakes had to be driven into the ground.

In 1930, three years after the launch of his Model A, the new factory was finished. That investment had to be recovered, and therefore the price of the new model A was set at 650 to $ 800, which was quite a bit more expensive than the previous model T, at $ 260, almost twenty years earlier.

World War II stopped the production lines, but with gigantic military support, the plant was completely modernized. Also, a new factory was built for the manufacture of various military equipment. After the war, both plants obviously switched back to making cars, but then again, such a small detail tends to get lost in history...

In 1999, the River Rouge Plant was extensively modernized, not to say completely rebuilt, for the extraordinary sum of two billion dollars ! This event was loudly publicized, even if it also means that it took Ford only fifty-four years to modernize its plant...

The "Art of Manufacturing" Theater

The "Art of Manufacturing" Theater invaded our senses with a simply dreadful movie, projected on seven screens in a full circle.

Now, the armchairs also happen to turn in a full circle, so that soon we were spinning around like a toll, just making sure that we didn't miss anything important...Luckily, that was not the case !

The movie apparently tries to show the complete assemblage of a Ford F-150. To get people into the right "mood", it is accompanied by an awful lot of noise, loud pops, a few steam clouds, some fog, and many sizzles and bangs... No comment is included, and it is pure guesswork to figure out what is actually being shown.

To keep the visitor awake, the different construction sequences and scenes are mixed in a haphazard way. The focus is very intense on "dramatic scenes" with molten steel and robots, who perform all kinds of jobs at an incredible speed.

Though the movie was reverently called a documentary, I might want to describe it somewhat more irreverently as "Visual Pollution"...

Living Roof
Living Roof

The Observation Deck Tour

On the Observation Deck Tour, the "invention" of the Largest Living Roof in the World is most emphatically praised.

This very large roof surface (40,000 m2 or almost 10 acres) was executed as a so-called "reverse roof". A layer of insulation is applied above the waterproof layer, and everything is ballasted with a heavy covering of gravel and dirt. After a while, moss or even grass grows in this dirt, ergo, the roof is "alive"...

Unfortunately, my skeptical and "alien" little inner voice told me that this roofscape concept has been around for centuries, and more in particular since roofing on flat roofs was done with tar, and paper or cardboard.

Since then, the materials have been modernized, and modern insulation has improved quite a bit since the use of cork, but the concept, the advantages and the shortcomings still remain exactly the same as in the 1700's...

Ford's Living Roof

The Assembly Plant Walking Tour

Walking around the Assembly Hall on a footbridge, high above the floor, allows a special perspective, and a nice overview of the production process.

It is probable that working at an assembly line is still as brainless and boring as it was seventy years ago. One of the reasons is that the employees cannot actually see that their work creates something new to be proud of. 

Therefore, Volvo's fifteen-year-old assemblage experiment, whereby a car is completely assembled by the same group of workers, is certainly worthy of consideration.  The workers produce the entire car, instead of each turning 5,000 screws in 500 cars per day...

The experiment seems to yield better construction quality, better workmanship, and a far smaller staff turnover, simply because the work is more interesting !

The Exhibition Hall

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour ends in the Exhibition Hall, where many Ford models are on display.

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour is a most interesting experience.

It perfectly illustrates the almost incredible accomplishments of a man, who singlehandedly reshaped the entire world, for all time to come !

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Comments 3 comments

un happy reader 4 years ago

Did you happen to think that the coating on the windows is there to block UV rays to protect the collectables in the the exhibit. I'm assuming that you Know that they now put a Clear coat on the cars to protect them from UV rays. at this time they DID NOT put this clear coat on the Cars. Also Pictures and Notes are allowed. So Please Up-date this article. Thanks.


slusterbubble profile image

slusterbubble 4 years ago from Florida Author

Dear un happy reader, thank you for your info and I updated the article accordingly. My remarks about the special film on the windows of the bus obviously concern only the Historical Driving Tour. This film coating on the bus was not meant for the protection of the passengers, and our driver explicitly mentioned the company's reasons for applying the film, and prohibited taking pictures or making notes. As far as the exhibit and any collectibles are concerned, it is quite normal that these would be so protected.


John Martine 4 years ago

I viewed the exhibit in April 2012. The exhibit is so very interesting. I was amazed with the advanced technical advancements utilized in the assembly line process.

One disappointment for me was a total disregard for the acknowledgement of the Rouge Factory's contibution to the mechanical agricultural history. Henry Ford built tractors, millions of tractors that mechanized the small farms of our country, the world. I wanted so badly to see a display of the history of my passion and the mortorized tool of my father and grandfather's livelyhood. I will acknowledge that there are Ford tractors at The Henry Ford Museum but the story of Mr. Ford's contibution to agriculture is only a wisper.

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