The Henry Ford Museum

Trip Start Jul 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Michigan
Monday, July 16, 2012

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I went to the Henry Ford Museum today. First, I bought tickets. There are a number of other attractions run by the museum including a factory tour of Ford's Rouge River Plant and something called Greenfield Village. I want to take the plant tour and 'll be coming back to Greenfield Village tomorrow so I bought tickets for all three to avoid having to wait in line again.   It wasn't cheap. The three tickets were $52. I'm pretty sure that's the most I've ever spent on a museum. 

I decided to go on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour first so I went out front of the museum to catch a shuttle bus to the plant.  Ford's ultimate goal at Rouge River was to acheive total self-suficiency by owing and operating the entire supply chain from the souces of the raw materials to the finished vehicles. Ford started aquiring land to built the Rouge River Plant in 1915 eventually accumulating 2,000 acres along the Rouge River. In addition, the company bought 700,000 acres of forests, iron mines and limestone quarries in northern Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, thousands of acres of coal-rich land in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, purchased and operated a rubber plantation in Brazil and even bought their own railroad.

Construction started in 1917 although the first building was to build ships for World War I. Things didn't really get started until 1919 when the first coke oven battery started operating. This was soon followed by blast furnaces, a foundry, which at the time was the largest on earth, steelmaking furnaces, an electricity generating plant and rolling mills. Eventually, most Model T components were produced at the Rouge River Plant although assembly was done elsewhere.

Next, the plant started producing tractors. This was followed by glass-making facilities. In 1927 auto production started at the Rouge with the Model A. Ford had acheived ore-to-car integration although they still bought many parts from a minimum of 6,000 outside suppliers. The complex eventually was 1 1/2 miles wide and more than a mile long. There were 93 buildings totaling over 15 million square feet with 100,000 employees. A new car rolled off the line every 49 seconds. Each day the plant smelted over 1,500 tons of iron and made 500 tons of glass.  Much of the plant has been sold to other companies who now produce the iron and steel. It currently produces trucks.  Even though the plant is much smaller now, it's still rare to see any sort of industrial complex on this scale.

The plant tour has an assembly line feel to it. You first go into the movie labeled with a big "1". When the movie is over you leave theater "1" and enter theater "2" for another movie. You exit theater "2" and go to the elevator for step "3", the observation deck. Next is step "4", the factory tour, where you can follow a walkway above a portion of the assembly plant. This is followed by step "5", the Legacy Gallery where they have a few cars on display and step "6", the Living Laboratory, an outdoor tour of their sustainable design, which leaves you at the exit where you get your bus back to the museum.

I must admit, I found the tour to be a bit disappointing. The portion of the assembly plant you get to see is not very automated. They have robots that install windshields and check seams but, otherwise, it all seems to be done by hand. The bodies are built in a nearby building that is heavily automated but you don't get to see that.  For the most part, it looked a lot like the Oldsmobile factory tour I took around 1963.

After the tour I headed for the Henry Ford Museum.  The museum is quite large and by the time I returned from the factory tour I only had a bit over three hours left. I knew I couldn't come close to seeing the entire museum unless I hurried through, which I did. The museum has some unusual displays. There's a section with early mechanized farm equipment. Another section has early power generation equipment. There are sections devoted to early transportation equipment including trains and planes as well as cars and trucks. Some of the cars on display were impressive. They have a Bugatti, a Dusenberg, a Cord, a Tucker and the first car Henry Ford ever built.

Some of the items on display were quite surprising to me. They have the chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot as well as the limo that Kennedy was in when he was shot. They have the bus that Rosa Parks was in when she wouldn't change her seat. 

My favorite exhibit was the Dymaxion house.  The Dymaxion house was designed by Buckminster Fuller in 1929. In 1945 Fuller resurrected the design as a way to supply inexpensive housing to the returning soldiers. He built prototypes of two different models. He never got funding to enter production and the company eventually folded. Someone bought the two prototypes in 1948 and used them to built a single hybrid Dymaxion house, which they used until the 1970s.  In 1990 the house and all the spare parts were donated to the museum.  They built something as close to Fuller's original idea as possible, which has been on display since 2001.

I enjoyed my visit to the Henry Ford Museum. I wish I had the time to spend another day there.
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