The Henry Ford Museum

Through my work in the automotive industry, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Detroit, Michigan on several occasions. This city lives and breathes the automobile. But when the business day is done, what else is there to do in the Motor City? Seek out more Automobilia, naturally.

Fondly referred to as “The Henry Ford” by Michigan natives, this museum offers a look at early American industrialism like no other. The grounds and buildings are nothing short of spotless, the exhibits second to none.

After making one’s way through a grand foyer, a line of Presidential limousines awaits, including the actual vehicle in which John F. Kennedy would take his last ride. As a point of interest, the U.S. Government had the limo refitted and pressed back into service for subsequent Presidents.

Next stop – railway exhibits. The 1941 Allegheny is the largest locomotive I’ve ever seen. From the “bigger is better” era, this machine was designed to haul serious weight. The fireman didn’t shovel the coal. Instead, an auger continually fed this behemoth, as there was no possibility of one person keeping up to the voracious appetite of the boiler.

And yes, there are cars, cars and more cars – not all are Fords. The age range is from the early 1900’s to approximately the mid-80’s, with a few concept cars thrown into the mix. One of the original Mustang prototypes is on display, and also worthy of examination is a nicely preserved Chrysler Gas Turbine Passenger Car. And the 1952 Oscar Mayer Weinermobile… what can I say?

The Henry Ford also houses an interesting collection of aeronautical pieces, such as a Douglas DC 3 and a replica of the Wright Brother’s first plane, the Wright Flyer. Like farm equipment? There is a section devoted to the cause, with some nicely restored pieces.

The Dymaxian house was the brainchild of Buckminster Fuller, of geodesic dome fame. Mr. Fuller thought returning servicemen from WWII needed and deserved affordable housing. The airplane factories no longer needed to produce aircraft, so why not keep people employed by making aluminum houses?

Glowing like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Fuller’s circular aluminum houses were set to retail for $6500.00. From the outside, these houses looked very futuristic. The interior was well… aluminumish… In the end, two prototypes were made, but the concept never made production.

Henry Ford is often credited with being the forefather of modern assembly line manufacturing. I have respect for the man who went broke twice before realizing his dream of a factory that took in raw materials at one end, and turned out finished automobiles at the other.

Ford’s facility became known as The Rouge, and at its peak, employed over 100,000 people. Bring the work to the worker, was Ford’s vision. Given the vastness of The Rouge operation, power generation was a serious consideration. Some of the original generators for the operation are on display in the museum. One word comes to mind – big!

While at the Henry Ford, you might as well go and see The Rouge for yourself. Although not much raw material enters the factory any more, the facility is still massive. Currently F150 pick-up trucks are built at The Rouge, and “All of them are sold” according to one of the friendly tour guides.

The plant tour won’t get you onto the production floor for obvious reasons, but instead puts you above the action on a catwalk. The truck bodies come in from the paint plant, and shortly thereafter the cabs and boxes are separated, and the doors stripped off to ease interior assembly.

I witnessed windshield, dash board, headliner, console, and wiring harness installation. I also saw where the cab was reacquainted with the box. I was secretly hoping that the system would somehow glitch, and that a red cab would end up with a blue box. “That can’t happen” another tour person stated. I can always hope.

There is one last section of the Henry Ford – Greenfield Village, which “takes you back to the sights, sounds and sensations of America’s past”. I ran out of time, so I’ll save it for next trip!

If you are anywhere close to Detroit, I would strongly suggest making a detour to visit The Henry Ford and The Rouge. You won’t be disappointed.

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