Detroit, Michigan State

Paint it black

Date October 2009
Posted March 2011
Inside Ford's Highland Park plant
Looking up and around I contemplated the massive open space before me like the cathedral to modern manufacturing that it is. Here within these vast halls Henry Ford conceived the snaking mechanical monster that would shape industrialisation in the 20th Century, radically changing the way of life in the West.

A loud whirring forced itself into my daydream. I turned to see a security guard on a yellow Ford-badged golf cart emerge from one of the bays and pulled up in front of us. The man gestured to the padded seat on the back: our ride had arrived.

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Until October 1913, 12.5 skilled man hours were required to build you a Ford Model T 'automobile'. Initially in Detroit's Piquette plant, Model T construction was moved in 1910 to here, the newly constructed Higland Park plant which had been designed by Albert Kahn (responsible for the design of various other car plants in Detroit). Inside this works the modern continuously moving assembly line was born, bringing about an unprecedented increase in efficiency. This was down to having virtually static individuals each repeating a specific task, the chassis being dragged around the shop floor by rope from one stage to the next. Such an efficiency was quantified at the time: completion of a Model T soon required just over one and a half man hours.

The limiting factor in the rate of production now turned out to be the paint, which had to dry quickly. Thanks to its high bitumen content japan black was chosen so that the assembly line could operate as quickly as possible, hence the famous quote by Henry Ford to his management team in 1909: "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black". The customer was probably happy anyway, as the cost of car ownership had practically halved. Ford was also able to pay his workers far more, but this revolution came at an additional price: the working lives for most people in the factory became monotonous.

Not so long afterwards production was moved to the new and even larger River Rouge plant, although Highland Plant was retained by Ford for other manufacturing roles. Whilst from a car manufacturing point of view Motor City is a barely recognisable ghost of its former self, the buildings here are designated a national monument.

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Ford Highland Park Plant, Detroit, Michigan State (2009) courtesy of adventuretwo.net
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