The Ford Rouge Plant is a huge, historic manufacturing facility just downriver from Detroit. It was completed in 1928, and at that time it was the world’s largest factory of its type. The complex is about 1-1/2 miles wide by 1 mile long. At its peak, it employed about 100,000 workers.
Built along the Rouge River where it meets the Detroit River, it’s a place where large lake freighters pull in to unload iron ore that is turned into steel used in the manufacturing of automobiles. At one time, the historic complex produced nearly everything needed on site to manufacture automobiles from start to finish. Steel, glass, cast iron engine parts, etc. all came together to feed the assembly lines that workers manned 24 hours a day.
Just outside the plant’s main employee entrance along Miller Road is a small park with a brick wall that features a series of historical markers. The markers offer a brief history of the plant. Accompanying them are historic photos of the mammoth facility that have been engraved on granite. They complement the message found on the markers.
The markers and photos vary based on the plant’s place in history, and some feature the Rouge Plant’s role during WW II, which included production of non-automotive vehicle parts for airplanes and boats. There is also a marker pointing out the important part women played in the overall war effort. The female employees were hired during WW II to work the assembly lines, building components for airplanes and other war related vehicles and parts. That is where the term, “Rosie the Riveter” came from.
Also featured on the wall are plaques and photos dedicated to the labor movement and the establishment of the United Auto Workers (UAW) at Ford. In the late 1930s, union organizers tried to set up a union at the Rouge Plant. As they crossed Miller Road using the employee overpass leading to the factory entrance, they were met with Ford security guards, and a conflict erupted. Many workers were brutally beaten on that famous day.
The conflict, known as “The Battle of the Overpass”, eventually led to the establishment of the UAW within the Ford Motor Company.
The overpass is still in use today. Standing just across it in the park is a lifelike cast statue of Henry Ford. He’s facing the bridge as if greeting the workers as they arrive. Just behind him is the brick wall with its historic plaques. Beyond the wall is the huge Rouge complex with its vast steel and power generating plants that are still in operation today.