The Ford Willow Run Factory
Start Ups and Crisis Economics
The debate on assisting the Big Three American automakers seems to be hardening along ideological lines. During the second world War, FDR was sometimes criticized for favoring Big Business over some of the smaller firms and he set up an era where big Business thrived. He passed away before the war ended and in hindsight, the particular period of Big Business power is responsible for where we are as a nation today. Dwight David Eisenhower went so far as to sound an alarm about the Military Industrial Complex in the 1950′s.
At the current time, I would be afraid to buy into the ideas that not helping the Big Three is smart economic policy, they are just too big and the results of a collapse in that sector would merely prolong the current crisis. I would be of the opinion that we need to save the Big Three and get things going before we shift gears in a more stable economic environment to perhaps use tax and fiscal policy to specifically increase start up activity in the vitally important Smaller Business area. It would seem that unless basic conditions improve, this would be the worst environment for start ups? Who has money and credit to buy the goods and services produced by the start ups at this time?
The Platform that Barack Obama was elected on already had plans to intervene in the Auto industry and work towards greater fuel efficiency and new technologies through investment and tax incentives. A bailout should be structured along those lines and now is as good a time as any.
The opposition philosophy was on the idea that Government mandates and interference in the Jimmy Carter/Jerry Ford/Richard Nixon years was a bad thing, now we have a mandate to do what should never have lapsed in the Reagan/Bush years. Do it!!!!
And if I hear one more Idiot Talking Head on Fox/MSNBC/CNN ask if we’re gonna Bail out Starbucks too, I’m gonna go to Miller Park Zoo and throw rocks at Polar Bear cubs and Fundamentalist Christians!!!!
I want the Government to create good high paying Union jobs!!! Starbucks, Wal Mart and McDonalds are low wage service industry hell holes that are as hard to kill as weeds in a good lawn. let em croak, 10 new ones will appear. Auto plants don’t.
Willy’s Overland was the originator of the WWII Jeep, but as a smaller firm, they were unable to adapt quickly enough to capitalize on their invention and the auto industry in general was brought on board to produce the needed units. This isn’t a wartime economy to the extent it was in the early 1940′s but it is in a major crisis and piddling around with more extreme ideological positions now would seem to make matters worse, get the banks and the big three stabilized, then examine this issue later to possibly increase capitalization of the start up sector.
The Willow Run manufacturing plant, located between Ypsilanti and Belleville, Michigan, was constructed during World War II by Ford Motor Company for the mass production of the B-24 Liberator military aircraft.
The site of the plant was a farm owned by Henry Ford. He had used the farm to provide employment for youths during the summer. Ford Motor Company, like virtually all of the United States’ industrial companies, directed its manufacturing output during World War II for Allied war production. The firm developed the Willow Run site to include an airfield and aircraft assembly facility. The plant held the distinction at the time of being the world’s largest enclosed “room.” At its peak, in August 1944, Willow Run produced 428 B-24 aircraft, or almost 14 for each calendar day.
An interesting feature of the Willow Run plant was a large turntable two-thirds of the way along the assembly line where the B-24s would make a 90° turn before continuing to final assembly. This arrangement was to avoid having the factory building cross a county line and so be taxed by two counties. The neighboring county’s taxes were higher.
After war production ended, the plant was used by a partnership of Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer. They produced both Kaiser and Frazer models until 1953, when the company merged with Willys-Overland and the plant was sold to General Motors. The “Henry J” was one of the cars he produced in later years. It was also sold through Sears-Roebuck as an “Allstate”. B-24s were not the only planes produced at Willow Run. From 1952 to 1953, the facility was used by Kaiser to assemble Fairchild C-119 “Flying Boxcar” cargo planes.
Sociologist and professor Lowell Juilliard Carr of the University of Michigan studied the sociological conditions arising from the wartime increase in the worker population in his landmark book on Willow Run in 1952.
On the other side of the airport from the assembly plant were a group of World War II hangars, which were sold to the University of Michigan in 1946. The university operated Willow Run Laboratories (WRL) from 1946 to 1972. WRL produced many innovations, including first ruby laser and operation of the ruby maser. In 1972, demonstrations by Vietnam war activists forced the university to detach WRL from it.
The airfield continues to operate as the Willow Run Airport. After the war, ownership of the assembly plant passed to Kaiser Motors and then to Ford rival General Motors, which still owns and operates part of the facility as Willow Run Transmission. The airfield is primarily used for cargo flights. The Yankee Air Museum is also located on the airport grounds. On October 9, 2004, a fire destroyed the museum’s main hangar, H-2041.
The plant has given its name to a community on the east side of Ypsilanti, defined roughly by the boundaries of the Willow Run Community Schools district.