Ford River Rouge Complex

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Ford River Rouge Complex
River Rouge aerial 4a25915r.jpg
Aerial view of the Rouge Complex in 1927
USA Michigan location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location Dearborn, Michigan, United States
Area900 acres (360 ha) (landmarked area)
Architect Albert Kahn
Visitation148,000 (2017)
NRHP reference No. 78001516
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJune 2, 1978 [1]
Designated NHLDJune 2, 1978 [2]
Designated MSHSDecember 14, 1976

The Ford River Rouge Complex (commonly known as the Rouge Complex, River Rouge, or The Rouge) is a Ford Motor Company automobile factory complex located in Dearborn, Michigan, along the River Rouge, upstream from its confluence with the Detroit River at Zug Island. Construction began in 1917, and when it was completed in 1928, it was the largest integrated factory in the world, surpassing Buick City, built in 1904.


It inspired the Île Seguin Renault factory in 1920, [3] the GAZ factory built in the 1930s in the Soviet Union, as well as the later Hyundai factory complex in Ulsan, South Korea, which was developed beginning in the late 1960s. Designed by Albert Kahn, River Rouge was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1978 for its architecture and historical importance to the industry and economy of the United States. [4]


The Rouge Complex measures 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide by 1 mile (1.6 km) long, including 93 buildings with nearly 16 million square feet (1.5 km2) of factory floor space. With its own docks in the dredged Rouge River, 100 miles (160 km) of interior railroad track, its own electricity plant, and integrated steel mill, the titanic Rouge was able to turn raw materials into running vehicles within this single complex, a prime example of vertical-integration production.[ citation needed ]

Some of the River Rouge buildings were designed by architect Albert Kahn. His Rouge glass plant was regarded at the time as an exemplary and humane factory building, with ample natural light provided through windows in the ceiling. Since the late 20th century, several buildings at the Rouge complex have been renovated and converted to "green" structures with a number of environmentally friendly features.

In the summer of 1932, through Edsel Ford's support, Mexican artist Diego Rivera was invited to study the facilities at the Rouge. These studies informed his set of murals known as Detroit Industry .[ citation needed ]


Interior of the Rouge Tool & Die works, 1944 River Rouge tool and die8b00276r.jpg
Interior of the Rouge Tool & Die works, 1944

The plant's first products were Eagle Boats, World War I anti-submarine warfare boats produced in Building B. The original Building B, a three-story structure, is part of the legendary Dearborn Assembly Plant, which started producing Model A's in the late 1920s and continued production through 2004. After the war, production turned to Fordson tractors. Although the Rouge produced nearly all the parts of the Model T, assembly of that vehicle remained at Highland Park. It was not until 1927 that automobile production began at the Rouge, with the introduction of the Ford Model A.

During World War II the Rouge complex produced jeeps, aircraft engines, aircraft components and parts, tires and tubes, armor plate, and tractors. [5]

Other Rouge products included the 1932 Model B, the original Mercury, the Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Capri, and four decades of Ford Mustangs. The old assembly plant was idled with the construction and launch of a new assembly facility on the Miller Road side of the complex, currently producing Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The River Rouge Complex manufactured most of the components of Ford vehicles, starting with the Model T. Many of the vehicles were compiled into "knock-down kits", then sent by railroad to various assembly locations across the United States to be locally assembled, using local supplies as necessary. [6] After the 1960s, Ford began to decentralize manufacturing, building several factories in major metropolitan centers. The Rouge was downsized, with units (including the famous furnaces and docks) sold off to independent companies, many still operating independently to this day.

On May 26, 1937, a group of workers attempting to organize a union at the Rouge were severely beaten, an event later called the Battle of the Overpass. Peter E. Martin's respect for labor led to Walter Reuther, a UAW leader, allowing Martin to be the only Ford manager to retrieve his papers or gain access to the plant. [7]

Lake freighters maneuver in the canal to unload ore at the plant, 1973 RIVER ROUGE PLANT OF THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY COVERS 1200 ACRES OF LAND IN DEARBORN - NARA - 549725.jpg
Lake freighters maneuver in the canal to unload ore at the plant, 1973

The Rouge was one of only three locations where Ford manufactured the Mustang; the other sites were Metuchen Assembly and Milpitas Assembly in San Jose, California.

By 1987, only Mustang production remained at the Dearborn Assembly Plant (DAP). In 1987 Ford planned to replace that car with the front wheel drive Ford Probe, but public outcry quickly turned to surging sales. With the fourth-generation Mustang a success, the Rouge was saved as well. Ford decided to modernize its operations. A gas explosion on February 1, 1999 killed six employees and injured two dozen more, resulting in the idling of the power plant. Michigan Utility CMS Energy built a state-of-the-art Power Plant across Miller Road to replace the electricity and steam production, as well as the blast furnace waste gas consumption of the original power plant. [8] As it ended production, Dearborn Assembly Plant was one of six plants within the Ford Rouge Center. The plant was open from 1918 to May 10, 2004, with a red convertible 2004 Ford Mustang GT being the last vehicle built at the historic site. Demolition of the historic DAP facility was completed in 2008. All that remains is a 3000 place parking lot to hold light truck production from the new Dearborn Truck Plant.

Ford Rouge Center

Today, the Rouge site is home to Ford's Rouge Center. This industrial park includes six Ford factories on 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land, as well as steelmaking operations run by AK Steel, a U.S. steelmaker. The new Dearborn Truck factory famously features a vegetation-covered roof and rainwater reclamation system designed by sustainability architect William McDonough. This facility is still Ford's largest factory and employs some 6,000 workers. Mustang production, however, has moved to the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan.

Tours of the Rouge complex were a long tradition. Free bus tours of the facility began in 1924 and ran until 1980, at their peak hosting approximately a million visitors per year. They resumed in 2004 in cooperation with The Henry Ford Museum with multimedia presentations, as well as viewing of the assembly floor. The Ford Rouge Factory Tour had 148,000 visitors in 2017. [9]

President Joe Biden during his visit to the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in 2021 President Joe Biden at Ford's Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.jpg
President Joe Biden during his visit to the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in 2021

Hourly workers from both Ford and AK Steel facilities at the complex are represented by UAW Local 600.[ citation needed ]

A fleet of three Ford-owned Great Lakes freighters initially named for the Ford grandsons and later renamed for top company executives, was based at the River Rouge Plant. The deckhouse of the SS Benson Ford was transported by crane barge to Put-in-Bay, Ohio and placed on an 18-foot cliff as a private home above Lake Erie. [10]

In September, 2020 Ford announced construction[ clarification needed ] of the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, where their electric vehicles will be produced. [11] In 2021, the vehicle center[ clarification needed ] opened, and Ford's first all electric truck, the Ford F-150 Lightning, will be the first vehicle model produced there. [12]

Green roof in 2019 Ford Rouge Plant green roof 2019.jpg
Green roof in 2019

Renovated architecture

In 1999, architect William McDonough entered into an agreement with Ford Motor Company to redesign its 85-year-old, 1,212-acre (490 ha) Rouge River facility. [13] The roof of the 1.1-million-square-foot (100,000 m2) Dearborn truck assembly plant was covered with more than 10 acres (4.0 ha) of sedum, a low-growing groundcover. The sedum retains and cleanses rainwater and moderates the internal temperature of the building, saving energy.

The roof is part of an $18 million rainwater treatment system designed to collect and clean rainwater annually, sparing Ford from a $50 million mechanical treatment facility. [14]

Current product made

Former products made

See also

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  10. Spilman, Rick (August 18, 2014). "From Lakes Freighters to Lake Houses — Benson Ford & John W. Boardman". The Old Salt Blog. Old Salt Press. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  11. "Ford Announces Construction Of The New Rouge Electric Vehicle Center". Ford Authority. 2020-09-17. Retrieved 2021-05-27.
  12. "Ford completes Rouge Electric Vehicle Center construction, awaits electric F-150 tooling - MarkLines Automotive Industry Portal". Retrieved 2021-05-27.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-05-05. Retrieved 2007-06-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. "Architectural Record - News, Continuing Ed, Products, Green Bldg". Retrieved 6 April 2018.

Coordinates: 42°18′34″N83°09′44″W / 42.30941°N 83.16212°W / 42.30941; -83.16212