Ford celebrates 100 years of production at the Rouge

Historic plant (still working 3 shifts daily) has produced vehicles from Model A to Mustang and F-150

Some of the nearly 60 model lines produced at the Rouge facility in the past 100 years | Ford Motor Co. photos

As it celebrates its 100th anniversary, producing everything from the Model A to the Mustang and the F-150, the first product of Ford’s Rouge manufacturing complex wasn’t a motorcar at all. The plant opened in 1918 and its first product launch was Eagle-class boats for the U.S. Navy and its World War I effort.

“Ford Motor Company’s Rouge complex is the only one in American history to manufacture vehicles – including ships, tractors and cars – non-stop for 100 years,” Ford Motor Co. said as it celebrated the Rouge centennial. “There’s nothing else like it. It’s kept running through two world wars and 18 U.S. recessions.”

Model A assembly line: 1928

While celebrating its history, the plant is preparing for its next chapter, adding the production of hybrid F-150 pickup trucks in 2020.

“Just as the Rouge has been a harbinger of progress for a century, Ford is committed to ensuring our trucks continue to power the world in a sustainable way – whether they are powered by EcoBoost engines, hybrid powertrains, or are fully electric,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company.

Robotics, 3D printing and virtual reality all will be employed in the production of the next generation of pickup trucks, the company said, adding that is investing $35 million to expand the UAW-Ford training facility so “the Rouge is positioned to remain a plant known for innovation, sustainability, efficiency and prosperity as it heads into its second century.

“The Rouge complex is where UAW members for generations have built quality products and earned the dignity and respect of the automotive community,” said Rory Gamble, United Auto Workers’ Ford vice president. “In many ways, the Rouge complex is the heartbeat of the all that the American labor movement represents.”

Currently, 7,500 employees work three shifts producing the F-150 at the Rouge complex. The F-150 is the 28th model the plant has produced during its 100-year history.

“The Rouge helped build America’s middle class with the $5-a-day wage, provided jobs for disabled workers and profit sharing,” the company noted in its news release. 

“The Rouge sets a global standard for sustainable production,” it added. “It generates zero-waste-to-landfill; the plant’s internal aluminum recycling system processes 12 million pounds monthly; and Rouge features one of the world’s largest living roofs, an on-site orchard, and 80,000 honeybees.”

Since Ford started using aluminum for the F-150 bodies in 2014, the Rouge has installed a recycling system with two miles of ductwork and has recycles as much as 15 million pounds of aluminum on a monthly basis. The plant recently achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status and is working toward the use of no potable water in its manufacturing processes.

Mustang assembly line, 1966

Henry Ford’s goal for the Rouge was a fully integrated and self-sufficient manufacturing facility where raw materials, much of it delivered by ships, would flow in and motor vehicles would drive out. The complex is located along the Detroit River southeast of Dearborn, home to the Ford Motor Co. headquarters. 

By the 1930s, the Rouge employed more than 100,000 people, had its own fire department, police force and hospital, as well as a steel mill, glass factory, railway and power plant. 

“It’s where the $5-a-day wage took hold and helped give rise to the middle class,” the company news release said. 

“The plant also is known for events that tested the resiliency of employees and the relationship between unions and companies. The Battle of the Overpass, when Walter Reuther and his union workers were beaten while trying to organize, changed the thinking of people across the country, including Henry Ford.”

Another sad episode in the plant’s history was a power-plant explosion in 1999 that killed six people and left more than a dozen others injured.

“And yes, there was even a time in the early 2000s when some suggested the Rouge should be shuttered,” the company said. “Instead, Bill Ford and the company doubled down, transforming the aging complex into a modern and sustainable manufacturing powerhouse.”

More than 10 million people have joined tours of the Rouge available from The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.

“To us, it’s more than a factory,” Bill Ford is quoted in the news release. “It’s a source of pride for generations of workers who have built the best cars and trucks in the world. It’s an all-American symbol of strength, opportunity, and hope; a place where we’ve always been creating tomorrow together.”

Aerial view of the Rouge: 2000

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