Henry Ford’s Dearborn

History Facts

Where: Dearborn, near Detroit, Michigan, Midwest USA 
When: 
Hold historic engineering relics dating from turn of 20th century
Best sights: 
Lincoln convertible in which John F Kennedy was shot, the bus in which Rosa Park made a stand against segregation, and the classic Model T Ford

Dearborn is the city built by Henry Ford – engineer, car manufacturer, and clairvoyant of the interstate highway. It’s where, back in 1903, he created the first mass-produced car: the Ford Model T; today it’s the international headquarters of the Ford Motor Company.

Who Was Henry Ford?

Henry Ford was born in 1863 and early in life his practical side led him to invent new farm tools. At thirteen he successfully made his first self-propelled steam engine, trying it out in a field. Fifty years later, Ford was producing 57 percent of the automobiles sold in American and around half the cars sold worldwide.

The Ford Model T was the first mass-produced car, thanks to a novel manufacturing process: the fast assembly line. This was a key ingredient in the industrial revolution of the late nineteenth century as it put many unskilled workers into full-time employment. He was also in the first group of manufacturers to increase the wage of his workers with the intention that they would spend their extra money on his products. This formed the start of America’s extensive middle class. The Model T made Henry’s fortune and at least in part instigated the capitalist culture that defines America today.

Ford had a more totalitarian side. He built accommodation for his workers, but his entourage would be very nosy and spy on them, inquiring into their lifestyles. His style of management became very intrusive and his paternalist ways weren’t appreciated by many of his employees. Ford had no patience with people who were in his way. In 1933 he waged a war against the unions. He hired an army, some said of 2,000, to shut them up, but a photo journalist captured a vicious beating up of a union boss and courts ordered Ford to cease interfering with union activities.

Visiting Historic Dearborn Today

Dearborn is best known for the museum founded and named after Henry Ford. It’s vast grounds include a museum, an Imax cinema, and a huge outdoor museum called Greenfield Village, which is filled with dozens of historic buildings which Henry Ford hoarded to save from extinction. It includes the workshop of Thomas Edison – pioneer of electricity and inventor of the light-bulb – fathers of flying, the Wright Brothers Cycle Shop, George Washington Carver Cabin, and therailroad turntable. In Greenfield Village you can see Henry Ford’s birthplace house and Harvey Firestone’s Farm – the farm where he grew up.

Dearborn’s other famous historic figure was Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger on the 1st December 1955. As a consequence, she affronted the segregation laws of the State of Alabama that forbade whites and blacks to share any kind of space. Her courageous actions propelled the Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King Junior, putting successfully into practice his philosophy of direct, non-violent action. Sit-ins, stand-ins, and all manner of protest marches soon followed, thanks to the dignity of this humble little lady who reflected upon this stance soon after and declared: “My feets are tired but my souls is rested”. The Henry Ford Museum holds what they claim is the exact bus this famous historic act occurred on. Other key automobile exhibits include the 1961 Lincoln convertible, once driven byLyndon Johnson, in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Other Things to See and Do in Dearborn

When in Dearborn, you can do no worse than spend an evening at the Ford Wyoming Cinema, the largest drive-by movies in the United States, holding up to 3,000 cars. Tickets cost around $6.25.

More Information

Henry Ford Museum
Telephone: +1 313 982 6001

Dearborn is 15 minutes drive from Downtown Detroit.

By Marie-Laure Vigneron

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