Monday, May 21, 2012

Detroit: The Motor City

The back of the Michigan state quarter. Perhaps you have a Michigan quarter in your pocket.
Michigan is a state that borders Canada, and it is divided into two parts: the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. Some people think that the Lower Peninsula of Michigan looks like a mitten. Michigan is the only state to border four of the Great Lakes--Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. Because of this, only one state has more shoreline than Michigan, and that state is Alaska. You can see how Michigan touches four Great Lakes in the photo of the quarter above.
You can see the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula on this map. Locals call them the UP and the LP, and I have seen signs referring to the LP as The Mitten.
Detroit, the state’s largest city with a population of more than 5,000,000, is known as the Motor City because it serves as the center for the manufacturing of American automobiles. Cars made in Detroit are shipped all over the country. The “big three” automakers are General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler; all three are headquartered in Detroit. The Detroit River connects the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Seaway making Detroit an important port for importing and exporting goods and a leader in global trade.

Think how your life would change if there were no automobiles, trucks, buses or other machines powered by internal combustion engines. How would you get to school? How much smaller would your world become? While humans have thrived on Earth for thousands of years, automobiles have only been around for a little more than a hundred. And the earliest cars bear little resemblance to those we drive today.

One hundred and thirty-three years ago, a young man made his way to Detroit to accept an apprenticeship as a machinist because he did not want to be a farmer like his father. By 1888 he was running a sawmill. A few years later this young man became an engineer and began tinkering with internal combustion engines. By 1896 he had created a self-propelled vehicle called a Quadricycle. Open-air with no protection from the weather, this early automobile was steered with a rudder and would only go forward. So, who was this industrious man who eventually led the way in the mass production of cars? Henry Ford. While he wasn’t the first to create a gasoline powered self-propelled vehicle, he was a pioneer in the automotive industry who established The Ford Motor Company.


Henry Ford was not a man to give up easily. His first company, Detroit Auto Works, quickly went bust. In 1901 he opened a second business, Henry Ford Company, but it lasted less than five months. Ford made a new attempt in 1903 establishing the Ford Motor Company. Success at last! The company continues to this day. And as it turned out, Henry Ford revolutionized not only the automotive industry, but all of global manufacturing.
Ford's earliest car, the Quadricycle. Hey! Where's the steering wheel?

Model T Ford, often called "The Tin Lizzie"
By 1918 half of all cars on the road were Fords—Model T Fords. And Henry Ford bragged that you could have one in any color you liked as long as it was black. So, how did Henry Ford capture the automobile market? He did it largely by being smarter than his competition. He opened a large factory and created an assembly line that continuously moved. Formerly, cars were built one at a time, a labor-intensive process. It took a team of men twelve hours to assemble a Model T. Then, Ford figured out how to speed things up. His factory workers each had a station. They stayed in one place and added pieces to the car under construction as it moved past them on a moving conveyor. All car parts moved on overhead belts so that workers could easily access them. Everything was managed for the greatest efficiency. With this new system in place, the time to build a Model T dropped to 93 minutes. Other factories copied Ford’s breakthrough resulting in the revolutionizing of the entire automotive industry. This cost-effective method is still used today. 

Then, Ford did something surprising. He advertized that he was doubling workers' wages to five dollars a day, a large amount of money at the time. Men flocked from all over the country to gain employment. And for the first time, they earned enough money to buy one of the cars they helped build. At the time, a new Model T cost about $250, a lot of money back then. By the late 1920s Ford Motors was in full production in a huge factory with a staff of 100,000. At one time, Ford Motors was the largest automobile manufacturer in the entire world!

Have you ever wanted to see a truck built? What do you think a truck factory looks like? When I visited the Ford Rouge Factory to watch workers--both men and women--create trucks, I found it to be one of the most interesting places I have ever visited. The Ford F150 truck factory is a modern and clean facility and I couldn't help but wonder what Henry Ford would think if he could see the place.

A Ford F150 being built
For starters, Ford Motors works hard to be environmentally friendly. The modern facility has a 10.4-acre green roof, the largest such roof in the world. What is a green roof? It is a roof covered with plants! This type of roof has many benefits. For starters, it lasts twice as long as an ordinary roof. In addition, it creates a lovely habitat for birds and butterflies. It lowers the summer temperature by 10 degrees, and can hold 4.5 million gallons of rainwater, enough to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools. The roof changes colors throughout the year. It is green in spring, covered with flowers in the summer, and bronze in the fall.

Here you can see the living roof of the Ford Rouge Factory.
The Ford F150 factory has two robots, one for mounting moon roofs and the other for final inspection of the welded seams. Humans do the rest of the work assembling the trucks by hand. One thousand workers are spread along the four miles of assembly lines. Each worker is assigned to one of thirty stations in the build line. These include door latch installation, tail gate assembly, mirror installation, box build, and assembly of various components such as headliners, instrument panel, dashboard, airbags, steering wheels and so on. Workers select the correct parts, based on the truck being built. Nine different truck models on three different chassis are produced in the Rough factory. If your family owns a Ford F150 truck, it is likely that it was built in the factory I visited.

A completed Ford F150 truck


Anonymous said...

Detroit's population hasn't been close to 5,000,000 for a long time. It is now about 705,585. I was born there and visit frequently.

Anonymous said...

Chrysler Motors Corporate Headquarters is in Charlotte, North Carolina