K-12 Research Guide: Ford Rouge Factory


Henry Ford’s ultimate goal for Ford Motor Company was to achieve total self-sufficiency by owning, operating and coordinating all the resources needed to produce complete automobiles, a process known today as vertical integration.  

Plans for the Ford Rouge Factory began as early as 1915 with original construction spanning 1917-1928. The Rouge achieved the distinction of automotive "ore to assembly" in 1927 with the long-awaited introduction of the Model A and was considered complete in 1928, though updates and additions would continue for decades. 



Located a few miles south of Detroit at the confluence of the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, the original Rouge complex was a mile-and-a-half wide and more than a mile long. It totaled 15,767,708 square feet of floor area crisscrossed by 120 miles of conveyors.  

There were ore docks, steel furnaces, coke ovens, rolling mills, glass furnaces and plate-glass rollers. Buildings included a tire-making plant, stamping plant, engine casting plant, frame and assembly plant, transmission plant, radiator plant, tool and die plant, and, at one time, even a paper mill. A massive power plant produced enough electricity to light a city the size of nearby Detroit, and a soybean conversion plant turned soybeans into plastic auto parts. 

The Rouge also had its own railroad with 100 miles of track and 16 locomotives. A scheduled bus network and 15 miles of paved roads kept everything and everyone on the move. 

At its peak in the 1930s, more than 100,000 people worked at the Rouge. To accommodate it required a multi-station fire department, a modern police force, a fully staffed hospital and a maintenance crew 5,000 strong. One new car rolled off the line every 49 seconds. Each day, workers smelted more than 1,500 tons of iron and made 500 tons of glass, and every month 3,500 mop heads had to be replaced to keep the complex clean. 


Online Resources 

Ford Motor Co. Chronology, 1903-2003 

Rouge - History & Timeline 

Henry Ford's Rouge 

Ford Rouge Timeline 

Reinventing the Rouge 


Expert Sets 

The experts at The Henry Ford have carefully curated artifact sets from focus areas of our collection.  

Expert Set - The Rouge 

Expert Set - Ford Rouge Railroad 

Expert Set - Labor Unrest at the Ford Rouge Plant 


Example Primary Sources Available on Digital Collections 

Final Assembly of Ford Model A Cars at the Rouge Plant, Dearborn, Michigan, 1928 

The 1928 Model A was the first automobile completely built at the Rouge, Ford Motor Company's massive factory complex in Dearborn, Michigan. While Model T engines and parts had been manufactured at the Rouge for several years, final assembly of the cars themselves remained at Ford's Highland Park plant. The Model A brought new significance to the growing Rouge factory. 

Buildings and Grounds Diagram of the River Rouge Plant of the Ford Motor Company, 1936 

Henry Ford's vision for the River Rouge Plant was self-sufficiency. This map illustrates the Rouge's grounds and facilities. It also provides descriptions of some daily operations in this massive complex -- from the 5,000 men whose sole responsibility was cleaning buildings to the by-product plant workers who recovered tar, gas, and crude oil from the coking process for plant consumption. 

Pickling Metal Crankcases and Other Parts to Remove Surface Impurities, Ford Rouge Plant, 1936 

At its peak in the 1930s, Ford Motor Company's massive Rouge factory employed more than 100,000 workers. The complex included more than 15 million square feet of floor space and 120 miles of conveyors that turned out a new car every 49 seconds. In 1936, when this photo was taken, the people of Ford built more than 790,000 automobiles. 

Locomotive at Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant, Dearborn, Michigan, May 1937 

Some 100 miles of railroad track covered the grounds of Ford Motor Company's Rouge plant. The automaker maintained its own fleet of locomotives to move incoming railcars loaded with raw materials, and outgoing railcars filled with finished parts and automobiles, around the complex. Additionally, specialized tank cars ferried molten iron from the factory's blast furnaces to its foundry. 

Ford Service Department Men Confront UAW Organizers during the Battle of the Overpass, May 26, 1937 

Ford Motor Company refused to recognize the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union. On May 26, 1937, men from Ford's Service Department (left) attacked labor organizers (right) Robert Kanter, Walter Reuther, Richard Frankensteen, and J.J. Kennedy on a pedestrian overpass at Ford's Rouge Plant. This "Battle of the Overpass" came to symbolize the struggle to unionize Ford. The UAW ultimately succeeded in 1941. 

Souvenir Brochure, "Souvenir of Your Trip through the Ford Rouge Plant," August 1939 

Ford Motor Company offered the first public tours of its Rouge plant in 1924. The popular tours stoked the fascination surrounding Henry Ford and his massive factory. Visitors gathered in the Ford Rotunda, where they viewed displays on the automaker's operations, and then boarded a glass-roofed bus for a trip through the 1,300-acre complex. 

Ford Rouge Plant Pictorial Flow Chart, "Complete Car Can Be Built in 28 Hours," 1940

This diagram illustrates how Ford Motor Company's massive River Rouge Plant turned coal, iron ore, limestone, rubber, and sand into iron, steel, tires, glass, and finished automobiles.

Aerial View of Ford Rouge Plant Complex, 1948 

Ford Motor Company built the Rouge Plant with the ability to create automobiles from raw materials. In this photograph, the boat docks and huge coal, iron ore and limestone bins are visible. In 1948, about 850,000 tons of ore and 2,500,000 tons of coal arrived by boat and filled these bins to be used towards building Ford cars. 


Books and Secondary Sources  

Ford: Expansion and Challenge, 1915-1933, Allan Nevins & Frank Ernest Hill 

Ford: Decline and Eebirth, 1933-1962, Allan Nevins & Frank Ernest Hill       


Online Databases 

Digital Collections 

Research Library Catalog 

Archival Finding Aids Database 






  • Last Updated Apr 17, 2024
  • Views 6
  • Answered By Lauren B.

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