Higland Park Ford Plant Sales and Service Office

The former Ford plant in the City of Highland Park is one of the most significant landmarks in the nation’s automotive history. The Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903 by Henry Ford, an electrician and inventor. Unlike other auto makers who were building large, expensive cars for the wealthy, Ford decided to target the low-cost market by producing large quantities of inexpensive automobiles. The company quickly outgrew its first factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit, moving to a larger factory on Piquette Street in 1905, where Ford began producing the Model T car.

The Model T was a revolutionary car for its time, being inexpensive to build, buy, and operate. As production began to increase the constraints of the Piquette plant became clear, and Ford began looking for a site big enough to support a truly new type of factory.

Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit offered lots of cheap land, and in 1908 construction began on the plant. The factory opened on January 1st, 1910. What made the Highland Park plant unique was its size and layout, which transformed auto production from a slow, piecemeal process that required specialized workers into an assembly line that could produce cars faster and cheaper than before. Mass production techniques cut the time it took to assemble a Model T from 728 minutes to just 93 minutes. By 1925 the plant was producing a Model T every 10 seconds. Economies of scale drove the price down as well, from $850 in 1908 to $260 in 1924. Inexpensive automobiles became the catalyst for the massive expansion of the American car industry. Over 15 million Model Ts were built at Highland Park until production moved to the River Rouge plant in 1928.

With the loss of the Model T, the Highland Park plant took on a much-reduced role in the company. From the 1930’s on the plant was used to manufacture automobile trim components and tractors, as well as tanks and aircraft engines during the Second World War. Tractor production was gradually reduced until the 1990’s, when Ford divested itself of its agricultural holdings.

Large parts of the plant were demolished starting in the 1960’s, some of which was eventually replaced by the Model T shopping plaza. Most of the remaining plant is used for storage or is vacant. One of the more visible buildings is the former sales and serve building, which was built in 1920 or 1921 along Woodward Avenue. Like most of the plant, it was designed by architect Albert Kahn, and has an executive garage built onto the rear. It has been vacant for many years, and while there have been several plans to renovate it into some sort of historic site, none have come to fruition.