May 28, 2024
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Henry Ford’s Village Industries Experiment

Nankin Mills
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Starting in 1919, Henry Ford ordered an exploration of sites that could be set up for small factories thought Southeast Michigan. These small shops were to supply Ford Motor with needed components and tooling for vehicle production. As World War I drew to a close Ford saw the reliance on large centralized factories that relied on fossil fuel as a potential threat to national security and to the Ford enterprise.

Ford Saw Mill At Iron Mountain Michigan -Henry Ford's Village Industries
Ford Saw Mill at Iron Mountain Michigan

A final list of over 200 sites was generated. From these Ford narrowed it down to 75 key locations throughout southeast Michigan primarily usually along rivers that were to be utilized for hydro powering the plants. From this list of 75, it’s generally agreed that 19 village industries were acquired or created.

Many of the plant sites were former locations of grist and sawmills from Michigan’s earliest settlements. The goal of having locally generated power from water turbines was a primary concern of being self-sufficient. Several other locations had small-scale plants built and architected by legendary architect Albert Kahn.

Ford strove to employ local farmers and laborers with the idea that farmers could maintain their farms when not working at the factory. By 1939 over 2,500 people were working in these Village Industries making welding points, processing soybeans for plastic, lamps, drills, ignitions, keys, valves, taps, generators, starter switches, and a multitude of other components.

Ford’s reputation as a large-scale industrialist and creator of the modern assembly line is well known. T the contradiction of creating this dispersed small-scale system has puzzled many historians. One hypothesis is that Ford wanted to support the rural communities that many were fleeing to work in the auto plants. Another theory was to dilute the effectiveness of organized labor attempting to unionize this disport location. Some plants had as few as a dozen workers.

We have a more detailed post about Fords Village Industries on our sister site

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Paul Austin

Living in Michigan for almost 60 years has given me a lot of insight. I'm a contributing writer for Thumbwind Publications. His most recent project is developing edgy stories and content for

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