Our next overnight stop on our Summer Holiday was Detroit Michigan, but before we crossed the border back to the States, we hit up Point Pelee, the southernmost tip of mainland Canada. A small National Park founded in 1918, this little area of the country has been occupied in some way since 700-900AD (that’s been documented). Initially a hunting area, the Europeans found it in 1670 and it’s been in dispute for a long while until it became a national park. You are able to camp and picnic in the park, even enjoy the waves on the beach front, but we headed further up to the small museum and bus ride out to the tip and then a walk on the marsh boardwalk. This spot is a boon for birdwatchers, and we saw several while we walked. It was a nice little stop and stretch your feet while being somewhere really cool.
From there we did head straight through to Detroit. We stayed in the Financial District, close to the water and not far from the spots we really wanted to see- mostly on the auto factory side of things. We had one full day in the city, so we started off early the next morning by stopping in the GM headquarters (scoping out all the new and old vehicles on display as well as quite a few displays about what GM does beyond cars- it’s fascinating), then a short walk along the water- seeing both the statues and Canada across the way, before stopping in at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center.
Owned and operated by the Department of Natural Resources the Outdoor Adventure Center provides a variety of hands-on exhibits and activities meant to highlight the offerings of the region. Originally committed in the 1990’s, the museum and surrounding park area had quite the struggle to open up between funding issues and property ownership difficulties. However, in 2015 they were able to open up and logged 100,000 visitors in their first year. There is a little history, and a lot of nature information. The boys were able to “snowmobile”, ride an “atv”, practice “hunting”, as well as sit in an airplane, eagles’ nest, and learn about the environment of Michigan (which is a lot more than just Detroit). It was just as fun for us adults as it was for the kids.
From there we headed back down the water and over to the tram for a ride to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Built in 1904 this was the second building of Ford’s, however the first purpose-built factory. BUT in order to understand the importance of Ford and his mind and motor company, let’s take a minute to quickly talk about Henry Ford.
Henry Ford was really a pioneer of his time. He was, what I like to refer to, as a tinkerer with a brain that didn’t stop. In 1892 he built his first motor car (he was 29- so if you’re younger than that and still haven’t figured anything out or are just starting to figure things out at 29- you’re in good company!) after becoming an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. Yes, that Edison. In 1893 he became Chief Engineer and in 1899, cheered on by Edison and several others, he founded the Detroit Automobile Company. In 1901 it was dissolved. However, in late 1901 Henry Ford designed, built and raced an auto that got some attention and he, tried again, founded the Henry Ford Company towards the end of 1901. However, once again, it was not to last as once Henry Leland was brought in as a consultant, Ford left, and Leland then renamed it to Cadillac.
Finally, in 1903 Ford Motor Company was founded, with the Dodge Brothers as investors (!) and then in 1908 the ever-popular Model T was debuted. It would sell that year for $825 with a price that would continue to drop year after year. Something that Henry Ford is known well for is forward thinking and in 1913 he introduced the concept of the moving assembly belt to his factories (though this could not be only attributed to Henry Ford- several employees helped design and produce this concept). Some interesting facts about Henry Ford to end this little side tangent…He was an early backer of the Indianapolis 500, he was a notorious anti-Semite (both Hitler and Himmler were big fans of Ford and some of his writings were combined and published in Nazi Germany- AND Ford is apparently mentioned TWICE in Mein Keimpf, but he didn’t financially donate to the party – I don’t know why that was such a distinction that needed to be made…), and while he introduced the $5 dollar wage, and 40/48 hr. work week, he HATED labor unions and fought fiercely against his workers unionizing.
So, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Built in 1904, this was the second location owned by the Ford Motor Company and produced the Models B, C, F, K, N, R, S and finally the Model T during its 5 years. Initially cars were manufactured with hand tools that would be carried to the vehicle and a single location. This plant is where the idea of a moving assembly line was created. Just before the Model T debut in 1908, employees experimented with the idea that the chassis of the car moved along to the workers, rather than the workers moving to the chassis. They continued experimenting by using a rolling option, instead of the previous rope maneuvering, before coming up with the initial moving assembly belt (a precursor to the one Henry Ford later put in place at the Rouge Facility). Now, once the Model T was completed and out in the world sales quickly skyrocketed. Demand became so much that the Piquette Plant closed for two months to help catch up and the plant itself quickly became too small. In 1909 Ford Motor Co started packing up to move over to the Highland Park Ford Plant to continue. The plant building itself went through a couple different owners and businesses before being sold in 2000 to the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex (after hearing that it was going to be torn down) and re purposed the building into a museum full of over 40 early automobiles. The plant was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
Finally, a few fun facts about the cars…most Model T’s (post assembly line introduction) were black due to the fact that it was the fastest drying of all the colors, when the production of the Model T concluded (in 1927), Ford had produced 15, 007, 034 cars.
That about summed up our day in Detroit. Heading back towards the hotel, we stopped over at the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park just to take a little look and then stopped for some food. Our second day, on the way out of the city, we stopped over in Dearborn to see The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford is the massive complex that houses the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and works in partnership with the Ford Rouge Factory (The Henry Ford is also known as the Edison Institute). It is the largest indoor/outdoor museum in the United States and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, with the National Historic Landmark label attached in 1981. Where to begin?
We started our day with the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The Ford River Rouge Complex is well known in the auto industry. Construction beginning in 1917 (opened for production in 1927, completed in 1928) it is the largest integrated factory in the World. The concept was to have everything that was needed to manufacture vehicles right at your fingertips. With the docks, the interior railroad, electric plant, and steel mill, there was no need to wait on much to be delivered in order to complete a car. The complex itself is made up of 93 buildings with 16 million square feet of factory floor space and, while the first products produced were the WWI Eagle Boats, it currently produces all of the Ford F-150 and soon to be Ford F-150 Lightning trucks. The factory tour is really interesting, showing the history of Henry Ford and the current projects, as well as a look at the factory tour (this was not in action when we toured, but you can tour when it is in action).
From there we headed into Greenfield Village. Greenfield Village is known as an Outdoor Living History Museum- the first in the nation and a model that many other “living history museums” follow. The village is made up of various homes and buildings that were upended from their original locations and moved to the property with the end goal of showing the history of living and working in America since its’ founding. The village is a total of 240 acres, with 90 being used by the village itself. Some of the notable homes are those of the Wright Brothers, Edison and Ford, as well as the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law and a covered bridge from Pennsylvania. There is also the Farris Mill- one of the oldest in America. As part of the admission, you can pay to ride in an authentic Model T (some of which are replicas, some of which are actual authentic – we were lucky to get an authentic Model T), as well as on the Weiser Railroad.
Finally, we headed into the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Henry Ford was a bit obsessed with collecting and preserving historically interesting items that portrayed what the Industrial Revolution was like, both from an everyday life perspective (think items in the home, kitchen, toys, etc.) and from an industrial machine perspective. The museum is full of a variety of artifacts that range from massive steam and coal locomotives to presidential motorcade vehicles, to doll houses and tractors. There is also the Rosa Parks bus, the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile, a variety of engines, and restaurant signage.
The museum itself was started as his personal collection on a 12-acre site. The building was designed with the Philadelphia Historical Park in mind (namely the Old City Hall, Independence Hall, & Congress Hall). Initially opened in 1929 as the Edison Institute, a private education site, it was later opened to the public in 1933. I will say that between all three (the village, the factory and the museum) we spent almost all day here and still didn’t see everything there was to see. We could have spent much longer if we hadn’t really needed to hit the road to make it to our next stop before bed time.
And with that we headed to my favorite spot on the entire trip…any guesses as to where that was? I’ll share it soon!