Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1941

Land cleared for Ford’s Willow Run plant

On this day in 1941, workers start clearing trees from hundreds of acres of land near Ypsilanti, Michigan, some 30 miles west of Detroit, in preparation for the construction of the Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run plant, which will use Henry Ford’s mass-production technology to build B-24 bomber planes for World War II. During the war, Detroit was dubbed the “Arsenal of Democracy,” as American automakers reconfigured their factories to produce a variety of military vehicles and ammunition for the Allies.

When it opened in 1941, expectations were high for Willow Run, which at some 3.5 million square feet was called the world’s largest factory under a single roof. Early on, however, the plant was plagued by such issues as labor shortages and earned the nickname “Willit Run?” The initial problems were later ironed out, as workers were recruited from the South, women were hired and employee housing was constructed. Willow Run eventually employed over 42,000 people and by 1944, the plant was producing one plane every hour. By the end of the war in 1945, more than 8,600 B-24s had been built at Willow Run and the plant’s mass-production techniques were hailed as a symbol of American ingenuity.

Following World War II, the plant was used by the newly formed, independent automaker Kaiser-Frazer. In 1953, auto giant General Motors bought Willow Run and used the facility to make transmissions. Starting in 2003, GM spent a reported $600 million to renovate the plant in order to produce a new 6-speed rear-wheel drive automatic transmission. By 2008, GM, along with much of the auto industry, had been hit hard by the growing global economic crisis and the company was forced to ask the federal government for a multi-billion-dollar bailout loan in order to remain operational. Also that year, GM lost its title as the world’s top-selling automaker–a crown it had held since the early 1930s–to Japan’s Toyota. On June 1, 2009, GM announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As part of its bankruptcy reorganization plans, the auto giant said it would shutter the (by then) 5-million-square-foot, 335-acre Willow Run plant. At the time, the plant employed over 1,300 hourly and salaried workers, down from a peak of some 14,000 employees in the 1970s. 

After GM left in 2010, most of the plant was demolished in 2014. In 2017, the Yankee Air Museum optioned on a portion of the site, and in 2018, The American Center for Mobility claimed the remainder of the land to use as a research facility for self-driving cars.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

President Eisenhower dies

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States and one of the most highly regarded American generals of World War II, dies in Washington, D.C., at the age of 78. Born in Denison, Texas, in 1890, Eisenhower graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1915, ...read more

Spanish Civil War ends

In Spain, the Republican defenders of Madrid raise the white flag over the city, bringing to an end the bloody three-year Spanish Civil War. In 1931, Spanish King Alfonso XIII approved elections to decide the government of Spain, and voters overwhelmingly chose to abolish the ...read more

First American citizen killed during WWI

On March 28, 1915, the first American citizen is killed in the eight-month-old European conflict that would become known as the First World War. Leon Thrasher, a 31-year-old mining engineer and native of Massachusetts, drowned when a German submarine, the U-28, torpedoed the ...read more

Diem’s popular support questioned

A U.S. national intelligence estimate prepared for President John F. Kennedy declares that South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and the Republic of Vietnam are facing an extremely critical situation. As evidence, the reports cites that more than half of the rural region ...read more

American pacifists arrive in Haiphong

The Phoenix, a private U.S. yacht with eight American pacifists aboard, arrives in Haiphong, North Vietnam, with $10,000 worth of medical supplies for the North Vietnamese. The trip, financed by a Quaker group in Philadelphia, was made in defiance of a U.S. ban on American travel ...read more

Baltimore Colts move to Indianapolis

On this day in 1984, Bob Irsay (1923-1997), owner of the once-mighty Baltimore Colts, moves the team to Indianapolis. Without any sort of public announcement, Irsay hired movers to pack up the team’s offices in Owings Mills, Maryland, in the middle of the night, while the city of ...read more

Congress censures Jackson

On this day in 1834, President Andrew Jackson is censured by Congress for refusing to turn over documents. Jackson was the first president to suffer this formal disapproval from Congress. During his first term, Jackson decided to dismantle the Bank of the United States and find ...read more

De Anza founds San Francisco

Juan Bautista de Anza, one of the great western pathfinders of the 18th century, arrives at the future site of San Francisco with 247 colonists. Though little known among Americans because of his Spanish origins, Anza’s accomplishments as a western trailblazer merit comparison ...read more

Funeral held for the man behind the guillotine

The funeral of Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the namesake of the infamous execution device, takes place outside of Paris, France. Guillotin had what he felt were the purest motives for inventing the guillotine and was deeply distressed at how his reputation had become besmirched ...read more

Acheson-Lilienthal Report released

The State Department releases the so-called Acheson-Lilienthal Report, which outlines a plan for international control of atomic energy. The report represented an attempt by the United States to maintain its superiority in the field of atomic weapons while also trying to avoid a ...read more