In 1908 Michigan native Henry Ford introduced the Model T, an affordable automobile he built “for the common man” that would forever change the way Americans live, work, and travel. Ford perfected assembly line production between 1910 and 1914, and by 1914 the manufacturing time for a single Model T was cut from 12.5 hours to only 93 minutes. As a result, Ford produced more Model Ts than all other automakers combined and they comprised of more than half of the cars on the road by 1918.
The first Ford assembly plant in Dallas was built in 1914 and located at 2700 Commerce Street in what is now known as the Adam Hats building. The company quickly outgrew the space, and in 1925 the assembly plant was relocated to a new building at 5200 E. Grand Avenue in Dallas Fair Park. The new location had ample square footage, a large construction yard, and direct access to the rail network. Dallas was a growing manufacturing center during the first few decades of the 20th century that focused on oil production, banking, cotton, and textiles. No other cars were manufactured in Dallas, or Texas for that matter, during this time. Most cars left the Dallas assembly plant with a sticker that read “Built in Texas by Texans,” a fact which became a source of pride for locals.
The Great Depression in the 1930s impacted the Dallas economy later than the rest of the country thanks to a robust and rapidly growing local economy. The city did not truly feel the effects until 1931 when conditions began to deteriorate. The production of the Model T had been discontinued in 1927, and around this time Ford lost dominance over the auto industry to competitors such as Chevrolet, GM, and Chrysler. However, Ford continued to introduce newer models in the late 20’s and throughout the 1930s. Still, the company laid off thousands of workers nationwide during the Depression in response to slumping sales, and the Dallas plant shut down from 1933 until 1934.
Henry Ford, while a brilliant businessman, was also a man of contradictions. Ford was a self-described pacifist who was so opposed to war that, in 1915 during World War I, he commissioned a delegation to travel to Oslo, Norway in an attempt to facilitate peace amongst the fighting nations. The effort failed, and the war solidified Ford’s anti-Semitic beliefs that a vast Jewish conspiracy existed to profit from war. In 1919, he began publishing his weekly company newspaper “The Dearborn Independent” which frequently published conspiracy theories and articles that were inflammatory towards Jews. The publications were widely distributed via Ford’s dealerships, reinforcing anti-Semitism in the U.S. while alienating Jewish Americans. Ford stopped publishing the Dearborn Independent in 1927 and later retracted his articles by saying that he did not personally author them. Nevertheless, the damage was done. Adolf Hitler cited Ford’s work as a primary influence for his manifesto “Mein Kamph” (published in 1924) and awarded him the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938.
Despite his reservations, Ford threw his full support behind the United States when it entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In February 1942, Ford converted his plants solely to military production. The Dallas assembly plant built military Jeeps, G8T and GT8A cargo trucks. Over 93,000 Jeeps and over 6,100 cargo trucks were produced at this plant alone by the end of the war. Other Ford plants produced airplanes, bombers, armored tanks, generators, and more for the war effort. Ford’s plants had an undeniably positive impact on the Allied victory during the war, and in 1944, Ford was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the American Legion in 1944 for his support of disabled veteran work programs.
Normal production at the Dallas Ford plant resumed in July 1945 – after the Allied victory against Germany, but before the end of the war with Japan. With full victory certain, Ford plants switched back to automobile production with the 1946 Model, which was almost identical to the 1942 Model that was halted due to the onset of war. Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, assumed company control in 1945 and began a lifelong campaign to support the American Jewish community and the State of Israel. He also assumed control of the Ford Foundation, which remains one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world. Henry Ford died on April 7, 1947 and most of his wealth was bequeathed to the Ford Foundation.
The Dallas Ford assembly plant remained open until February 20, 1970. During the early 1970s, Ford Motor Company was forced to close many plants nationwide due to economic factors that would eventually lead to a stock market crash in 1973 as well as widespread recession, inflation, unemployment, and gas shortages. This period of stagnation ended the unprecedented economic growth of the post-World War II era. By the time the Dallas plant closed it had produced more than 3 million cars and trucks.
Today the old Ford Assembly Plant at 5200 E. Grand Avenue still stands and is used as office space, storage facility, distribution center, and trucking company. The tall water tower and the brick buildings, now painted blue and white, remain as landmarks easily visible from I-30.