Willow Run

filed under | history | military


The Willow Run manufacturing plant, located between Ypsilanti and Belleville, Michigan, was constructed during World War II by Ford Motor Company for the mass production of the B-24 Liberator military aircraft. The site of the plant was a farm owned by Henry Ford. He had used the farm to provide employment for youths during the summer. Ford Motor Company, like virtually all of the United States' industrial companies, directed its manufacturing output during World War II for Allied war production. The Ford Motor Company developed the Willow Run site to include an airfield and aircraft assembly facility. The plant held the distinction at the time of being the world's largest enclosed "room." At its peak, Willow Run produced 650 B-24s per month by 1944. By 1945, Ford produced 70% of the B-24s in two nine hour shifts. Pilots and crews slept on 1,300 cots waiting for the B-24s to roll off the assembly line at Willow Run. Ford produced half of the 18,000 total B-24s at Willow Run. The B-24 holds the distinction of being the most produced heavy bomber in history. An interesting feature of the Willow Run plant was a large turntable two-thirds of the way along the assembly line where the B-24s would make a 90 turn before continuing to final assembly. This arrangement was to avoid having the factory building cross a county line and so be taxed by two counties. The neighboring county's taxes were higher. After the war, ownership of the assembly plant passed to Kaiser Motors and then to Ford rival General Motors, which still owns and operates part of the facility as Willow Run Transmission. Willow Run was used by GM to manufacture a number of historically significant models, including Chevy trucks (195658), the Nova and Caprice. It was also used to manufacture parts for the doomed Vega subcompact. However, perhaps the most well-known product assembled at Willow Run was the Chevrolet Corvair compact, the only rear-engine, air-cooled automobile in America since the earliest days of the industry. Most Corvairs were built there from 1960 through 1969. GM's Fisher Body division was also located at the Willow Run site. Fisher built automobile bodies for the Chevrolet models assembled there. In 1968, General Motors reorganized its body assembly divisions into the monolithic GM Assembly Division (GMAD). GMAD absorbed many Fisher body plants, but Willow Run was one of the plants where Fisher continued to build automobile bodies until the 1970s. On June 1, 2009, GM announced it would be closing the plant as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. The plant has given its name to a community on the east side of Ypsilanti, defined roughly by the boundaries of the Willow Run Community Schools district. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]

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