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The Ford Century in Minnesota

2016
Author:

Brian McMahon

The Ford Century in Minnesota

How the Ford Motor Company transformed Minnesota over the past 100 years

First-person accounts of more than forty retired auto workers detail experiences of working at Ford Motor Company—from the early years in Minneapolis to the final hours of the Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul. Brian McMahon documents the company’s transformation—through the Depression, World War II, women joining the workforce, globalization, outsourcing, the closing of the plant, and more.

Brian McMahon has done an outstanding job of showing how the top and bottom layers of the industrial hierarchy viewed reality—and how they saw and influenced each other.

Peter Rachleff, Macalester College

In 1903, before the Ford Motor Company was even incorporated, Stephen Tenvoorde signed a contract to sell “Fordmobiles” at his bicycle shop in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Four generations later, the Tenvoorde family still operates what is now the oldest Ford dealership in the world. Brian McMahon chronicles how the fortunes of the company and the state became intertwined during that century.

Ford assembled Model T cars in the world’s tallest automobile plant in Minneapolis and a three-story structure in St. Paul—both still standing. These factories quickly became functionally obsolete after the development of the moveable assembly line. The hunt for a new site to build a modern, single-story plant stirred intense rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Henry Ford took a rare personal interest in the search and selected a 125-acre parcel in St. Paul overlooking the recently built High Dam on the Mississippi River, which allowed for navigation and hydroelectric power. The Twin Cities Assembly Plant would go on to manufacture millions of cars, trucks, tractors, and military vehicles until its closure in 2011.

Henry Ford’s large-scale experiments with every aspect of the industrial economy sent ripples and shockwaves through the lives of Minnesotans—management and assembly line workers, dealers and customers, families and communities. First-person accounts of more than forty retired auto workers share what it was like to work at Ford—from the early years of the Minneapolis plant to the final hours of the Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul. McMahon documents the company’s transformation—through the Depression, the rise of the United Auto Workers Union, World War II, women joining the workforce, competition from imported cars, globalization, outsourcing, and the closing of the plant.

The Ford Century in Minnesota

Brian McMahon, a trained architect, has lectured and written extensively on industry, urban history, and architecture and has developed and designed several exhibits for museums and galleries in New York and Minnesota.

The Ford Century in Minnesota

Brian McMahon has done an outstanding job of showing how the top and bottom layers of the industrial hierarchy viewed reality—and how they saw and influenced each other.

Peter Rachleff, Macalester College

The Ford Century in Minnesota tells the story of how Henry Ford's pioneering company arrived in the state and built its giant plant in St. Paul in the 1920s, how its workers became involved in the international organized labor movement, and how a variety of forces led to the plant's closure. Combining political, economic, social, and architectural history, this richly detailed, handsomely illustrated book will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Larry Millett, author of Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury

The Ford Century in Minnesota

Contents
Introduction: The Ford Century
1. Model T for the Northwest Territories: Ford Arrives in Minnesota
2. Drawn to the River: Hydroelectric Power, Navigation, and a New Plant in St. Paul
3. “The Finest Plant in the World”: Building the Twin Cities Assembly Plant
4. From Model A to M-8: The Great Depression and World War II Years
5. Ascent of the Autoworkers: The Postwar Boom and Challenges
6. An Uncertain Industry: Slumping Sales, Labor Unrest, and the Ranger Pickup
7. The End of the Line: The Closure of the Twin Cities Assembly Plant
Epilogue: Moving On
Acknowledgments
Notes on Sources
Bibliography
Index

The Ford Century in Minnesota

Legacy logoThis publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.