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FORD'S PIQUETTE PLANT, BIRTHPLACE OF MODEL T, WELCOMES VISITORS DURING CENTENNIAL RESTORATION
DEARBORN, Mich., July 15, 2008 - While much has been written about Ford Motor Company's famed Rouge and Highland Park plants, the actual birthplace of the Model T is often overlooked.
Yet the three-story brick building still stands on the quiet corner of Piquette and Beaubien streets, in Detroit's New Center neighborhood, looking almost exactly like it did when the first Model T was built there in 1908.
Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers, historians and car buffs, the Piquette Plant building, now known as the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex (dubbed the "T-Plex" for short), is being restored and is open to the public.
As part of the festivities celebrating the 100th birthday of the Model T, coats of paint and years of grime are being carefully removed from the building's exterior before a large historic marker and period-correct signage is installed.
The building and its home club of Model T aficionados, the Piquette Ts, are also hosting several events in September as part of the vehicle's centennial celebration. The events include several Model T motorcades to historic sites in southeastern Michigan.
A tour of the T-Plex, which is being restored, offers both car and history buffs a chance to see where Henry Ford created the Model T and where he and his employees built the first 12,000 cars that helped put America on wheels.
One of the museum's directors, Michael Skinner, said the building is also significant because it was where Ford first experimented with the idea of the moving assembly line - by using a rope to pull a car frame on wheels past workers who attached parts, instead of having workers move from car to car to do their work.
Designed in the style of New England mill factory, the Piquette Plant is a narrow building, 402 feet long and 56 feet wide, punctuated with 355 windows for light and ventilation. Inside, the building is framed with thick wood columns and beams, and its floors are mostly maple. Thick firewalls and heavy sliding steel doors divide the space into sections.
The 67,000-square-foot plant offered so much space over Ford's original facility on Mack Ave. that one employee said he doubted the company could ever use it all.
The company's business offices were on the first floor in front and Ford kept his small office on the southwest corner of the second floor - next to a vault that held company's records.
Today, Ford's office space is marked off on the floor, and an exact replica of his wooden desk and wastebasket define the space. Using dimensions taken from photographs, the desk and wastebasket were hand-crafted and donated by a retired businessman and woodworker whose grandfather was in charge of Manufacturing at the plant.
In the opposite corner of the building, on the third floor, was Ford's favorite place in the building, the Experimental Room. Here, in a small corner of the building, the Model T was developed in 1907 and 1908.
Throughout the Piquette Plant, displays and informational panels showcase the models built there and tell the story of the building and those who worked there, six days a week and ten hours a day.
One display shows five Model Ts in various stages of assembly, illustrating how cars were put together on stands by workers moving from vehicle to vehicle before the assembly line was developed. Competitive cars of the era also are shown so visitors can more easily compare them to the museum's Model Ts. A small gift shop also sells Model T memorabilia and related items.
Ford had the plant built in 1904. The first Fords to come out of Piquette were the Models B, C and F and the larger Model K, which began production in 1906. They were followed by the Model N, the Model R, S and the S roadster.
Through it all, Ford kept thinking about making a sturdy, low-cost automobile, something that the common man could afford. What he figured would work, he said, was "a high-grade car at half the other man's price."
Even before the first Model T rolled out of the plant in 1908, Ford banked on his idea being a success. And if it was, Piquette would be too small to produce cars in the volume that Ford foresaw.
That year, construction began on the sprawling Highland Park plant located two-and-half miles north, along Woodward Ave., where Model T production began in earnest in January, 1910.
A year later, Ford sold Piquette to the Studebaker Corp., which added buildings to the site. After Studebaker, the building was used by the 3M Corporation and the Cadillac Overall Company.
Threatened with demolition in the late 1990s, it was purchased in 2000 and is now the only well-preserved, automobile factory in Detroit that dates to the earliest years of the industry.
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Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles in 200 markets across six continents. With about 228,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company's core and affiliated automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.