YPSILANTI, Mich. - On Feb. 1, 1942, civilian car production came to a halt as the company poured all its resources into the U.S. war effort.
Ford’s war effort called for a 100 percent conversion from automobile manufacturing to military production.
Most dramatic of the automotive company’s contributions during this time was the Willow Run bomber plant near Ypsilanti, Mich. Sprawled over hundreds of acres, the mammoth plant maintained spectacular bomber production schedules, drawing on techniques for mass producing aircraft developed years earlier at the Ford Airport in Dearborn.
In 1944, Ford was building 48.5 percent of all B-24s produced. By 1945, the figure increased to 80 percent. Mass production on this scale – assembly of more than a million plane parts held together by hundreds of thousands of rivets done at stations extending 3,000 feet – had never been attempted. By the end of the war, the plant was turning out 540 of the four-engine planes a month, meaning a plane was assembled every 59.34 minutes.
Overall, the giant wartime program produced 8,685 B-24 Liberator bombers, 57,851 aircraft engines and 277,896 jeeps, as well as tanks, tank destroyers, tank engines and other pieces of war machinery, all in less than three years.
Also during these war years, Ford’s Dagenham plant produced military trucks and Bren-gun carriers for shipment to the Allied effort in North Africa. British Ford workers built more than 30,000 super-charged V12 engines for Mosquito and Lancaster bombers, helping England’s Royal Air Force defend British skies against air attacks.
Dubbed “The Arsenal of Democracy,” Ford’s global production system helped keep Allied troops armed and moving for the duration of WWII.