TBT: Ford’s Longest-Serving Employee in 1953 Joined the Company Before the Model T

Oct 19, 2023

Ford’s Research and Engineering Center, now known as the Product Development Center, marks its 70th anniversary this year. Today, we’re looking back on the campus’ opening, which came in 1953, during the company’s semicentennial, and Ford’s two longest-serving employees who were honored.

The Dearborn campus centralized Ford’s research and engineering operations in the years following World War II. Previously, thousands of engineers, scientists, designers and other personnel had been scattered throughout the company’s existing buildings. Construction of the 760-acre complex included the creation of 19 buildings – 13 of which were brand new – for the development, design and styling of Ford’s products.

As the company reached its 50th anniversary, it honored two employees who had been there nearly since the beginning. Ernest Grimshaw, the longest-serving male employee, and Blanche Furlong, the company’s longest-serving female employee, were honored at the center’s dedication ceremony in May 1953. Furlong was hired into the Stenographic Department at the Highland Park plant in 1912.

Grimshaw, a lifelong Detroiter, was hired in 1906, shortly after his 17th birthday, as an office assistant in the Piquette Plant. Henry Ford was serving as vice president and chief engineer of the young company, which had just 200 employees at the time, and the Model N was the company’s latest vehicle – the Model T was still two years from introduction. Grimshaw later recounted to the Rouge News a story of a young Edsel Ford visiting the office to help fold envelopes and lick stamps. 

The Rouge News announced Grimshaw’s and Furlong’s honor alongside a photo of the then-new Styling Building, which is now known as the Product Development Center. Click to Enlarge

Four years after his hiring, Grimshaw transferred to the Highland Park plant, where he worked in engine assembly before he began training for tool and die work in 1911. He moved to the Rouge in 1928, where he worked as a die maker in the Tool and Die Department. Grimshaw, the company’s first employee to mark 50 years with Ford, was sent a congratulatory message from Henry Ford II, who was traveling in Europe at the time.

“I stayed at Ford because it is a good place to work,” Grimshaw told the Rouge News in 1953. “I enjoy my work and feel that I have always received fine treatment from the company. When you see the large number of people who have worked for Ford for 35 years and more, I think that speaks for itself.”

By the time of Grimshaw’s retirement in 1956, Ford counted some 1,200 employees among those with 40 or more years with the company. Furlong had retired in 1954 as an administrative department supervisor for the Ford Division after a 42-year career with the company. She was also honored for her service that year by the Ford Motor Girls’ Club.

In the years following both Grimshaw’s and Furlong’s retirements, all of the many buildings in the Research and Engineering Center were completed, giving Ford the industry’s largest integrated facility of its kind.

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