Western Trips

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Historic Richmond California Ford Plant

History buffs of World War Two military production will enjoy a fun visit to the old Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Richmond California. Richmond is just northeast across the bay from San Francisco. This old Ford factory has been excellently preserved at the Point Richmond. This Ford plant, designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn, produced some 49,000 jeeps and 91,000 additional military vehicles to aid America's war effort. Albert Kahn was noted for his "daylight factory" design which meant many windows. The factory measured 500,000 square feet. The building of the Ford plant in Richmond was part of the 1930's plan for having assembly plants spread throughout the country. While architects like Albert Kahn designed the outer look of the plant, Ford Motor Company's internal production designers planned the layout of the assembly equipment.

ford motor company richmond california
Old Ford Motor Richmond CA plant
When the plant was built in 1930, the plan was to produce about 400 vehicles in an eight hour work shift. Total employment at the assembly plant was planned for 2,600. Ford Motor Company, as a rule, always insisted that their building contractors have an open shop where union and non-union workers would be hired.

During the 1930's, the Ford Richmond plant was the third largest employer in the area. The first two were the Standard Oil Company and the Santa Fe Railroad. The Kaiser Shipyards hit peak employment during the war years. 

 Ford Richmond Plant During World War II

During World War Two, the entire area of Port Richmond was a production zone. The Kaiser Shipyards were located there along with the Ford Motor facility. This was one of the shipyards that turned out the famous "Liberty Ships" that at first, due to a contest among various shipyards, were built in an astonishing five days due to prefabrication of components. Still, when the ships were constructed by conventional means, they could be built in about two weeks. That also is amazingly fast. This kind of production as well as that going on at the Ford factory caused the population of Richmond California to explode during the war years. The Kaiser Shipyard number 2 at Richmond was considered the busiest of all the shipyards producing 747 ships. The Rosie the Riveter images seen during the war commemorated the women dressed in overalls and using industrial tools to help America's war effort. This poster was widely publicized in newspapers and magazines during the early 1940's. During the peak of war production, women accounted for 27 percent of the total Kaiser Shipyard workforce of 93,000.

ford motor company war plant
Richmond CA Ford war plant
As far as automakers were concerned, during World War Two, President Roosevelt banned the production of civilian vehicles. The Ford Richmond factory switched over to producing military jeeps and finishing tanks built elsewhere. The plant even picked up the nickname as the "Richmond Tank Depot".

Ford did a lot of work putting armor on the tanks and other vehicles destined for the Pacific War Theater. Many say that the combination of private and federal cooperation as evidenced at Point Richmond during the war were the beginnings of what would eventually be called the Cold War Military-Industrial Complex. During the war, the government and private industry, at least with heavy manufacturing, seemingly worked as one entity.

When the war ended, the effect on the local economy of Richmond was quite serious. This was started with the closure of the Kaiser Shipyard and was further aggravated when the Ford plant eventually closed down. While the Ford Richmond plant continued on with civilian auto production after the war to make up for the pent up demand for cars, the last Ford car built at this plant was in 1953 and the Ford plant closed for good in 1956. Assembly was ultimately sent to the plant which is now the San Jose Ford Assembly factory. Today, this historic landmark is part of the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park.

rosie the riveter poster in richmond ford plant
Rosie the Riveter poster in old Ford factory
The preservation of these historic sites in Richmond is a great victory for historic preservationists. Richmond California war production was so large that it was the natural location for a park commemorating this wartime work. While the park is owned by the City of Richmond, the park is administered by the National Park Service.

Next to the old Ford plant is the Park Museum which is probably one of the finest pertaining to west coast war production. The exhibits there are really one of a kind. Just about every facet of the work done at this location and the people involved in it is presented at the park museum.

Historic Ships

Another very interesting attraction at Point Richmond is the SS Red Oak Victory Ship. Here you can tour the entire ship including the bridge and see more historic artifacts and photos. The SS Red Oak Victory Ship was built right there at the Kaiser Shipyards and saw service as late as the Vietnam War. Between the Ford Plant exhibit , the museum and the Victory Ship, visiting the park makes a great family outing.

Two additional articles with photos on Western Trips you'll find interesting are the USS Pampanito World War Two submarine on permanent display at San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf and the SS Red Oak Victory Ship on permanent display at Point Richmond California.

rosie the riveter richmond california park museum
Rosie the Riveter Park Museum
Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park came into being on May 26, 2012 with it's grand opening. The goal of this new historic park, whose idea actually began back in 1998, is to honor the efforts and sacrifices of the American civilians who worked on the home front.

Many interesting personal stories and perspectives are showcased and I think any visitor will find these particularly interesting. The museum will surprise you as to the authentic exhibits displayed. When visiting or vacationing in the San Francisco Bay Area, the park is easy to reach from either side of the bay via Interstate 580 which connects Richmond to San Rafael. The park Visitor Center is located at 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000. Richmond, CA.  

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)