About 140,000 people have bought tickets to watch pickup trucks being assembled since the Ford Rouge Factory in Dearborn, Mich., opened to visitors in May.
It's the only automotive plant in America open for tours, but even so, I just didn't get it. Who cares how they're made as long as they start every morning?
The Ford Rouge Factory Tour includes a 360-degree multiscreen theater.
(The Henry Ford)
But the tour, it turns out, is more than bumpers and fenders. It's about America's history, and the industrial complex that changed the way the world does business.
The Rouge plant was once the largest in the world, a city unto itself, with 100,000 employees, its own hospital, railroad, fire station, police force, giant company store and shipping docks. People emigrated from around the world to line up for jobs with Henry Ford, who figured his business would boom if he paid his workers enough to buy his product. The middle class was mass produced here, along with the vehicles that opened the nation to travel -- and to suburbanization. Artists such as Diego Rivera, Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, Charles Sheeler and Michael Kenna came here to capture on film and canvas what they understood was a revolution.
This year's opening of the factory to tours came just as the nearby Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village completed a $200 million renovation. Greenfield Village, which re-creates 19th-century American life, is on the scale of Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg, but it includes the opportunity to tour in a Model T, a horse-drawn carriage, a steam-engine train or a paddlewheel boat. During the Christmas holidays, the village is decked out and filled with music and special performances.
The museum focuses on the creativity and technological genius of American industry, but it includes a diverse collection of Americana -- from the chair, still bloodstained, that Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when assassinated, to the bus that Rosa Parks was riding when her refusal to move rocked the country, and the world.
If you hurry and arrive before Dec. 6, you can see artist Sheeler's photographic documentation of the Ford Rouge Plant at a special exhibit mounted by the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The DIA is also the permanent home of a room-size mural by Rivera. Inspired by the plant and commissioned by Ford, the mural is considered the Mexican artist's best.
Seldom do industry, art and history come together in one neat package. Think of it as the Full Ford experience.
Henry Ford Museum
It's amazing the stuff you can buy when money is no object.
Ford, the world's first billionaire, collected whatever struck his fancy. He bought old machines and entire buildings of historic note. A great admirer of Thomas Edison, Ford asked Edison's son to capture the famed inventor's last breath in a test tube -- a test tube that is now among thousands of artifacts at the Henry Ford Museum.