Friday 28th March 1941
Construction of Ford’s Willow Run Plant, near Ypsilanti, Michigan, began. Due both to his admiration of the German people and his philosophical alignment as a pacifist, Henry Ford was reluctant to convert all of his production facilities to war manufacturing. But with the U.S. declaration of war in 1941, Ford had no choice but to participate. By the end of 1942, Willow Run had only produced 56 B-24 bombers, and the plant had been saddled with the nickname “Willit Run?” The government considered taking over the operations at Willow Run. Just when it seemed that Sorensen’s project would fail, Willow Run began rolling out B-24’s at a remarkable rate. The plant produced 190 bombers in June of 1943, 365 in December. By the middle of 1944, Willow Run churned out a plane every 63 minutes. “Willow Run looked like a city with a roof on it,” remembered Esther Earthlene, one of the many women who worked there during the war. Willow Run was the largest factory of its day. Its workers built planes around the clock, rotating three eight-hour shifts. They were provided with housing and entertainment. Willow Run had a 24-hour movie theater. By the end of the war, Willow Run had produced more than 8,500 bombers, and had become a symbol of the American economy’s successful response to war. Ford built the factory and sold it to the government, then leased it back for the duration of the war. When Ford declined to purchase the facility after the war, Kaiser-Frazer Corporation gained ownership, and in 1953 Ford’s rival General Motors took ownership and operated the factory as Willow Run Transmission until 2010. Willow Run Assembly operated from 1959 to 1992 on a parcel to the south of the airport. The Fisher Body division also operated at Willow Run Assembly until its operations were assumed by the GM Assembly Division in the 1970s. In 2009 General Motors announced that it would shut down all operations at the GM Powertrain plant and engineering center in the coming year. Since the 2010 closure of Willow Run Transmission, the factory complex has been managed by the RACER Trust, which controls the properties of the former General Motors. In 2011 A.E. Equities Group Holdings offered to buy the former Powertrain plant from the RACER Trust. In April 2013 a redevelopment manager for the RACER Trust confirmed that, whether or not the Yankee Air Museum relocates to the original bomber plant at a future date, unused portions of the powertrain plant would likely be razed as a step toward redeveloping the property.