Worden-Allen Ford Plant
You may not know it by riding down Bruiting Ave, or going for a walk down Balsam street in the small town of Kingsford Michigan. But in between those two roads, bloomed one of the prime examples of American production during the second world war. The ford plant that use to exist there was built in 1922, by the Worden-Allen company. This plant would later become Americas largest manufacture of glider aircraft, during world war two. Producing more for less than any of the other sixteen companies combined. In its size and its capability, the Worden-Allen Ford plant exemplified the industrial heart of America in the 1940s
The original factory had a floor space of 360×120 feet, and according to the Duluth News- Tribune “employed 2,500 men,” while in the first year of production. The factory didn’t stay this size for long however. Due to the rich timber resources of the upper peninsula the plant expanded numerous times. There would be a total of three plant expansions, in the form of new buildings starting in 1922. They ranged in size from 360×120 (ft) in the first plant, 460×120(ft) in the second, and 640×120(ft) in the third. These new facilities added still more room, in May, 1922, and in April, 1923, in order to make all three buildings uniform in size 640×120 (ft). At the end of these renovations, the factory was a continuous machine, housing all the wood and kilns in a closed facility.
Inside the factory there were 56 kilns, six of which were not operational till 1924. The kilns all measured 220(ft) long and were 20(ft) wide (W.Cummings,2). These dried the pre- sawed logs from the saw mill located across the street. The saw mill is shown in a propaganda video during world war two. Workers are shown cutting lumber for the CG-4A’s, as well as parts of the interior of the Ford factory. The drying process and heating of the kilns used a great deal of power. Power to the facility was provided by a nearby hydroelectric dam, also built by Ford and two furnaces located in the plant. These furnaces ran off of waste in the form of wood, or oil. They stood 160 (ft) tall and had a diameter of 14 feet. These two furnaces powered four boilers that had 12,000 combined horsepower used to power the facility till its closure in 1951. All three of the plants operated as body plants originally, and would change to making specific parts, doors, paneling, etc., multiple times up until world war two.
It’s important to note that not all the men employed by the ford company worked directly in the factory, some worked in camps, and others cutting lumber. Plywood and spruce were the main materials used in the construction of the CG-4A gliders (HASF,1943). To meet these needs large plots of land in the surrounding area were bought; 40,000 acres to be exact. From this swath of land, still owned by ford, an estimated 1 million square feet of wood was used in production every year. -(Sault Saint Marie, evening news). Harvesting wood wasn’t the only use for this land, some of it became the heart of what is now Kingsford.
Housing went up in 1924, selling company houses for 3,500$ to 5,500$. These houses were built close together and a few are still standing on Woodward Ave. Originally there was 24 houses per block, most houses having five rooms and being modest in size. All the water facilities were owned and built by ford as well. A water treatment plant still operates to this day owned by ford. The cities growth and prosperity can be attributed to the ford company. This quote by the Ironwood Daily Globe puts the companies influence into perspective, “A man arrived here today from Houghton and he stated he was told it would be easy to obtain employment at the Ford property here. He also said he was informed that applicants for jobs were lined up at the property, somewhat along the manner of a “bread Line,” and that he would probably have to wait two or three hours for his turn. He stated he was told that the streets of the city were so crowded it was hard to get by.” –Aug,9,1920. The Ford Motor plant would go on to employ a great percentage of the populous in Kingsford, this number would reach its peak during the war.
From December of 1942-1945 This Kingsford plant shifted its production from the making of wooden sided station wagons, into producing cargo gliders for the war effort. A total of 4,190 gliders would be built during this time period. The first contract however, was for 1000 CG-4A gliders, contracted in June 1942. At first, the factory could only produce 2-3 gliders every shift. Running two shifts, this accounted for about 6 at maximum per day. This wouldn’t last however, and the factory soon ran 24/7, producing 8 gliders a day. This increased the number of people employed by almost two fold, bringing the total number to 4,500 employees working at the plant. Shifts were broken up into specialized sections. The morning and night shifts made the majority of the gliders, leaving checks and final assembly to the afternoon shift. The afternoon shifts also preformed inspections, and packaged the gliders for shipping. This happened via road cars on rail road or from Ford Airport. In order to facilitate transport of the gliders, in an efficient fashion workers cut a path, that was 120 feet in diameter, all the way to Ford Airport.
The price Ford Motor company charged the U.S. government for each of the CG-4A gliders was 14,891$ and this was much less expensive than what other companies had to offer. There were fifteen other plants around the country. The most competitive five are listed here: Waco- $19,367, Robertson-$39,027, Babcock Aircraft – $50,906, Ward Furniture Company – $379,457, National Aircraft- t $1,741,809.33. You’ll note there are only five companies here, that because nine companies failed to deliver on their contracts, and two delivered late and poor quality products. The next best company to ford was Robertson Aircraft who produced 147 gliders. It is safe to say had ford not produced the bulk of the gliders, they would not have been used in the war effort.
The main contribution to the difference in price was the plants ability to ship to a variety of areas, directly from the plant. The road directly to Ford airport helped with this, as to did the proximity to rail road lines. Fords honesty and use of materials saved the U.S. government a lot of money, this made the company an asset during the war. Several companies like National Aircraft misused government funds, and overcharged by so much they almost lost funding. Under Secretary of War Robert W. Patterson only kept these programs running, because it would be more costly to end them. Several mishaps and scandals resulted after this decision, you can read more here. Companies were not the only ones to blame for poor quality products. The U.S. had mandated unrealistic production times and delivery dates. This forced some companies to produce products that were inferior to what their needs mandated. Standardized tooling was a major problem for larger gliders, because the bulk of them were provided by two different companies often with faulty parts and in need of repair. This issue was avoided in the case of the CG-4A’s, because ford made the overwhelming majority of them.
The gliders background and use
The U.S. at the start of the second world war was unfamiliar to the concept of gliders, preferring to send men in via parachute. Military generals and tacticians inside the U.S. did not see them as useful until 1941, when they began assigning contracts. The Germans however began to use of them as early as 1930. Gliders were useful because they could land supplies and men in landing zones smaller than that needed for conventional aircraft, as well as not needing to capture or build a runway. While there are tactical uses for gliders, this was not why the Germans developed them. The Treaty of Versailles limited use of motorized airplanes by Germany and therefore created a nitch for glider development. (Bednarek,40) When the U.S. got behind the idea of the glider they never developed doctrine for it. Making it difficult to predict how many and when they would be needed.
The glider would be a valuable tool during the war. The CG-4A gliders from the Worden-Allen Ford Plant were used in nine major landings. These were: The British mission to Norway, (November, 1942), Invasion of Sicily (July, 1943), China-Burma-India Operations (February, 1944), Invasion of Normandy (June, 1944), Invasion of Southern France (August, 1944), Holland Operation (September, 1944), Bastogne (December, 1944), Rhine River (March, 1945), and Luzon, Philippines (June, 1945). Each glider held 13 men, including a pilot and co-pilot. Equipment that could be transported varied considerably. Gliders could carry a ¼-ton jeep, a 37mm AT gun, a 75mm Howitzer, photographic lab, a weather station, radar equipment, a field kitchen, a repair shop, radio equipment, and up to six litters for evacuation of wounded personnel. The weight of the aircraft was 7,500 pounds, and only required 600-800 feet to land safely (Menominee Range Historical Foundation, 2016). Landing would prove difficult for several reasons. Gliders were unable to maneuver as easily as conventional aircraft, especially those carrying equipment. Also there was no armor on the gliders, this made them susceptible to small arms fire as well as any other type of fire. Those that did manage to land however, provided and excellent service to the U.S. military.
The Worden-Allen Ford Plant aided in the development of the Iron mountain, Kingsford area. The company’s contribution to the landscape and the economy of the area was massive while it was in operation from 1922-1952. The Ford plants ability to change production from wood paneling and doors, to the production of the CG-4A glider allowed the area to grow further, providing for almost 5000 workers. The low price of the aircraft, the ability to ship to anywhere, and the short production time, made the Worden-Allen Ford Plant an asset to the war effort. By providing safe and inexpensive gliders, the ford plant of Kingsford Michigan, helped the U.S. overcome its numerous failed contracts with other company’s nationwide. The gliders cargo versatility allowed it to be used in field in nine major landings. The most famous being D-day. Without the CG-4A, and without the organization and production of the Worden-Allen Ford plant the U.S.’s tactics in the field would have been severely handicapped. The success of the gliders was the success of the working man in Kingsford Michigan, driving the American war machine, though hard work.
- Source 1. (Secondary) Mining Museum (2016). “Waco CG-4A Glider,” United States.
- Source 2. (Primary) Ironwood Daily Globe (1920). “Not Booming Yet,” United States
- Source 3.(Secondary) WACO CG-4A GLIDER INFORMATION. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2016.
- Source 4. (Primary) Duluth News-Tribune (1920) “Ford To Employ Men In Iron Mountain,” United States.
- Source 5. (Secondary) Bednarek, J. R. D. (1996). The american combat glider program, 1941-1947: “damned fool idea”. Air Power History, 43(4), 38-49.
- Source 6. (Primary) Buyout Footage Historic HD Film Archive “HD Historic Archival Stock Footage WWII – New Gliders for Troop Transport 1943” Published on Mar 3, 2014, Nov,18,2016.