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Two Crumbling Relics of the Arsenal of Democracy Could Find New Life

Remains of old Packard plant to serve as modular home factory, investors say.

by on Oct.29, 2013

The hulk of the old Packard plant. Photo courtesy: Frank Wulfers,

During World War II they both anchored the mighty military production base that came to be known as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” but today, the old Packard and Willow Run assembly plants are symbols of the decay of the Motor City and its once-formidable manufacturing base.

But both factories could gain a new life in the near future, one as a reminder of the region’s history, the other returning to its original purpose, albeit producing modular homes rather than automobiles. Meanwhile, a third plant that saw the birth of the moving assembly line in the years leading up to the first World War may also be salvaged.

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At their peak, factories in Detroit and its suburbs produced millions of cars annually. That manufacturing prowess was central to the U.S. military effort during both World Wars and during the 1940s earned the Motor City the alternate nickname as America’s Arsenal of Democracy. Many of the factories that rolled out bombers, tanks and other war machinery are already long gone and of the few that remain, most are in fading condition.


It Anchored the Arsenal of Democracy but old GM Plant Soon to Come Down

Former B-24 plant, ironically, to fall for new aviation museum.

by on Apr.26, 2013

B24s under production at the old Willow Run plant.

Editor’s Note: Most of Detroit’s historic assembly plants have vanished over the years, and the one-time General Motors plant in Willow Run, Michigan, is apparently next to meet the wrecking ball. If the factory simply turned out cars for a few decades it likely wouldn’t have been missed. But as columnist and historian Mike Davis points out, the old factory was one of America’s most important during World War II.

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It was a firing pin in the “Arsenal of Democracy,” at its World War II peak in April 1944 rolling out a new four-engine B-24 heavy bomber roughly once an hour. In contrast to the aviation industry, which then bench-built airplanes one at a time, Willow Run employed automotive-type mass-production assembly lines.

To help fulfill President Roosevelt’s vow that America would build 50,000 airplanes a year to counter the Nazi threat, Ford Motor Company had agreed early in 1941 to use its mass-production mastery for plant construction and then assembly of Consolidated Aircraft’s giant bomber.