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.
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.