Ford Motor Company hadn't yet celebrated its first anniversary by the time Henry Ford had decided to build his first factory. On April 1, 1904, approximately 10 months after the company was launched, the stockholders of Ford Motor Company authorized the purchase of 3.11 acres on Piquette Avenue for $23,500. The site encompassed an entire city block and was bounded by Beaubien Street on the east, Brush Street on the west, and Piquette Avenue on the south. On the north, the property abutted the Michigan Central Railroad.
The next day, the Board of Directors authorized John Dodge (a company board member) and Henry Ford to serve as a committee to obtain the necessary plans and specifications for a suitable building on the site. Stockholders, concerned about the financial condition of the young company, stipulated that the cost of construction was not to exceed $76,500. Planning for construction of the factory began immediately, with plans being drawn by the Detroit firm of Field, Hinchman & Smith.
Construction started at the Piquette site two months later. The New England mill style factory was approximately 402 feet long, 56 feet wide and three stories tall. The building's exterior envelope consisted of load-bearing brick masonry walls constructed of common brick and included a total of 355 windows. The interior framing consists of wood columns and beams. Floors are double decked and the finished floor is mostly maple. In addition to the main building, a powerhouse measuring 36 feet by 57 feet was built.
Having learned from the disastrous fire at the Olds Motor Works factory a few years earlier, Ford Motor Company's new factory was divided into four sections by three firewalls. Each section was equipped with fire escapes, and the entire factory was protected by an automatic sprinkler system that was fed by a 25,000-gallon water tank on the roof at the northwest end of the building.
The Company's Board of Directors was deeply involved in the construction of the new plant, even to the point of approving each of the contracts. At its May 9, 1904 meeting, the Board reviewed and approved the following:
Then, at its June 1st meeting, the Board approved still more contracts:
- The bid by Malow Brothers of $23,500 for all carpenter work on new plant
- The bid of Nut & Clark for $21,195 for all mason and stonework
- The bid of James H. Crumley of $2,035 for all plumbing work
- Helary, Schaefer & Son was awarded a contract for $340 for plastering offices in the new plant.
- Whitehead & Kales was awarded a contract of $3,656 for steel and iron work.
- The contract for sheet metal for the roof went to Voight & Texauer for $1,548.
- Carl Kilwinski did the painting and glazing for $2,100.
- Murphy Iron Works provided stokers for the boilers for $1,550.
Construction continued throughout the summer of 1904. At the August 22nd meeting, some of the directors expressed concerned about whether or not the timber used in the construction of the building was up to the architect's specifications. Experts were hired to inspect the timber and they reported to the board that the timber being used was actually better than the specifications called for.
- Gardner Elevator Company's bid of $2,160 for elevators was accepted.
- Two weeks later, General Fire Extinguisher Company's bid of $5,100 for the new sprinkler system was also accepted.
- Still later, in August, the Board awarded a contract to Irving and Waltheberer for the heating plant at a cost of $4,850.
The building was becoming a first class example of quality construction. The project was also beginning to run over budget. On October 10, 1904, the Ford stockholders found it necessary to ratify the spending of more money by the directors than originally authorized.
By the end of 1904, the new factory was finally finished and the company began moving in. The building offered a level of spaciousness sorely lacking at the first rented site on Mack Avenue. One employee expressed to Mr. Ford his doubts about the still-small company ever being able to fill all of the space!
Long and narrow buildings of this type were favored among businesses at the time because they afforded the maximum amount of daylight to the interior through the many large windows. Industrial electrical lighting was still in its infancy, and most factories still relied on daylight as their primary source of interior light. The windows also provided ventilation throughout the building.
The main entrance to the factory was on Piquette Avenue. The company's business offices were located on the first floor at the front. Those included the offices of James Couzens, the secretary and business manager. Sales and purchasing offices were also located here.
Interestingly, Henry Ford's offices were not among the business operations on the first floor, but on the second floor closer to the Experimental and Designing Departments.
Use of the remainder of the building was constantly changing as different models were produced and methods of production improved.
The first products assembled in the building were the Ford Model C, F and B. Initially behind the business offices on the first floor were shipping and receiving, testing and the assembly and finishing department. Model B chassis assembly and body trim took place on the second floor, while similar operations were completed on the third floor for Models C and F.
By 1906, Models B, C and F had been discontinued. In April of that year, chassis assembly, body trim and paint for the new, larger Model K was underway on the second floor. Then in July, Ford launched the significant Model N. The third floor was used for Model N chassis assembly and body trim, and subsequently for the derivative Model R, S and S Roadster as well.
In the late winter of 1908, plant retooling began for the launch of the Model T. Several months later, Model K was moved to another plant location and Models N, R and S were discontinued.
It was on September 27, 1908 that the first Model T emerged. Engine machining and assembly, along with axle assembly, took place on the ground floor. Other light machining and sub assembly were on the second floor. And the third floor was occupied with Model T chassis assembly.
Even before the production launch of the Model T, Henry Ford had his eye on a larger piece of property farther north. In early 1908, construction began on a new Ford factory located in Highland Park. Model T production continued at Piquette through the end of 1909 and was transferred to the new Highland Park plant in January 1910. Ford support offices remained at Piquette through 1910.
Ford sold the building to the Studebaker Corporation in January 1911. The company built an attached Albert Kahn designed parts storage and service building in 1920. Subsequent owners were the 3M Corporation, Cadillac Overall Company and Heritage Investments.
In April 2000, the building was acquired by the present owners, the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, or T-Plex for short.