We’ve Saved a Piece of History – Let’s Finish the Job!

A portion of Rosie the Riveter’s Willow Run Factory, located just east of Ypsilanti, Michigan, has been preserved as an exciting new home for the Yankee Air Museum. Now, we are beginning the next phase of the Campaign, to raise the funds necessary to fill our big, empty historic box with exciting exhibits and programs! So we can tell the story of Rosie and the Arsenal of Democracy production miracle that helped America and her Allies win WWII, as well as share the excitement of aviation and technology with future generations.

This is the plant where more than 40,000 workers from across America came together to build more than 8,600 B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft.

Plus, Willow Run was more than that…it played an enormous role in changing our society:

  • FROM SOUTH TO NORTH, COUNTRY TO CITY  People moved in great numbers to southeastern Michigan from the South and from more rural areas to work at Willow Run, accelerating growth and development throughout the region, and sparking a demographic trend that continues to this day.
  • THE CHANGING FACE OF LABOR  Women, minorities and other groups that had largely been excluded from America’s best manufacturing jobs entered the industrial workforce through Willow Run and changed the composition of that workforce forever.
  • THE BIRTHPLACE OF MODERN MANUFACTURING  Willow Run also changed how we produce things, taking American manufacturing beyond the assembly line to embrace new ways of organizing production and managing inventory that we now call “just in time” manufacturing.

The Arsenal of Democracy

Willow Run Bomber Plant B-24 Assembly Line

B-24 Liberator bombers rolling down the assembly line at Willow Run in 1942.

No matter how you look at it, the Willow Run story is a pivotal chapter in American history, as shown in this video, an excerpt from a wartime documentary commissioned by The Ford Motor Company. The Willow Run story is about an amazing place and people that helped win a world war, set the stage for equality and social change, and dramatically accelerated the development of southeastern Michigan, making it an area known the world over as “The Arsenal of Democracy.”

In 1941, both the US government and established aircraft manufacturers believed it impossible to build aircraft on an assembly line, and initially hoped The Ford Motor Company would help the war effort by handcrafting one airplane per day. Ford’s chief manufacturing engineer, Charles Sorensen, believed assembly line production of airplanes was possible, and sketched a plan overnight in his California hotel room. That plan became Willow Run, which included an major airport, a 5 million sq. ft. manufacturing plant designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, and a village for the workers, all rising from scratch on former farm fields in less than a year. Aircraft production began in 1941, and at its peak during the war years, Willow Run produced B-24 Liberator bombers at the astounding rate of one airplane every hour!

War production at Willow Run also changed the local landscape. The Detroit Industrial Expressway, known to most of us as I-94, was opened in 1942 to connect the new complex at Willow Run to Detroit. Willow Village was built adjacent to the plant, with hastily erected housing and infrastructure for 15,000 of the plant’s workers, a population greater than that of Ypsilanti’s at the time.

We Owe a Lot to Rosie the Riveter

Female Worker at Willow Run

“Rosie the Riveter,” “Acetylene Annie,” and friends took over highly-paid jobs formerly reserved for men, and performed admirably.

In addition to manufacturing history, the Willow Run plant was the harbinger of great social change.

As war production ramped up at the plant, Americans from the South migrated north in droves, attracted by the high-paying jobs at the plant. As more and more men were drafted into combat, women were called on to perform jobs formerly reserved for men. These pioneering women in manufacturing were known collectively as “Rosie the Riveter,” and celebrated for their patriotism. And in the race to win World War II, minority groups that were previously excluded from these coveted jobs were now welcomed.

The barriers broken down by wartime manufacturing plants like Willow Run laid the groundwork for the civil rights and women’s movements of the following decades, and the sweeping social changes that we benefit from today.

Let’s Make Sure the Story Doesn’t End Here!

Preserving a Portion of the Willow Run Plant as New Home of Yankee Air Museum

A portion of the eastern end of the Willow Run Plant would be preserved, and along with part of Willow Run Airport’s Hangar Building, become the new home of the Yankee Air Museum.

At the same time, however, this is a story that could be approaching its final chapter. The former Bomber Plant is a 5,000,000 square foot, 70+ year-old factory for which there is little likelihood of finding a buyer that will keep it standing.

In response, the Save the Bomber Plant campaign has been created to preserve a critical portion of the plant, and then use it to tell the amazing story of Willow Run to future generations as well as provide an exciting new permanent home for the Yankee Air Museum and its historic flyable WWII-era aircraft.

But, to do that, the Michigan Aerospace Foundation must secure $5 million in additional funding to reach a total of $8 million by August 1, 2013 October 1, 2013. With those funds, we can preserve a portion of the eastern end of the historic Plant, where the B-24 Liberator bombers were completed and exited the plant to make their maiden flights over southeast Michigan.

Time is short, our fundraising goal ambitious, and the stakes high. If we fail, our part of the plant will share the fate of the rest of the building and a valuable piece of our history could be lost in its entirety. But…

Just as the Willow Run workers helped win World War II…
together, we can do it!

Do your part. Click on the big, red “Donate” button, and give generously…. and please tweet, post and share to spread the word!

Thank you!
The Michigan Aerospace Foundation
The Yankee Air Museum
Campaign Co-chairmen Astronaut Jack Lousma and former GM Executive Bob Lutz