LIFE AT THE ROUGE
It has been asserted that machine production kills the creative ability of the craftsman. This is not true.
- Henry Ford, My Philosophy of Industry, 1929
In 1927 Detroit was a boomtown, a city of almost two million restless souls, the fourth largest in the nation. Here was the vital heart of America's greatest industry, a city whose identification with automobile production made it synonymous with speed, innovation, skill, and power. Nothing symbolized the city's new spirit more than the great Ford factories, where Reuther hoped to land a job. The young toolmaker from Wheeling had probably never read Vanity Fair, but this chic New York magazine captured something of the awe in which Americans held the Motor City when it put Charles Sheeler's striking photographs of the newly completed Ford River Rouge complex on its February 1928 cover. The magazine proclaimed River Rouge "the most significant public monument in America, throwing its shadow across the land probably more widely and more intimately than the United States Senate, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty.... In a landscape where size, quantity and speed are the cardinal virtues, it is natural that the largest factory turning out the most cars in the least time should come to have the quality of America's Mecca, toward which the pious journey for prayer." 1
Detroit's production lines sucked in a "suitcase brigade" of displaced European peasants, underpaid farmhands, and unemployed coal miners. In 1927 Detroit factories employed 325,000 working men and women; the opportunities offered by