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Model T presentation Thursday

Explores the 100th anniversary of the Ford plant in Kingsford

This is the new 1909 Model T Ford that Henry Ford and two assistants took from Detroit to Iron Mountain for a test drive, leaving on Sept. 23, 1908, and returning Oct. 2, 1908. The early years of the Ford Motor Company and the development of the Ford Plant south of Iron Mountain will be presented in a new PowerPoint presentation titled “Iron Mountain Ford Motor Company Plant, Kingsford, Michigan 1920-1951 — Part 1” at two programs at the Dickinson County Library in Iron Mountain on Thursday.

IRON MOUNTAIN — The year 2020 marks the centennial of the Ford Motor Company’s construction of its plant south of Iron Mountain.

In commemoration of this landmark event, Part 1 of a new PowerPoint program, “Iron Mountain Ford Motor Company Plant, Kingsford, Michigan 1920-1951,” will be presented by local historian Bill Cummings at 1 p.m. Thursday in the reading room of the Dickinson County Library in Iron Mountain during the Dickinson County Genealogical Society’s meeting and again at 6:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend either presentation.

This extensive PowerPoint, containing 385 slides with hundreds of photographs, will be presented in three segments in January, February and March.

Part 1 will deal with Henry Ford’s beginnings in the automobile industry in Detroit and Dearborn, his early connection with Iron Mountain and Dickinson County and the establishment and development of the Ford Motor Company Plant south of Iron Mountain in the 1920s.

An article in the May 30, 1907, edition of The Iron Mountain Press documents Henry Ford being in Iron Mountain visiting his aunt, Mrs. Thomas (Nancy Ford) Flaherty. Mrs. Flaherty and Henry’s father, William Ford, were siblings.

Henry Ford also was close to his cousin, Mary Frances “Minnie” Flaherty, who married Edward G. Kingsford on April 8, 1890. Kingsford signed a contract as the first sales agent for the Ford Motor Company in the Upper Peninsula on June 10, 1908, in Marquette. He was the first manager of the Iron Mountain plant, serving from Sept. 1, 1920, through April 3, 1933. Kingsford and Ford were fast friends throughout their lives.

Early in the 20th century, Iron Mountain played a little-known but significant role in the development of Model T Ford.

The manufacture of Ford’s new automobile — the Model T — began in the fall of 1908. On Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1908, Ford notified B.W. Scott, “one of his old racing men,” and Jim Nichols, “a tester,” they would accompany him on a road test of the new “machine,” leaving Detroit for Iron Mountain by way of Chicago at 9 a.m. that same day.

The trio arrived in Iron Mountain on Saturday, Sept. 26, and Ford spent much of the week with Edward G. Kingsford in the Witch Lake area hunting. On the return trip, they first traveled to Milwaukee, then took a boat to Grand Haven, Mich., and finally motored on to Detroit, arriving on Friday, Oct. 2, 1908.

The distance traveled in the new Model T was 1,357 miles, according to the speedometer. The car averaged 20 mpg of gas and 85 mpg of oil.

According to an article published in the Oct. 15, 1908, issue of “Ford Times” the automobile “behaved admirably, requiring not even a single adjustment in the entire 10 days.” The only obstacle was a punctured tire, despite traveling on roads “six inches deep in dust” on the way to Iron Mountain and enduring “wet and muddy” roads back to Detroit. Note the mud on the vehicle in the photograph above.

The Model T was introduced to the public on Thursday, Oct. 1, 1908, the day before Henry Ford returned to Detroit from the test drive to Iron Mountain. In a matter of days after its release, more than 15,000 orders were placed.

On May 25, 1927, Henry Ford made headlines around the world with the announcement he was discontinuing production of the Model T. The following day — May 26, 1927 — Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, drove the 15 millionth Model T Ford out of the Highland Park factory, marking the famous automobile’s last official day of production.

The Model T, sometimes referred to as the “Tin Lizzie,” “Leaping Lena” and the “Flivver,” is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to common middle-class Americans. Some of this was due to Ford’s efficient fabrication, including assembly-line production instead of individual handcrafting.

In 1999 in the Car of the Century competition, the Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century.

The Model T gave birth to the Iron Mountain Ford Motor Company Plant, established just south of the city on the Joseph Mongrain farm in mid-1920s, when production of wooden framework, floorboards and wheels for the popular vehicle began here. At that time, more than a million Model T Fords were being produced annually.

In June 1920, Henry Ford purchased the Michigan Land & Iron Company — consisting of a large tract in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the area of Lake Michigamme in Iron, Baraga and Marquette counties with a total acreage aggregating nearly 430,000 acres — in pursuit of self-sufficient automobile manufacturing. These timberlands were to provide the company with its own source of wood for manufacturing parts.

On Wednesday, July 7, 1920, The Daily Tribune-Gazette announced that Henry Ford, his son Edsel and Clarence W. Avery, general manager of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, were in Iron Mountain looking over a prospective site for the location of a factory to build bodies for Ford cars and also a site for a big sawmill.

The next day, the newspaper reported some Iron Mountain citizens, on behalf of the Ford Motor Company, had secured options on about 900 acres of land south of the city limits extending to the Menominee River. The average price for the optioned land was less than $100 per acre.

The Ford Motor Company announced its decision to establish a manufacturing plant south of Iron Mountain on July 16, 1920. The following day, workers began laying out the site.

In mid-August the Michigan Iron, Land & Lumber Company was organized by the Ford Motor Company for conducting the Iron Mountain sawmill and body plant, as well as the extensive Ford logging operations in the Upper Peninsula. Organized with a capital stock of $2 million, the officers were Henry Ford, president; Edward G. Kingsford, vice president and assistant treasurer; Edsel Ford, treasurer; and C.B. Longley, secretary.

The facility, always referred to as the Iron Mountain Ford Motor Company Plant, was in the Village of Kingsford, which was chartered Dec. 29, 1923, and named for Edward G. Kingsford.

The development and growth of the plant between 1920 and 1928 will comprise the remainder of Part 1.

Part 2, presented on Feb. 27, will focus on station wagon production and CG-4A glider production during World War II, including detailed information on conversion of the Ford Motor Company Plant for glider construction and the first Army-Navy “E” Award presented locally on June 21, 1944, just after D-Day.

On March 26, Part 3 will be shown with an emphasis on post-war station wagon production, charcoal production and the closing of the Iron Mountain Ford Motor Company Plant in Kingsford at the end of 1951.

Photographs illustrating these presentations come principally from the extensive collection of the Menominee Range Historical Museum, Cummings’ personal collection and other sources.

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