The Power of Willow Run
Henry Ford II was referring to the Willow Run plant which was commissioned during World War II to produce B-24 Liberator bombers. The plant famously churned out planes at an astonishing rate (for the time) of one per hour.
According to History.com, “Construction on the Willow Run Bomber Plant began that spring [of ’41] and it soon became the largest factory under one roof in the world. Its goal was to apply auto-making mass-production principles to 300-plus mph, 56,000-pound (when fully loaded) bombers. The Washington Post called Willow Run “the greatest single manufacturing plant the world had ever seen,” while The Wall Street Journal called it “the production miracle of the war.””
The COVID-19 Era
It wouldn’t be the last time Ford was called upon to turn its manufacturing prowess towards the war effort. Today, we’re fighting a new type of war. And this time the enemy is an invisible one. An enemy that is testing our will, patience, and resources. Most critically, as the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise, we are quickly running short of ventilators.
As the New England Journal of Medicine points out, “There is a broad range of estimates of the number of ventilators we will need to care for U.S. patients with Covid-19, from several hundred thousand to as many as a million.”
Ford Ramps Up Production
That’s where Ford comes in. In late March, Ford issued a press release saying, “Ford Motor Company, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, announced today it will begin producing in Michigan a third-party ventilator with the goal to produce 50,000 of the vitally needed units within 100 days and up to 30,000 a month thereafter as needed.”
So Ford’s output will help meet some of the demand, but likely not all. That’s where others like GM and Tesla are also doing their part to contribute.
Ford’s Medical Efforts Throughout History
Throughout history, Ford has stepped up to create medical devices in its factories. Seventy-five years ago, when premature births were a common cause of death, incubators were a crucial, but expensive, component to a premature baby’s health.
According to Time, “Ford … charged the designers at the company’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich., with turning the rough drafts into a working machine. The designers responded, and by June of that year had produced a portable incubator—humidified and oxygenated, with warmth provided by a simple electrical bulb—that could be sold for just $75.”
The second time Ford relied on its ingenuity in the name of public health was just seven years later when polio was ravaging children ages 7 to 12.
Again from Time, “Iron lungs were in short supply then, just as ventilators are now… So once again the River Rouge plant ramped up, and this time turned out iron lungs in the size for which the need was most acute. Despite its name, the iron lung was made more of plastic and rubber, which Ford had in abundant supply for use in its cars.”
Whether it’s bombers, incubators, or iron lungs, Ford has a long history of retooling its factories to serve the United States and its citizens. This time ventilators are the urgent necessity and Ford is once again answering the call.