Ford Motor Company Edgewater Assembly Plant, 309 River Road, Edgewater, Bergen County, NJ
Significance: This complex is an excellent example of Albert Kahn's achievement in industrial architecture, standing midway between the early multi-story plants built in Detroit for Ford and Dodge, and the late 1930's - early 1940's broad assembly plants at Willow Run, Michigan, and Baltimore, Maryland, for Ford and Glenn L. Martin. This plant is a landmark in the industrial development of the west bank of the Hudson River and represents a change in the production policies of the Ford Motor Company from industrial concentration in Detroit to decentralization on the East Coast.
Survey number: HAER NJ-53
Building/structure dates: 1931 Initial Construction
Starting in the 1630's, Dutch New Amsterdam settlers tried to set their new home base across the Hudson river. Despite conflict with the native Indian Lenapes tribe, in 1660, a new town known as Bergen was settled atop the Palisade Hill . Soon, farms, religious congregations, and the self-governed communities spread throughout the region. The quiet and rural nature of Bergen survived the American Revolution, but, in 1804, a group of New Yorker investors purchased land along the waterfront for a new development which they called the Town of Jersey. Robert Fulton, an entrepreneur, soon built a dry dock and in 1812 began to run his steamboats and ferries to and from Manhattan to Newark and Philadelphia, sealing area's future as a major transportation hub, connecting the mainland United States with New York and Long Island. Access to the Pennsylvania's coal mines attracted industry which, in turn, required population growth. In the 1880's, Irish and German immigrants, fleeing their homelands, gave the area another boost. It was a melting pot of nationalities and ethnic tensions battlefield. Expansion of the railroads along the waterfront, growing industrialization and a steady supply of workers continued through the Civil War. The area boomed with rail terminals, barges, lighters, and ferries which crossed the river and New York Bay, carrying coal, food, manufactured goods and passengers throughout the Greater New York area. American Can, Emerson Radio, Lorillard tobaccos, Colgate soaps, and toothpaste, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils - are just a few brand names tat were born here. In the years following World War II, the cities declined, following the collapse of the independent railroad lines and death of the factories. In 1980s the now empty west bank of the Hudson, once crowded with railroad yards, became the place of numerous developments, bringing new residents, new stores and restaurants, and new jobs. Liberty State Park, opened for the Bicentennial in 1976, acquired the abandoned terminal and plant of the Jersey Central and gave the area breathtaking views, ferries to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and the new Liberty Science Center.
Henry Ford built his first automobile, which he called a quadricycle, at his home in Detroit in 1896. His first company called Detroit Automobile Company, founded in 1899 but failed soon. On June 16, 1903, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated. During its early years, the company produced a range of vehicles designated, chronologically, from the Ford Model A (1903) to the Model K and Model S of 1907. In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T. By 1913, Ford introduced the world's first moving assembly line that year, which reduced chassis assembly time from 12 1⁄2 hours in October to 2 hours 40 minutes (and ultimately 1 hour 33 minutes), and boosted annual output to 202,667 units that year. By 1920, production exceeds one million a year. Turnover of workers was very high. In January 1914, Ford solved the problem by doubling pay to $5 a day, cutting shifts from nine hours to an eight-hour day. It increased sales: a line worker could buy a T with less than four months' pay, and instituting hiring practices that identified the best workers, including disabled people, considered unemployable by other firms. Employee turnover plunged, productivity soared, and with it, the cost per vehicle plummeted. Ford cut prices again and again and invented the system of franchised dealers who were loyal to his brand name. Wall Street had criticized Ford's generous labor practices when he began paying workers enough to buy the products they made.