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DATE OF EVENT: April 1912

DATE THIS STORY WAS PUBLISHED: Sunday, Jan. 1, 1956, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: The first Ford assembly plant outside of Detroit opened in Kansas City in April 1912. Its coming marked the start of a major industrial presence here and brought new jobs. The plant grew out of a sales center, and began as a fairly simple operation. In its early days, workers “using only a few wrenches” were producing seven cars a day.

No story announcing the opening of the manufacturing plant has been found in The Kansas City Star of the time.

This 50th anniversary article, commemorating the opening of the first Ford sales branch in 1906, recounts the Kansas City history of the company. Ford later would open another plant in Claycomo, and General Motors would open a plant in the industrial Leeds area in 1929.

Fifty Years Ago Today, the First Ford Branch Opened Here

Sales Office Was on Site Now Occupied by Telephone Building on 11th Street

Began Car Assembly in Kansas City in 1909

Detroit was the birthplace of the vast Ford Motor company, but Kansas City can boast of having Ford’s first branch sales office and the nation’s first branch assembly plant.

Fifty years ago today, January 1, 1906, the Ford company opened its doors for business in Kansas City. And in 1909, Henry Ford announced his plans to erect the nation’s first branch assembly plant here, “to eliminate rail congestion in Detroit and reduce freight prices.”

Kansas City today ranks next to Detroit as an automotive assembly center. In addition to Ford, the General Motors corporation assembles Chevrolets, Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs in Greater Kansas City.

Ford’s first sales branch was located in a small, 2-story building at 319-20 West Eleventh street, a site now occupied by the Southwestern Bell Telephone building.

When C.C. Meade, a traveling automobile salesman, took over the office in 1906, the sputtering gas buggy still was an object of great curiosity. To anyone who wanted to stop by the Eleventh street shop, Meade or a member of his small sales force would point out the simple features of a shiny new Model K, a 40-horsepower, 6-cylinder job, and the Model F, a 2-cylinder car. Later, in the autumn of 1906, the Model N supplanted the Model F.

Out on the road, these were the cars which drew such jeers as “Get a horse” and “Get out and get under.” It was commonplace to see the little machines trailed by a cloud of exhaust, barking dogs and hooting children.

Henry Ford believed the real future of his enterprise was in “building a car for the great multitude.” In 1908 came the most famous of them all—the explosive Model T. In the next nineteen years, 15 million Model T’s would be sold. And Kansas City was to make a major contribution to this total, not only as an assembling center, but as a distribution hub for the West.

In the same year the Model T was introduced, Ford moved its Kansas City office and spare parts supply to 1608 Grand avenue. It wasn’t long before even this 2-story building was outgrown, and in 1909, Ford announced plans to build the nation’s first branch assembly plant in Kansas City.

The plant was completed in 1911, and its 32,132 square feet served as the office, stock and repair shop until production started in the spring of 1912.

In 1912, when the plant went into operation, Ford employees, using only a few wrenches, were turning out seven Model T’s a day in Kansas City.

They were the first Fords ever produced outside of Detroit and were assembled on wooden horses which served as the forerunner to present-day conveyor belt systems of mass production pioneered by Henry Ford. …

In 1914, because he thought “labor has the right to high wages,” Ford announced the now-historic minimum wage of $3 for an 8-hour day. The previous scale had been $2.34 for a 9-hour day. …

Total Ford employment in the Kansas City area now is about 3,300 persons.