Building the Dodge Brothers Works

When the Dodges decided to move to larger quarters, they bought a large parcel of land in the City of Hamtramck on the outskirts of Detroit. Perhaps they were already considering building their own automobile, but the first wave of construction in 1910-1913 simply provided them with facilities to produce gears, other machined metal products, forgings, and castings. The building contractor, Bryant & Detwiler of Detroit, broke ground on June 1, 1910 and the Dodge brothers began moving into the new buildings in December. Albert Kahn designed a modest brick office building, a small steel and brick powerhouse, a brick watchman's house, and two steel-framed buildings, a forge shop and blacksmith shop, each 400 feet long. One of Kahn's 1910 designs was the Machine Shop, a four-story reinforced concrete building with flat-slab framing and ten-sided concrete columns with flared capitals. There were two wings, each 65 feet by 405 feet, joined at the northern end by a segment measuring 65 feet by 235 feet. For Kahn, this was a small project compared to the vast Highland Park complex he planned for Ford. The Detroit architectural firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls designed a foundry (1912) and a heat treatment building (1913), both ordinary steel-framed industrial buildings of the era. After 1912, Smith, Hinchman & Grylls designed almost all of the additional construction.

The Hamtramck plant quickly became one of the most impressive manufacturing facilities in the Detroit area. In mld-1914, one visitor reported that the Dodge brothers employed 5,000 men and cut 34,000 gears a day. The foundry cast 25 tons of brass and 75 tons of grey iron daily, while the forge shops shaped 150 tons of steel per day. The annual parts production was impressive -- 240,000 transmissions; 225,000 rear axles; 244,000 drive shafts; 190,000 front axles; 205,000 crank shafts; 855,000 connecting rods; 412,000 universal joint knuckles; and another two dozen major parts or assemblies, including steering gear, in numbers exceeding 200,000, According to one estimate, sixty percent of the entire Ford car was made by Dodge during the decade 1903-1913. Dodge manufactured or fabricated every major part except bodies, wheels, and tires.

The machinery and equipment used In the complex was elaborate, modem, and in a few instances, innovative. The heat treating department used a combination of 43 recuperative, carbonizing, and annealing furnaces. Twenty cyanide furnaces which consumed 10,000 pounds of potassium cyanide per week surface-hardened the steel used in making nearly seven million clutch discs per year. The heat treat shop also featured an elaborate system to keep the tempering oil at a constant temperature, all designed by the Dodge brothers. The forge shop had a total of 45 towering and Bradley hammers ranging from 400 to 5,000 pounds. The foundry boasted eleven rapid-fire furnaces, core ovens, a separate cleaning system of rattlers and shot-blasting machines, and an elaborate internal system for materials handling, including locomotive, monorail, and double traveling cranes.

With these extensive heating, forging, and casting operations, the plant used three million gallons of crude oil and 25,000 tons of coal per year, along with 5,000 tons of brass, 15,000 tons of grey iron, and 25,000 tons of steel. Typical of Dodge efficiency was their use of low-pressure steam exhausted from the steam hammers to operate a low-pressure turbine driving a 750 KW generator. This arrangement made obsolete a pair of Corliss engines in the powerhouse, so these were refitted to compress air as well as to produce electricity if needed. Finally, the plant had an advanced materials handling system. Two large traveling magnetic cranes located in the aisles between the forge, blacksmith, and heat treat shops handled the enormous tonnage of scrap generated in these areas, while a heavy-duty overhead monorail crane extended throughout much of the rest of the complex. They also utilized eight five-ton trucks, four half-ton motor wagons, and approximately 3,000 push platform trucks.

Observers who came to the plant in mid-1914 pointed out the good working conditions there. The Dodge brothers remained close to the shop floor and took pains to create workspaces with good lighting and ventilation. In contrast to the puritanical Henry Ford, they supplied their forge and foundry workers with cold beer to help them survive hot summer afternoons. One observer proclaimed that at the Dodge Works,

  • Human haste, sweat and anxiety have been reduced to a minimum by a combination of ripe experience, far-sighted planning, and bold expenditure of money, and whatever strain is involved in enormous production falls on the machinery, not on the men.