Dearborn, Michigan: Fostered by Ford

Our car-obsessed nation owes a great debt to the city of Dearborn, home of Henry Ford and his Ford Motor Company. Dearborn was first settled by Americans in 1786 and incorporated as a city in 1929 and was named in honor of American Revolution general Henry Dearborn.  Despite its recent history being so tightly mingled with the auto industry, Dearborn is a place of great natural beauty. Lumbering factories make unlikely bedfellows with fields of sunflowers and green beltways.

The area which would become Dearborn has been inhabited for perhaps 8000 years by native peoples. French colonials set up a trading post in the Detroit area in pre-Revolution times. After the Revolutionary War, the area experienced a population surge as American settlers moved west.

Henry Ford is undoubtedly Dearborn’s most famous and influential native. He was born on July 30, 1863.  Even as a boy, Ford showed a keen interest in engineering, mechanics, and machine design.  Rather than following in his father’s farming footsteps, Ford chose to accept one job after another in mechanical and engineering work. One of these jobs was for the Edison Electric Illuminating Light Company, the result of which was Ford’s lifelong friendship with Thomas Edison.  By the time he started The Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford had already started two other automotive companies, both of which failed. Each time, his inexperience as a businessman cost him, but his vision and self-confidence led him to take even bigger risks. The largest of these risks was the creation of his third automotive company, the Ford Motor Company.

Contrary to popular belief, Henry Ford did not invent the car, nor did he invent the assembly line.  He was not always a savvy business owner, due to his cantankerousness and top-down approach to daily operations of the company. Most of all, Ford was a trailblazer who combined his own ideas with the innovations of others and almost single-handedly ushered in the era of the automobile.

The Henry Ford Museum is the nation’s largest indoor-outdoor museum and features a “village” comprised of period homes and businesses which were bought, relocated and meticulously restored to their period states. Among these buildings are Henry Ford’s childhood home, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, and The Wright Brothers’ Bicycle Shop among others. The buildings are arranged to look like an authentic late-19th century village and is staffed by costumed ‘residents’ performing tasks like cooking, farming, bailing hay and tending animals.

The museum also houses a number of vehicles and other antiques of historical value.  Among them are the Cadillac SS-100-X in which President John Kennedy was assassinated, the city bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested, a 1961 Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, and many historic Ford vehicles.

Dearborn, MI is also home to the nation’s first Arab American National Museum. It has the appearance of a mosque and houses artifacts and exhibits relating to America’s Arab population. Its location in Dearborn is due to the city’s historically large Arab population.  As much as 1/3 of the population of Dearborn identify as having some Arab heritage, the most concentrated area of Arab Americans in the nation.  The migration of Arab Americans to Michigan was due primarily to the booming auto industry during the early half of the 20th century.  As the Arab community grew, so did the presence of programs, facilities and places of worship to serve that community. This encouraged a second migration in the 1950s and ’60s of immigrants from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere.  These immigrants were primarily well educated and helped to spur Dearborn’s increasingly diverse economy, which relied less and less on the automotive industry. Dearborn is home to the country’s largest mosque, the Islamic Center of America.

Dearborn, Michigan is best known as the birthplace of Henry Ford, but it’s also the birthplace of the modern auto industry. Not only Dearborn, but the state of Michigan and eventually the world was transformed by the automobile industry and by the automobiles themselves. Modern Dearborn is also a testament to the endurance of the American dream – that one can come from anywhere in the world and become something.  Henry Ford was the poor son of a farmer and, through hard work, self-confidence and vision built an industry which changed the world.  In addition, much of Dearborn’s population are immigrants or ancestors of immigrants who came to America to work in the auto industry and have raised families, built communities, and become quintessentially American.


“Dearborn, Michigan City Hall” by Dwight Burdette – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dearborn,_Michigan_City_Hall.JPG#/media/File:Dearborn,

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