As noted earlier at Mac’s Motor City Garage, Henry Ford liked to own things. In 1924 he even built his own airport in Dearborn, Michigan—and in its day, it was one of the most modern facilities in America. Here’s a brief look.
As one of the richest men in the world in the 1920s, Henry Ford enjoyed exercising his vision. His many far-flung projects included a rubber plantation in South America, a shipping fleet, and a railroad. (You can read about HF I’s railroad here.) Dedicated in November of 1924, the airport remained in operation until 1947. Today the same piece of ground is the Dearborn Development Center, one of Ford’s several vehicle proving grounds.
This map shows the airport’s general layout, including the two runways, which were grass at first, then paved in 1928-29, becoming (then) the longest concrete runways in the world. The road running diagonally northwest/southeast is Oakwood Boulevard; the road headed almost due east is now Rotunda Drive; the curving street at the top of the map is Village Road today. Note the dirigible mast marked out on the east side of the field.
Here’s Ford Airport during an airshow circa 1930. The two Ford Trimotors at left are parked in front of Ford’s Stout Metal Airplane division plant, where the aircraft were built. Part of this facility, at the northwest corner of the property, still exists today and houses Ford’s advanced powerplant and fuel cell labs. In the background is the Henry Ford Museum, constructed a few years after the airport.
This aerial photo shows the airport, Oakwood Boulevard side, and the Dearborn Inn (note circular driveway), which opened in 1931. The elegant hotel, another Henry Ford production, was originally constructed to service the airport but remains a popular and first-rate destination today. Looking northwest up Oakwood, we can see the aircraft buildings, then the Ford Museum, then the Ford Engineering facility, known today as the EEE building, where HF I kept (but seldom used) an office.
Directly across Oakwood Boulevard from the Dearborn Inn was the airport’s passenger terminal and administration building. By the late ’30s, the Detroit area and Southeast Michigan had a surplus of commercial airports and the Ford facility was now redundant. The first dedicated automotive test road was laid down on the property in around 1938.
In 1925, Ford had the world’s tallest commercial dirigible mast erected at the airport. It was used only twice before it was torn down in 1946.
By 1949 when this aerial photo was taken, the property was no longer in use as a commercial airport and its transformation into a vehicle testing facility was well under way. For a number of years the place served as both airfield and test track, which reportedly produced some interesting moments. Ford’s mammoth River Rouge plant is a mile east of the area shown here.
Here’s a new 1951 Ford convertible climbing the carburetor grade at the Dearborn Proving Grounds, as it was then called. Above and behind the car in the photo are the old passenger terminal, torn down in the early ’60s, and the aircraft buildings. The carburetor grade is still in use but it probably isn’t called that anymore, we bet.
Here’s how the facility looks today—a sea of asphalt ideal for vehicle testing, handily located just across Oakwood Boulevard from Ford’s global technical headquarters (lower left) None of the former runways are still extant. Next time you’re flying into Detroit via Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (good old DTW), just five miles away, look out the window for Henry Ford’s old airport—you’ll probably see it.