Little People, Orphan Car Show, Willow Run Bomber Plant, Ypsilanti

Little People at the Willow Run Bomber Plant

World War One Aviator Eddie Rickenbacker meeting with Little People at Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run Bomber Plant during WWII. Photo courtesy of TheHenryFord.

I dressed as Rosie the Riveter today at the Orphan Car Show to benefit the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum (another treasure from Ypsilanti’s distinguished industrial past.)

And, as usual, I met a lot of very interesting people with a connection to Willow Run. For example, a guy whose dad came up from southern Ohio to work at the plant during WWII. Dad was a very small guy, so they asked him, “Are you strong in your arms?”

He was a fiesty little guy, too, so he said, “Yeah, you wanna try me?”

They said, “No, we believe you.” Then they took him to the center wing section of the assembly line and put him inside the wing, bucking rivets in an awkward corner. The smallest girls would fit in the center wing, but sometimes they weren’t strong enough for all the jobs that needed doing in there.

Tap Room Ypsilanti Michigan
The doorknob at the Tap Room on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti is set very low to accommodate the “little people” who worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during WWII. Photo by Jane Vass.

BTW, the word around Ypsilanti is that the doorknob at the Tap Room on Michigan Avenue is set very low to this day because they moved the knob down during the war so the “Little People” who worked at the plant could reach it.

Little People were so needed in the center wing assembly on the B-24 line, that the Ford Motor Company actively recruited them from Hollywood and the circuses.

Henry Ford was a stickler for everybody punching their own time card, so it was a daily sight at shift change to see coworkers cheerfully lifting up the Little People so they could punch their cards.

I’m guessing that this man’s father came up from Ohio before Ford went all-out to recruit Little People from show business. His small stature and strong arms were probably a welcome sight to the plant managers, who had some very tough slots to fill on the line.

At the 2013 Thunder Over Michigan air show, we Rosies met a woman whose mom, quite small herself, was in charge of making sure the little people had everything they needed. Ford built special housing at Willow Run Village for them, with everything scaled to their size.

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