Rosie The Riveter's World War II-Era Plant Saved

May 1, 2014
Originally published on May 6, 2014 9:38 am

In the end, it was a riveting finish: A campaign to save part of the Michigan factory where Rosie the Riveter and thousands of other women built B-24 bombers during World War II has raised the money needed to turn it into a museum.

The site's manager had given organizers of the Save the Willow Run Bomber Plant campaign until Thursday to raise $8 million to buy an area of the now-derelict plant. As recently as Tuesday, we told you that it could be the end of the road for the plant in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., because organizers were $1 million short.

But, as The Associated Press reported on Thursday, campaign organizers "closed in on a big one." Here's more:

"That allowed [fundraising consultant Michael] Montgomery and his partners to get 'within spitting distance of the full eight (million)' and enough to go forward with a purchase agreement, which he expects to be finalized in seven to 10 days.

"Meanwhile, those behind the effort will go back to raising the additional dollars needed to make the new Yankee Air Museum a reality."

"We're going to go on raising money past May 1, because we've got to build the plant out and create the exhibits of the new museum that we've promised," Montgomery told the AP.

Michigan Radio, which is also reporting on the story, noted that organizers would buy "a corner of the plant and separate it from the rest of the building, which is set to be demolished." And it quotes Dennis Norton, the founder of the Yankee Air Museum, as saying renovations will likely take years — and much more money.

Thousands of female workers — including Geraldine Hoff Doyle, the original Rosie the Riveter — built B-24 bombers at the Willow Run plant, owned by the Ford Motor Co. In all, 8,685 B-24 Liberators were made to help in the war effort.

After the war, the plant turned out cars for General Motors. But after the automaker's bankruptcy, the facility's future became uncertain. Developers had planned to tear it down to make way for a vehicle research center.

Norton told Michigan Radio that the campaign to save the plant received all sorts of contributions, including one for $10 from a 92-year-old woman from Monroe, Mich.

"She sent a note along with it that said, 'This is all the money that I can afford; I'm on Social Security and I have no pension. But I want you to have it. Because what you're doing saving this history, which is my history, is so important,' " Norton said. "We've gotten quite a few of these that are generally low-end donations that aren't all that significant in the overall pot of money, but they're very significant in telling us what people think of what we're trying to do."

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And let's turn now from the farm to the factory. A lot of women went from farms to factories during World War II when men were fighting overseas. And our last word in business is: Rosie.


KATHERINE HEPBURN: Women are being recruited daily to help make planes for the nation's air forces. Three million women in factories all over the country are making planes.

INSKEEP: Now if you watch old movies, you may recognize that voice. It's a short film narrated by Katherine Hepburn and written by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which called women to the workforce during the war.


One factory where they went to work was Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Willow Run Bomber Plant. Tens of thousands of women there assembled B-24 bombers. A worker at his factory inspired the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter featured in those weekend do it propaganda posters.


UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Singing) All the day long, whether rain or shine, she's a part of the assembly line. She's making history working for victory. Rosie - brrrrrrrrrrr - the Riveter.

INSKEEP: Until yesterday, it look like that plant was headed for demolition. Then supporters of the plant managed to raise enough money to save it from the wrecking ball. Their next goal is to turn it into a museum.

And that's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.


UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Singing) When they gave her a production E, she was as proud as a girl could be. There's something true about, red, white, and blue about Rosie - brrrrrrrrrrr - the riveter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.