Ninety years ago, Ford of America opened their first production unit in the UK, strategically situated in the city of Dagenham.

As ever, Ford did everything on a large scale, investing heavily in a vast and imposing custom-designed production unit overlooking the River Thames.

The UK plant was Ford's largest unit outside the United States, with its own steel foundry, power station and on-site railroad system.

Henry Ford, the company founder and iron-handed leader, was reportedly sceptical about the chances of his company duplicating their success in the UK,

 Ford was reportedly convinced that mass production, which his company pioneered, would not be effective in the British Isles, incorrectly anticipating that demand for Ford UK vehicles would not be at the same levels per capita as they were in the US.

From the outset, demand for Fords was slow, mainly due to Henry Ford's insistence that the models produced at Dagenham would be identical to those being churned out at Dearborn, Michigan, Ford US's massive production.

The earliest UK Ford's, mostly trucks, were even left-hand drives, a feature that did not exactly appeal to the UK motorist.
With sales disappointing, the penny eventually dropped, and Ford began to produce vehicles designed for the UK market, even placing the steering wheel on the vehicle's right-hand side!

From that point, the UK public began to warm to Fords, which were well-produced, reliable and highly competitively priced.

With demand for Fords reaching record levels as the Thirties progressed, like every other UK car manufacturer, in 1939, production was put on hold with every facility Ford had at their disposal going towards supplying equipment to the British Armed Forces.

When hostilities ended in 1945, the Dagenham plant was undamaged. Ford wasted little time switching back to domestic production, marking their return by producing their millionth Ford, a 10hp engined Prefect.

Demand for UK Fords skyrocketed in the Fifties and even more so during the Sixties. The company released several models that were to become icons of the era, among the Ford Anglia replaced by the Escort, the mid-range Cortina and top of the range Consuls, Zodiacs and Zephyrs.

However, by the end of the golden decades of the Sixties, the malaise that spread through the UK car industry reached Dagenham. Ford UK's labour difficulties were not only widespread but also very much in the public eye.

In 1968, Ford's sewing machinists went on strike. It seemed like a minor issue, with the machinists, mostly female, demanding the same hourly wage as their male counterparts. The strike was given the full attention of the British press, doing considerable damage to Ford's reputation in the UK.

The machinists encouraged other departments at Ford to join the struggle, with even the sister plant at Halewood plant in Merseyside coming out in sympathy. Car production at both plants remained on hold for three weeks, causing almost irreparable damage to the company's UK operations.

During the Seventies, industrial issues continued to raise its head at Ford Dagenham on a regular basis.

That, and the fact that the Dagenham plant was beginning to show its age, meant that Ford UK began to switch production to the more modern plant in Merseyside as well as Ford plants in Germany and Spain where operating costs were lower and labour relations less strained.

During the 75 years that Dagenham was producing cars for the domestic market, they turned out an average of 2500 vehicles weekly, or 130,000 annually, reaching a grand total of ten million units produced, before vehicle production at the plant was wound down in 2011.

Today, Dagenham is no longer involved in producing cars and trucks, with the plant focusing on building diesel engines, with more than one million produced in 2020- and not a single sewing machine in sight!

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