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Henry Ford’s Plan for the American Suburb
Dearborn and Detroit
Heather B. Barrow
“This is an engaging book that is a welcome contribution to the literature. Scholars of history and urban studies will greatly appreciate because it reveals a more complex historiography of the process of suburbanization.” —Housing Studies
“[Barrow] skillfully weaves together the historical, economic, and geographic literature with archival sources, including workers’ oral histories. . . . Barrow’s book will be of use to historians and economists, both students and professionals, interested in the history of Ford, Detroit, and Dearborn, and the interplay of economics and geography in that history.” —Journal of Economic History
“Barrow’s insightful research brilliantly reevaluates the objectives of welfare capitalism and the origins of suburbanization. This timely and erudite volume is essential reading for understanding the metropolitization of Detroit.” —The Michigan Historical Review
Around Detroit, suburbanization was led by Henry Ford, who not only located a massive factory over the city’s border in Dearborn, but was the first industrialist to make the automobile a mass consumer item. Suburbanization in the 1920s was spurred simultaneously by the migration of the automobile industry and the mobility of automobile users. A welfare capitalist, Ford was a leader on many fronts—he raised wages, increased leisure time, and transformed workers into consumers. The decade was dominated by this new political economy—also known as “Fordism”—linking mass production and consumption. The rise of Dearborn demonstrated that Fordism was connected to mass suburbanization as well. Ultimately, Dearborn proved to be a model that was repeated throughout the nation, as people of all classes relocated to suburbs, shifting away from central cities. Although mass suburbanization was a national phenomenon, the example of Detroit is an important baseline since the trend was more discernable there than elsewhere. Suburbanization, however, was never a simple matter of outlying communities growing in parallel with cities. Instead, resources were diverted from central cities as they were transferred to the suburbs. The example of the Detroit metropolis asks whether the mass suburbanization which originated there represented the “American dream,” and if so, by whom and at what cost.
Heather B. Barrow received her PhD from the University of Chicago. She has taught history, urban studies, and public policy at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Indiana University Northwest, and Loyola University Chicago. She was also a project director with the architecture department at the Art Institute of Chicago.
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