The plant where the real Rosie the Riveter worked on bomber planes during World War II has been saved from dismantling, even though the site would be worth three to four times more in pieces than it is whole.
The 321-acre Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., is one of several properties that General Motors shed when it went through its government-led bankruptcy in 2009. As part of the bankruptcy agreement, a trust was set up to sell off and protect the properties, ensuring that the sites are put to productive use and lead to job creation for the communities abandoned by GM.
The Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, as the entity is known, is looking for buyers who want to create jobs at these sites. The 5-million-square-foot Willow Run plant could have been sold off to a liquidator, who would have stripped the plant for its valuable steel and copper and then knocked it down.
If it were disassembled for its parts, the plant would probably have a greater value than it will when it's sold intact to someone who will use it as a manufacturing site, said Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager for the trust. But the trust is aiming higher: It wants buyers who will create new jobs.
"If the trust were simply seeking to monetize and achieve the highest value, we would have sold this for scrap a long time ago," Rasher said. "This site is an important asset for the region, and it would be very difficult to replace. The community has expressed their desire to us very clearly that they do not wish us to tear down Willow Run, and we have no plans to do that."
The Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust was set up in March 2011 through an agreement between the Treasury and Justice departments, the attorneys general in the 14 states, and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York State, which owned land that was polluted by a GM plant. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitored environmental cleanup at a lot of the sites, has also been involved.
Proceeds from property sales won't go back to taxpayers, who bailed out GM during its bankruptcy. Instead, money made by the trust will be funneled back into the trust to help maintain unsold properties and to fund environmental cleanups.
Henry Ford built Willow Run in 1941 for the express purpose of manufacturing B-24 Liberator bombers. The Ford company says that by 1943, two years after the United States entered World War II, more than 30 percent of its laborers were women.
In the 1950s, GM took over the plant and built transmissions there until 2010.
The "We Can Do It" poster that most people now associate with Rosie the Riveter was part of an elaborate propaganda campaign used during World War II to encourage women to work in plants across the country, replacing the men who had left to fight in the war.
There are a variety of women who could claim they were the "real" Rosie. The famous "We Can Do It" poster was crafted from a wire service photo of a Michigan worker. A song that popularized the term was based on a woman from New York's Long Island. A Saturday Evening Post cover drawing by Norman Rockwell was modeled after a telephone operator in Vermont.
But many people in the 1940s came to associate Rose Will Monroe, a widow who had taken a job at the Willow Run plant to help support her two young children. When filmmakers arrived at the plant to make a promotional movie about war bonds, they photographed Monroe and she became the face of Rosie the Riveter.
Monroe starred in movies like a 10-minute documentary, "Glamour Girls of 1943," which helped promote the idea of women working, although it's unclear if this film was shot at Willow Run or if Monroe is in it. The documentary shows women welding, riveting, training fighter pilots and performing other heavy industrial jobs. Women learned to operate drill presses "as easily as a juice extractor in her home kitchen," as a line in the film goes.
The prejudice against women in manufacturing has finally been broken, the movie promises. "With the strides that have been made in industrial methods, there's practically no limit to the types of work women can do," the narrator says.
The term "Rosie the Riveter" came to be applied to women who did all kinds of jobs traditionally held by men.
"Nobody's going to buy the site because Rosie the Riveter worked there," Rasher said. "That's sort of icing on the cake."
Whoever buys the site will probably want to take advantage of its access to a neighboring airport, an on-site power plant, a train line spur arriving at site, proximity to Canada (just about 50 miles away) -- not to mention access to a skilled manufacturing workforce and nearby research universities, Rasher said.
"After a business or corporation decides to invest at Willow Run, it might be that the rich history of the site creates a luster that makes it more appealing," Rasher added.
The plant's price is being kept confidential, Rasher said. The trust will adjust the price depending on how the potential buyer intends on using the plant.