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    • The Rise and Fall of De Soto Manufacturing

      The De Soto manufacturing plant was located at the corner of Wyoming and McGraw in Detroit Michigan. However, the first De Soto automobiles were assembled at the Highland Park facility plant in addition to Plymouth. These automobiles were produced in 1928 when the new De Soto models were introduced to the public. Later, De Soto manufacturing was transferred from the Wyoming plant to the Jefferson assembly plant in 1959. The name De Soto comes from the 16th century Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who discovered the Mississippi River. His name symbolized travel, pioneering and adventure, and his family’s coat-of-arms was chosen as the automobile's emblem.


      During the war time efforts, De Soto manufactured the Boeing B-29, which was one of the largest bomber planes built for the war. Another war time aircraft, the Curtiss SB2C-1, was effective as a dive bomber for the Navy and was a very successful aircraft during the war. The construction of the nose section of the B-29 fuselage included many structural parts made by Plymouth and assembled by De Soto manufacturing.


      The De Soto manufacturing plant located on Wyoming and McGraw included two million square feet of floor space, a new engine facility, and was one of the first to introduce automation to the industry. The new engine plant began its operation in November of 1951. The De Soto plant offered 322 machines and could perform 3,298 operations for its workers. The body plant area offered 636,802 square feet of floor space with eight miles of conveyors located through the building. This operation could automatically rotate bodies wherever necessary to facilitate work. At one point a portion of the plant known as the “Grand Central Station” area by many employees offered 25 conveyor lines that would meet all perfectly together for assembly.


      The De Soto stamp plant area was widely known for its efficient design, having won an industrial architecture award shortly after completion. It offered 62,000 square feet of floor space and remarkably good lighting conditions for its workers. The stamping plant also offered giant presses, some weighing nearly 110 tons each and with a pressure of 800,000 pounds. These giant presses could process sheet metal into fenders, hoods, and other manufacturing parts for De Soto automobiles.


      Women were also a great part of the De Soto's manufacturing process. Not only did they work on the assembly lines operating machinery and equipment, but some women were also expert seamstresses and tailors. Women worked with rich fabrics creating beautiful De Soto upholstery's for the automobiles. This was just one of hundreds of body plant sub-assembly operations where men and women produced parts together.


      During the 1950's, thousands of parts were brought together, with bodies and engines at the De Soto assembly plant for final steps in building a new car. One of the most important steps in the process of making De Soto models was connecting the body with the chassis. The body was built to a specific schedule on the moving final assembly line, making this assembly line process even more dramatic.


      The finished automobile was made up of more than 15,000 individual parts and assemblies carefully fitted together. After leaving the final check line area all new De Soto models received a complete examination before receiving its final ‘OK’. Once that was given, the new De Soto models would be shipped to dealers from coast to coast. Every De Soto model was a product of precision planning, superb engineering and fine workmanship.


      During the 1960's, De Soto models were not doing well within the sales market for the Chrysler Corporation. When the news of the imminent death of the De Soto swept down the assembly line, Chrysler Corporation decided to end its production. Ultimately, on November 30th 1960, De Soto production models came to an end.

      In conclusion, The Detroit News is quoted as saying "As they passed, old-timers who had watched De Soto born reached out and patted the fenders the way you tousle the hair of a passing son". Mr. Frank L. Bird , who had worked at the De Soto plant since 1942 said, "Well, after seeing upwards of 2,000,000 cars turned out you can't help but have a soft spot in your heart. But I'm proud of the men and the way they are taking it. I suppose I saw this on the wall, but it was just speculation. When it happened it was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone down on the line".

      As a special note, this story is dedicated to all the men and women who worked very hard for De Soto for many years, and helped make it a great part of our American heritage, automotive history, and our legacy.


      A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Butler, Don. The Plymouth and De Soto Story. Crestline Publishing. 1978. Gebert, Armand. "Old Auto Plant In New Operation Overseas. Detroit News 16, August 1959. Harris, Russell. " Men Who Built Her Mourn De Soto". Detroit News, 19, November 1960. Royal Oak Tribune - staff writer " Last De Soto Comes Off Line" November 29, 1960.Gebert, Armand. "Old Auto Plant in New Operation Overseas. Detroit News 16, August 1959. Harris, Russell. "Men Who Built Her Mourn De Soto". Detroit News, 19, November)

      For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org.

      If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email Desirae Tolbert at dtolbert@motorcities.org