As thousands of Model Ts rattled across the Dakotas in the 1910s, Henry Ford needed a way to keep those cars running and to get new cars to customers. Ford built additional factories in cities across the United States because it was cheaper to ship parts from Detroit and assemble the cars in these “branch houses” than to ship a complete Model T.
Ford established a branch house in Fargo to sell cars in the Northwest. At first, they could not find a structure big enough for the factory. The office, assembly plant, and parts warehouse were all located in different buildings. In 1914 the construction department of the Ford Motor Company began work on a new building on north Broadway in Fargo, across the tracks from the Great Northern depot.
In order to support the weight of the machinery and to protect against fire, the building was made entirely of reinforced concrete. Pouring the concrete began in the winter, and in February 1915 the first floor was in place. But as workmen started on the second floor, the first floor began to sag. They scrambled for safety as the first floor collapsed into the basement.
When the dust cleared, three men were taken to the hospital and two workers were missing. The fire department and the police helped in a search for the men. At about 5 in the morning on this date in 1915, the bodies of the two men were found in the rubble.
Construction on the project halted, and for at time it appeared the damage was too extensive to continue, and workers refused to return to work until the site was deemed safe. Heads of the Ford construction department came from Detroit to evaluate the situation. It appeared that the cement of the first floor had not cured enough to support the weight of the second floor, causing the collapse. However, they concluded that the damage could be repaired, and despite the tragedy, construction resumed.
On the 23rd of July the building was officially opened, and the Ford Motor Company band came to perform. The city of Fargo declared it “Ford Day,” and every downtown business decorated their storefronts with Ford logos and displays using Ford parts. The recently renovated building still stands today – an important example of Fargo’s downtown renewal.
Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.
“Fargo Ford Building Collapsed”, Bismarck Tribune, 1/4/1915
“Remains of Both Victims of Ford Tragedy Recovered from the Ruins”, Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, 1/4/1915
“Tomorrow Will Be Known As Ford Day”, Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, 7/22/1915
“Ford Band Delighted Big Crowd at Island Park”, Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, 7/24/1915