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Introduction

This is a picture history of the General Motors Assembly Plant in Baltimore, Maryland from the beginning of construction of the plant in 1934 until production ceased in May 2005. The plant was sold (and subsequently demolished) in 2006-07.

You will see many pictures from the early years of the plant showing the interior of the plant during the 1930s and the production of Grumman Avenger airplane parts during the war years when the plant was converted to Eastern Aircraft. You may even see your father or grandfather pictured in one of the softball team photos of the 30s.

The aerial views and construction pictures provide a timeline of the expansion and progression of the plant. The latter years include many pictures of employees that worked at the Baltimore Plant. Look hard for you may spot yourself or a relative somewhere in the background of a photo.

Again, thanks to all for providing me with photos and history documentation of our plant. The demise of GM Baltimore Assembly was sad, but our memories will live on forever. Hopefully, viewing the pictures will provide you with many happy memories.

 

Plant History

On October 16, 1934 Baltimore’s Mayor, Howard W. Jackson, and Chevrolet representative, E.A. Nimnicht, broke ground for the new Chevrolet and Fisher Body Assembly Plant in Baltimore, Maryland.

The original site located on Broening Highway covered 45.7 acres and consisted of five buildings, six railroad sidings, driveways, walks, test roads, parking yard for employee’s cars, etc. The principal unit was the assembly building which covered 13.5 acres of ground floor and measured 982 feet long, 602 feet wide and 30 feet high. Chevrolet occupied two-thirds of the building and Fisher Body one-third.

Facilities for lighting this large working area where precision would be important were given primary consideration. Therefore, the exterior walls were made of bands of steel sash with glass set in between horizontal bands of masonry.

The administration and clerical forces were housed in a two story and basement office building. This structure was 50 by 242 feet.

The finished units left the assembly building and entered a service building where they were placed over servicing pits, oiled and greased and made ready for the customer. The building was of steel and masonry and was 85-1/2 by 245 feet in size and contained twenty service pits plus wash racks and locker rooms.

The shipping building or loading dock from which cars were shipped was 50 by 315 feet. Two railroad sidings served it.

Cars were brought up a ramp to the loading dock and then loaded aboard freight cars. Another feature of the plant was a half-mile long, thirty-foot wide concrete test road with a built-in washboard surface. The track contained tight curves and other devices designed to help detect any squeaks and rattles.

The immensity of the completed plant was not the entire story of this unusual project. The General Motors Corporation stipulated that the plant had to be completed and operating by the middle of January 1935. The was no structure in Baltimore to compare with it, and never before had a demand been made to build such a large plant from the foundation up under similar conditions in so short a period of time. A $1,244,000 contract for the building of the new plant was awarded to the Consolidated Engineering Company of Baltimore. The plant was designed to produce 80,000 cars and trucks a year.

On March 11, 1935, the first day of truck production, three trucks were built. On March 26, 1935, the first day of passenger car production, twelve passenger cars were built. For the 1935 model 24,885 cars and 6,627 trucks were built in Baltimore.

The formal dedication of the Baltimore Plant was held on April 9, 1935. The champion American Legion Band, an organization of sixty pieces, started the proceedings at noon with a parade through downtown Baltimore. This was followed by a luncheon in the plant cafeteria. Over four hundred attended, including Governor Harry W. Nice, Mayor Howard W. Jackson and Adam J. Hazlett, President of the Baltimore Association of Commerce. After the luncheon, the guests inspected the plant and a color guard of the American Legion dedicated the plant flag. That evening, many dignitaries attended the dinner held in the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Executives from the two divisions and the Corporation came to Baltimore for the occasion. Maryland Senator Millard E. Tydings was the Toastmaster. He introduced Crane Roberts as the Manager of the new Chevrolet Plant and R. N. Wisner as the Manager of the new Fisher Body Plant.

In the first year of operation Chevrolet and Fisher Body employed a total of about 2,500 persons. Since that time the total number of people on roll increased to its peak of about 7,000 in 1978. Due to decreasing car sales the second shift automotive line was laid off in January 1980.

Further, in June 1981 both shifts of truck production were laid off. The combined layoff of hourly and salary employees left the plant with about 3,000 total people by the end of 1981. Employment remained at about that figure through 1983.

Early in 1942 during World War II car and truck production was halted and the plant converted to wartime activity. The Chevrolet Plant was operated as a military parts depot where parts were received, processed and for shipment around the world. The Fisher Body Plant became a part of the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors Corporation and was assigned the task of assembling fuselages for Grumman carrier-based aircraft.

In August 1945, immediately following the end of the war the plant was reconverted to automobile and truck production.

Although Chevrolet cars and trucks represent the largest portion of the Baltimore Plant’s production, other car lines are not unknown to it. The versatility of the plant was tested in the 1964 model year when Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac automobiles were assembled one after another on the same passenger car line. In the ensuing years the number of car lines produced has changed several times. The 1984 model year found the plant producing Chevrolet Monte Carlos and Pontiac Bonnevilles and Grand Prixs.

On November 4, 1968 the management of the Baltimore Plant as two separate General Motors units, Fisher Body Division and Chevrolet Motor Division, was unified under the administration of the GM Assembly Division.

Over the years the Baltimore Plant has been modernized and expanded. Immediately after World War II approximately 51,000 square feet were added. This and other small additions since 1935 brought the total plant area to 887,000 square feet in 1958. By September 1959 another 115,000 square feet had been added for truck assembly operations.

A complete modernization and expansion program was accomplished in 1962 with the addition of about 1,000,000 square feet of floor space. Another 178,000 square feet were added in 1964 and 150,000 square feet more when the American Standard property was purchased in 1972. Nearly 2,500,000 square feet of floor space was utilized in 1980.

The land area of the Baltimore Plant has also been increased to over three times the size of the original site. In conjunction with the modernization and expansion program of 1962, approximately 66 acres were purchased in various parcels. During the latter part of 1968 the Baltimore Plant purchased a tract of land at the western edge of the property consisting of approximately 16 acres. Starting in 1972 the Baltimore Plant was able to acquire the adjoining former plant site of the American Standard Corporation. This net addition of 36 acres brought the total land area of the Baltimore Plant to 166.654 acres.

In 1980 an extensive expansion and modernization program was announced. Because of the continuing slump in automobile sales, the expansion and modernization program was put on hold in September 1981. In September 1982 the Corporation announced the resumption of the project which was completed in the fall of 1984. The program added about 400,000 square feet of additional floor space bringing the total to about 2.9 million square feet.

The acquisition of 22 acres of land, formerly part of old Fort Holabird, brought the total land area to about 188 acres.

By 1949 after eleven model years of car and truck production, one million units had been assembled at the Baltimore Plant. In 1951 the 50 millionth General Motors vehicle was built at Baltimore highlighted through a major simulcast celebration across the United States. Succeeding milestones occurred at even shorter intervals until July 1975 when the Baltimore Plant celebrated the production of its seven-millionth unit.

On May 24, 1978 the Baltimore Assembly Plant celebrated the production of its eight-millionth unit. With many of Baltimore’s business and civic leaders present, Robert K. Bates, Plant Manager, along with Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, drove the red and buckskin half-ton Chevrolet pick-up truck off the assembly line and parked next to a 1935 truck built at the Baltimore Plant during its first year of operation.

On March 11, 1983 the Baltimore Plant celebrated the production of its nine-millionth unit, a Pontiac Grand Prix. This was 48 years to the day that the first truck was produced at the plant.

The Baltimore Plant built its last car on March 31, 1984.

In September 1982 General Motors started the Baltimore Plant modernization and expansion program in preparation for the new van that would be produced at Baltimore in the fall of 1984 for the start of the 1985 model year. Plant Manager Walter Gregonis explained the plant would be one of the most modern in the United States, using high technology advances including robots, lasers and an advanced system of painting the vehicle automatically in a modular paint shop, the first of its kind in the world.

Baltimore built the first M Van on September 13, 1984 less than 6 months after a massive retooling undertaking. The Baltimore Plant was now a part of the General Motors Truck and Bus Group. When the first van rolled off the line 3,500 hourly and salaried employees worked at the facility. First annual production of the 1985 model year was 169,000 vehicles.

Two basic models were offered at the time, a passenger van and a cargo hauler designed primarily for commercial and recreational vehicle use. Several drive train selections were offered with the rear-wheeled drive vehicle. A 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine with electronic fuel injection was standard. Five passengers seating was also standard with seating for up to eight people available.

Process features included new state-of-the-art Powder and Prime system and a Body Shop where robots or computer-controlled equipment did 96% of all welds. Other applications of automation included high-pressure water cutting for carpets and a robotic glass sealant system.

In 1989 GM introduced the extended van as an addition to the original smaller version van. The one-millionth M van and 10 millionth vehicle were produced in 1989. In 1991 the Dutch door feature was available in addition to the standard cargo doors. In 1995 and 1996 the M Van had major interior and exterior enhancements. A major plant renovation took place in 1995 to facilitate Primer Surfacer, another significant paint quality improvement. The two-millionth van was produced in 1995, the twelve-millionth vehicle was built on September 2, 2000 and the three-millionth van was produced on May 7, 2002.

In 1995 Baltimore Assembly received the State of Maryland Quality and Productivity Award. In 1996 Baltimore Assembly received its first President’s Council Honors Award. The prestigious GM Chairman’s Honor Award was received in 1999 along with ISO 9002 certification. Another ISO certification, ISO 14001, was awarded to the plant in 2001. In 2003 Harbour Study recognized Baltimore Assembly for outstanding productivity improvements. In 2004 Baltimore Assembly had the distinction of becoming the first existing facility to receive the QNPM Phase III award. In 2005 Baltimore Assembly was still being recognized for outstanding financial and throughput performance.

In November 2004 General Motors announced the closing of the Baltimore Assembly Plant and on May 13, 2005 production ceased. When the plant closed, it encompassed 182 acres, with 3.1 million square feet of floor space in the assembly building. Nearly 1,100 employees from all over the Baltimore area were employed at the plant at the time it closed.

The General Motors Assembly Plant at Baltimore, Maryland was the only plant in the world to ever build the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans.

From its inception in 1935 until 2005, Baltimore Assembly has distinguished itself in the annals of General Motors. Whether it be the remarkable accomplishment of constructing the facility in 1934 to the first production of vehicles in 1935, or the significant contribution to the war effort and subsequent return to the domestic vehicle production. Additionally, there was the unheralded flexibility demonstrated in the 1960s and 70s to produce any and all models that GM manufactured. In the 1980s the plant demonstrated the unprecedented ability to respond to the corporate and market demands. The old antiquated facility at Baltimore was transformed to a modern state of the art site. The plant’s continued performance and recognition as a leader in General Motors highlighted the 1990s and 2000s. Even after the announced plant closing, up until the conveyors stopped and the doors were closed, the men and women of GM Assembly – Baltimore Plant continued the outstanding performance that characterized Baltimore since 1935.