NEH Awards $500,000 Challenge Grant to Preserve a Detroit Icon

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum

A 1909 Model T parked in front of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum in Detroit, MI.

The birthplace of the Model T and one of the oldest surviving automotive factories in the world, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan, has turned 120 years old. Henry Ford constructed this long, narrow, wood and brick building to provide maximum light and air for his workers between 1904 and 1910. It is where Ford developed the car that put the world on wheels.  

As the factory celebrates its birthday milestone, on the heels of the 115th anniversary of the 1908 Model T, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the museum a $500,000 Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant. This federal grant will match one dollar for every three dollars raised by the museum in support of crucial infrastructure projects and increased accessibility for the many thousands of visitors who tour the historic structure each year. 

Today, Piquette is a U. S. National Historic Landmark and nonprofit museum open year-round to the public. Through photographs, film, exhibits, original artifacts, and more than 65 rare vehicles, the museum brings to life the industrial, cultural, and social history of the City of Detroit just after the turn of the century. Saved by community volunteers in 2000, the building is miraculously preserved, offering an unparalleled place to explore early automotive history. It is an iconic tourist attraction in the place known worldwide as The Motor City. 

Despite significant repairs to the building over prior decades, however, the site is endangered, and volunteers are racing to install modern infrastructure that will protect it, and its rare vehicle collections, for generations to come.   

“Support from the NEH underscores the national significance of the Piquette Plant in American industrial history,” said Jill Woodward, President & Chief Operating Officer of the museum. “This is where Detroit’s origin story as The Motor City begins, right here in our Milwaukee Junction neighborhood, where Ford, Dodge, Cadillac, Detroit Electric and dozens of other automakers and auto suppliers were all operating. We hope community appreciation for our national automotive heritage will help us raise the funds needed to match the NEH challenge.”

The museum is currently tackling an estimated $10 million in capital needs including addressing cloth-covered wiring dating back to 1926, an inoperable fire-suppression system, a 98-year-old elevator, 120-year-old plumbing, and no heating or cooling throughout most of the museum. 

“Our greatest artifact is the building itself,” says Woodward. “Visitors from all over the world are amazed to experience the history of this place with its original patina intact.” The museum has engaged Detroit-based architectural firm Albert Kahn Associates to design the enhancements to the building. This partnership is fitting since the legendary late architect and founder of the firm, Albert Kahn, collaborated with Henry Ford to revolutionize the field of industrial architecture. 

The first affordable, mass-produced car for everyday people, the Model T sparked a worldwide transformation in manufacturing, transportation, and urban planning, as well as social and cultural trends such as The Great Migration and the population shift from farms to cities. By the early 1920s, every other car on the plant was a Model T. This car was in continuous production for nearly 19 years and more than 15 million were made. Visitors to the Piquette Plant today can stand in Mr. Ford’s secret Experimental Room, in the exact spot where the first Model T was conceived and built. 

Matching donations to support the "Preserving the Legend" fund at the  Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum can be made online at For more information, contact [email protected] or call (313) 872-8759. 

Contact Information:
Jill Woodward
President & COO
[email protected]

Original Source: The Birthplace of the Model T: Henry Ford's Piquette Plant Turns 120