- Written by webmin
GM announced last week that it plans to host open houses at each of its 54 U.S. factories and give tours to the public. Which, we’re sure, will be fascinating for gearheads of all stripes, but what about some of the General’s long-gone factories? And what if you’d rather see vintage cars being assembled?
Fortunately, Fritz Goro, a photojournalist who invented macro photography and who normally photographed science-y subjects for LIFE magazine – computers, atom splitting, DNA sequencing – spent some time in 1959 wandering about Chevrolet’s assembly plant in Tarrytown, New York, and his photographs are now online for everybody to view.
Tarrytown was one of the most historically rich automobile plants outside of Michigan: John Brisben Walker received the undeveloped plot of 10 acres on Kingsland Point between the Hudson River and the New York Central Railroad about 30 miles north of New York City in his acrimonious split with Amzi Lorenzo Barber in 1899. Determined to get his Mobile Company of America building steam cars as quickly as possible to rival Barber’s Locomobile, Walker hired architect Stanford White to build a four-story factory on the land and was able to turn out the first Mobile steamer in March 1900. Yet by 1903, Walker threw in the towel and the next year, he sold the factory to Benjamin Briscoe, who used it to start the Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company. Maxwell prospered over the next several years until Briscoe formed the United States Motor Company in 1910 and attempted to become the next General Motors by combining multiple car brands under one umbrella company. That plan failed two years later, and though Maxwell survived the collapse of U.S. Motor Company, it did so in Detroit. Maxwell sold the Tarrytown plant in 1914 to William C. Durant (incidentally, the man who inspired Briscoe to form the U.S. Motor Company) for production of his new Chevrolet. Chevrolet then produced both cars and trucks there until 1996, when the last Tarrytown Chevrolet – a front-wheel-drive minivan – rolled off its assembly line.
Though the plant itself was knocked down years ago, the concrete slab where it was located remains easily visible. The Tappan Zee Bridge passes by the site not too far to the south, and both the Metro and Amtrak train lines run directly past the site.
As you can see from the sampling below, Goro was able to catch a little bit of everything going on at Tarrytown, from unloading W-engines and small-blocks from the rail cars to curing freshly painted bodies to the body drop. The interior of the plant definitely showed its age in 1959, with updates only as necessary. Note also, not a single robot doing any of the work; not gonna see that in your tours of the modern-day GM plants.
UPDATE (2.December 2010): We’ve removed the gallery of images we had uploaded here, but you can still view the entire collection of images at LIFE-Google.