James O'Connor

Ford Motor Company Employee Biography: James O’Connor

Biography was collected at the 35th Anniversary Banquet for the Old Timers Club of Ford Motor Company.

O’Connor was born Nov. 28, 1887 in Emmett, Mich. He attended grammar school there.

He was 14 when he went to work in a paint shop [of Ford Motor Company]. Since that work, he has been a moulder, done foundry jobs and been a street car conductor. He started on the final assembly line at the Ford Piquette and Beaubien plant in March 1907 when the company was making the model K.

He still gets a kick out of the way he got his job.

“I was walking down the street one day when Peter Martin, who used to be vice-president, came up to me and asked me if I wanted a job. I told him ‘sure’ and I was hired!”

He was one of the men who put the first motor in the Model T – that’s his biggest thrill since he first started to work here.

“It was in October 1908,” he explained, and instead of a few feet of rope which would have been enough, we had 40 feet – we didn’t know what we were doing. Henry Ford was there and we were trying to put the motor in place, when we dropped the motor through the frame. Mr. Ford wouldn’t let us install the motor – it has to be all gone over again. Those were good cars, all right. I’ve had five of them. Had one of the first ones, too.”

As he looked back over those first years at the Piquette and Beaubien plant, he grinned.

“What a change from now. You knew everybody who worked there by his first name. And you did everything by hand. Things certainly have changed.”

And he should know. He’s seen a great many machines come off the final assembly lines – Models K, N, T, A, V-8, ambulances, trucks, amphibians, and jeeps and he’s seen the assembly line grow from its first step to its mass production efficiency of today.

He worked on the Highland Park final assembly line, was made job foreman in 1919 and came to the B building in the Rouge Plant in 1928. He moved to the motor building in the rolling gear department for nine months and returned to the B Building as foreman.

He went to school in Emmett, Michigan, with Mabel Brennan who became his wife in 1910. They have two sons, three daughters and two grandsons. Their youngest son, Eugene, is a tank instructor for the Army in Los Angeles. He worked at the Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant in the Mercury trim department from 1939 to 1941.

Images: From the Collections of The Henry Ford. 1) PO1719 and 2) Text from Accession 616 Old Timers Club, 35th Anniversary Banquet, 1945, Box 1 Folder Biographies & Photographs.

Close Window