When you think of mining, you probably picture hard hats and pickaxes chiseling away at rock walls deep underground.
But did you know that for decades, Ford miners extracted not precious metals or coal, but common sand for making windshields right under the automaker’s St. Paul assembly plant?
Where Exactly Was the Ford Plant Located?
The Ford plant sat atop the Mississippi River bluffs in Highland Park, overlooking St. Paul. This prime location gave Ford access to river transportation and hydroelectric power.
But even more valuable was what lay beneath the plant – not gold, but deposits of high-quality silica sand ideal for making glass.
How Did Ford Use This Sand?
Starting in 1926, Ford mined the fine white sand from tunnels extending at least 4 miles under the plant.
The sand was hauled to the surface and fed into furnaces burning at over 2,600°F. Out came molten glass, which was rolled out and cut into windshields for Ford’s Model T’s, Model A’s and other vehicles assembled right upstairs.
How Was the Sand Actually Mined?
Crews of miners used hand tools like air-powered chisels and shovels to carve sand from the walls and ceilings of the tunnels.
Railroad tracks were laid through the maze of passages to transport the sand to the surface in small trolley carts. It was exhausting but essential work to keep those Fords rolling off the line with windshields.
When Did Ford Stop Mining and Making Glass in St. Paul?
Ford continued its underground mining and glassmaking operations for over 30 years. But in 1959, with manufacturing processes changing, Ford ceased these activities at the St. Paul plant. Some tunnels were sealed up, while others found new purpose.
So the next time you drive by the old Ford site, imagine the bustling underground operation that once supplied a key component for vehicles built above. Ford’s St. Paul plant tapped an unusual mineral resource – common sand – for an unconventional mining operation.