Made in Michigan

Since Ford installed conveyor belts to turn out a Model T in 93 minutes, Michigan has sat at the center of the manufacturing world. Delve into Michigan’s history of innovation during behind-the-scenes tours of heritage brands—Stormy Kromer, Ford Motor Company and Chelsea Milling Company—as well as new kid on the block Shinola.

Stormy Kromer | Ironwood • 1903
An 8-foot-wide statue of Ared Cap signals your arrival in the home of Stormy Kromer, where thriving old-school American craftsmanship makes hand-sewn hats as rugged as the hills around this western Upper Peninsula mining town. Tours start with the photo-illustrated story of founder George “Stormy” Kromer, a railroad engineer. In 1903, his seamstress spouse, Ida, designed the signature ear-flap hat when winter winds kepy yanking the ball capp of Stormy’s head. The warehouse reveals a colorful multitude of wools, mackinaw plaids and waterproof oilskins that are cut, sewn and shaped into the hundreds of hats shipped daily to consumers and retail outlets around the country. Freshly stitched Kromer products are also available in the well-stocked company store. Free tours at 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Chelsea Milling Company | Chelsea • 1901
Selfies with the smiling statue of Corny J., Jiffy Mix’s mascot, are practically mandated for visitors at the thrumming home of Chelsea Milling Company, better known as the Jiffy Mix Factory. This state-of-the-art mill churns out 11⁄2 million blue-and-white boxes of baking mixes a day during peak season (September to January). Nibble on complimentary treats while you watch a 20-minute film about the factory’s people and processes, then slip on a blue hair net and hit the factory floor. There, grains from America’s Heartland get sifted, portioned and packaged into Jiffy’s myriad of mixes. The guided tour winds past the whirring choreography of belts, paddles and bins and a box-making machine with spidery robotic arms. Visitors leave with a craving for muffins, a goodie bag of boxed mixes and a cookbook. Free tours by reservation 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Shinola | Detroit • 2011
Detroit’s supremely hip house of vintage-inspired bicycles, timepieces and leather couture, Shinola, has become synonymous with the rebirth of Detroit. 

Building on the Motor City’s deep manufacturing history, Shinola’s factory and headquarters occupy a 30,000-square-foot facility in Midtown. Visitors behind a glass wall observe the hushed process of watch assembly as technicians in lab coats wield tiny instruments with surgical precision. In Shinola’s leather studio, an army of denim-clad craftsmen works over piles of supple, subtly dyed skins, tanned on-site. They stitch up heirloom-quality totes, wallets, dopp kits and dog collars as music bumps in the background. En route to the finale in the retail boutique, tours swoop through the marketing department, where a nearly tangible creative buzz bounces off walls plastered in company ads. White-collar work never looked so dynamic as a team scribbles and riffs to refine the essential message of cool American craft. One-hour tours, by reservation, are limited to groups of 10 and available at 2 p.m. two Fridays a month.

Ford Motor Company | Dearborn • 1903
Ford’s sprawling assembly complex birthed the first Model A’s and today, equipped with cutting-edge robotics, produces the top-selling F-150 pick-up truck. A tour of the Ford Rouge Factory is a self-guided sensory immersion into the world of modern auto making. The experience begins in the Manufacturing Innovation Theater; buffeting air blasts and the buzz of impact wrenches accent the rumble of the assembly line transmitted through every seat. Postmovie, visitors climb to the catwalk overlooking the production floor, where 1,200 shiny Fords roll off the line every day. Video stations blare above the mechanized din to describe line employees’ roles—the human touch remains important at the heart of this 21st-century plant. Buses for Ford Rouge Factory tours depart daily from The Henry Ford at 20-minute intervals.