The Inland Fisher Guide Plant was a General Motors facility located in the West Trenton section of Ewing Township, New Jersey, that opened in 1938 as one of its most modern plants and was operated by the firm for 60 years. The facility was initially part of the Ternstedt division of GM's Fisher Body unit and was used to construct auto parts such as body moldings, door handles and other interior components. During World War II, the facility was converted to build torpedo bombers for the United States Navy as part of GM's Eastern Aircraft.
In 1961, the plant was the site of the first industrial robot used in the United States. At the time of its closure in 1998, the plant made auto components for Delphi Automotive. The buildings on the site were demolished. By 2011 funding had been received by Ewing Township from the federal government to remediate contamination on the site in anticipation of plans to redevelop the area for commercial purposes.
The plant was constructed at a cost of $2 million and had its groundbreaking ceremonies in August 1937 that were attended by Governor of New Jersey Harold G. Hoffman. The plant was dedicated in November 1938 at ceremonies attended by GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan and company president William S. Knudsen. The facility employed a crew of 1,500 when it opened in September 1938, though plans were made to double the number of employees to accommodate expectations that production would be doubled as the condition of the American economy improved in the wake of the strong Republican gains in the 1938 congressional elections, which Sloan described as being an "indication of returning common sense."
Car part production at the plant ended on December 12, 1941, and one month later the factory became a unit of Eastern Aircraft, one of five former General Motors plants in the area which was shifted to the war effort and used to construct the TBM variants of the Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber for the United States Navy during World War II. Subassemblies from other factories were shipped to Ewing Township via the Reading Railroad and were combined with other components built at Ewing, with the completed planes brought to Skillman Airport (later known as Trenton-Mercer Airport) for delivery to the military after test flights were completed. The first Avenger built at the plant was test flown in November 1942, less than eight months after the facility had started being converted to military purposes. A total of 7,800 Avengers were constructed at the plant in Ewing, including the plane George H. W. Bush was flying on September 2, 1944, when he was shot down over the Pacific Ocean by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. In September 1945, the Navy turned almost all of the plants it had acquired during the war over to the Surplus Property Administration; portions of the Ewing plant were one of the limited number of exceptions. After the war ended, the plant was converted to return to production of auto components.
In 1961, the facility became the first commercial user in the United States to use a programmable industrial robot to replace human workers, installing the 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) Unimate automated hydraulic arm developed by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger. It carried units of aluminum door handles and other automotive components weighing as much as 40 pounds (18 kg) into cooling pools; such units had just been die cast from molten metal, and the use of robots eliminated the risks to employees of handling extremely hot metal pieces. A task previously performed by three shifts of employees was converted to be done by the robot. The first production Unimate was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1971 after being used for 100,000 hours during its 10 years of continuous operation at the Ewing plant.
In December 1992, General Motors announced that what was then known as the Delphi Interior & Lighting Systems plant would be closed in 1993, which would mean that the 2,200 people working there would be out of work. In September 1993, William D. Hurley of Independent Component Systems announced that a deal had been reached to acquire the plant from General Motors, as part of an agreement that had been reached with the assistance of the State of New Jersey, though the transaction never was completed. After reaching concessions with Local 731 of the United Auto Workers, General Motors announced in May 1994 that the plant would be kept open as the result of an agreement with the UAW under which the plant's workforce would be reduced by 25% as an effort to reduce costs.
In 1998, as the plant was no longer economically competitive with other manufacturing facilities, it was permanently closed, resulting in the loss of jobs for the 900 people who had been producing seat adjusters, moldings and painted exterior components. The last day of operation was on June 12, 1998, and the 350 workers still on the payroll, who were promised job opportunities elsewhere, were given commemorative books as they punched out for their last time.
The plant was demolished and General Motors paid annual property taxes of $75,000 as of 2010 for the 80 acres (32 ha) of land previously occupied by the plant, the minimum that would be due for unimproved property. While the building had been assessed for $7 million while it was operating, the value of the property for taxation purposes had declined to $940,000 by 2010 for the vacant land.
The site has been targeted for cleanup and commercial redevelopment by Ewing Township, with a $10.4 million grant received in 2011 to cover the costs of remediation of the site. The funds would come from the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust established following the 2009 bankruptcy filing by General Motors, to be used for the cleanup of 89 properties that had been owned by GM. It will be distributed to Ewing Township as the remediation project progresses under the supervision of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
- Staff. "Work Starts on Motors Plant", The New York Times, August 19, 1937. Accessed August 11, 2011. "Ground was broken by Governor Hoffman today for the $2,000,000 plant of the Ternstedt division of the General Motors Corporation in Ewing township."
- Staff. "NEW PLANT DEDICATED BY GENERAL MOTORS; Sloan and Knudsen Attend ceremony in Trenton", The New York Times, November 16, 1938. Accessed August 11, 2011. "Alfred P. Sloan Jr. and William S. Knudsen, chairman of the board and president, respectively, of the General Motors Corporation, visited Trenton today for the dedication of the new plant of the Ternstedt division of the Fisher Body divisions of the General Motors Corporation, a modern factory employing 1,500 persons in Ewing Township, West Trenton."
- Blackwell, Jon. "1942: There's a war to be won", The Trentonian. Accessed August 14, 2011. "Then came Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 12, 1941, General Motors' Ternstedt Division in Ewing, which had been manufacturing car hinges, doorlocks and trim finish moldings, shut down for reconversion. It reopened a month later with a new name: Eastern Aircraft.... By war's end, 7,800 Ewing-made Avengers had been turned out. One of them was being flown by future President George Bush when he was downed over the Pacific in 1944.
- History of Ewing Archived 2011-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, Ewing Township. Accessed August 14, 2011. "Assemblies from other plants on the East Coast were transported via the Reading Railroad to the Ewing plant, where they joined Ewing-fabricated sections in final assembly. Bombers off the line were sent to the Skillman (now Trenton-Mercer) airport, where they were tested before delivery to the Navy."
- Staff. "NEW BOMBER IS TESTED; First 'Avenger' for Navy Is Tried Out at Jersey Plant", The New York Times, November 13, 1942. Accessed August 11, 2011.
- via United Press. "126 PLANTS HELD SURPLUS BY NAVY; Service Turns Them Over to SPA for Disposal--Cost Originally $445,388,000 WILL INCLUDE 58 OTHERS Latter Will Be Disposed Of When Current War Work Contracts Are Ended", The New York Times, September 25, 1945. Accessed August 14, 2011.
- Mickle, Paul. "1961: A peep into the automated future", The Trentonian. Accessed August 11, 2011. "Without any fanfare, the world's first working robot joined the assembly line at the General Motors plant in Ewing Township in the spring of 1961.... It was an automated die-casting mold that dropped red-hot door handles and other such car parts into pools of cooling liquid on a line that moved them along to workers for trimming and buffing. Its most distinct feature was a grip on a steel armature that eliminated the need for a man to touch car parts just made from molten steel."
- Famous Firsts in New Jersey, State of New Jersey. Accessed August 11, 2011. "The first robot to replace a human worker was used by General Motors in Ewing Township in 1961."
- Staff. "How Robots Lost Their Way: Pioneer Joe Engelberger says robots are not doing all they could. But he'll fix that", Bloomberg Businessweek, December 1, 2003. Accessed August 14, 2011. "The father of robotics is disappointed. Back in 1961, at a General Motors Corp. (GM) plant in Ternstedt [sic], N.J., Joe Engelberger switched on his invention. It was a squat, boxy machine called Unimate, with a telescoping, jointed hydraulic arm. Unlike the other machines on the floor, this one needed no operator. And in no time, it was working 24 hours a day, its powerful arm tirelessly shuttling around 20-pound aluminum castings."
- Kotler, Steven. "Man's Best Friend: Not long ago robots were little more than science fiction. Now they can assist in surgery, navigate Mars, and even vacuum your living room", Discover (magazine), December 2005. Accessed August 14, 2011. "Their desire to realize his futuristic vision led to a five-year-long collaboration that spawned Unimation, the world's first robotics company, and Unimate, the world's first industrial robot. Capable of following step-by-step instructions, the jointed, telescopic, 4,000-pound hydraulic arm was introduced at the General Motors plant in Ewing, New Jersey, where it sequenced and stacked pieces of die-cast metal."
- Hyman, Vicki. "How New Jersey Saved Civilization: The hydraulic arm", The Star-Ledger, January 27, 2009. Accessed August 14, 2011. "After putting in about 10 years of nearly round-the-clock service, the original Unimate retired to Washington, D.C., finding a comfortable home in the Smithsonian Institution. Despite jump-starting the age of industrial robotics, the GM plant in Ewing Township closed down in 1998."
- Waurzyniak, Patrick . "MASTERS OF MANUFACTURING: Joseph F. Engelberger", Manufacturing Engineering, July 2006. Accessed August 14, 2011. "The parts were only about 30 to 40 lb [13.5-18 kg], but hot as hell. They came out hot from the die-casting machine, then they have to be quenched and put into a trim press. A tough, miserable job for a guy. We used to say, The jobs that we want are the hot, hazardous, and boring.' ... You know, the machine that went into General Motors, after 100,000 hr, it ended up in the Smithsonian, the first industrial robot."
- Staff. "At Plant, Gray Skies and Pink Slips", The New York Times, December 4, 1992. Accessed August 11, 2011. "Workers on the day shift streamed out of General Motors Inland Fisher Guide plant here today just as gray clouds and a cold wind were moving in from the west. Hours earlier, in a meeting in the plant cafeteria, they had been told that the plant's 2,200 employees would lose their jobs next year."
- Staff. "COMPANY NEWS; G.M. IS SAID TO BE CLOSE TO SALE OF NEW JERSEY PLANT", The New York Times, September 15, 1993. Accessed August 14, 2011. "The General Motors Corporation is close to selling its Inland Fisher Guide plant in Ewing Township, N.J., to William D. Hurley, a New Jersey investor, a state official said yesterday."
- Staff. "A COST-CUTTING DEAL SAVES GM PLANT IN EWING TWP.", The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 20, 1994. Accessed August 14, 2011. "General Motors Corp. announced yesterday that it had agreed to keep open an Inland Fisher Guide plant whose workers agreed to cut jobs and other costs."
- Staff. "End of the Line For a Parts Factory", The New York Times, June 13, 1998. Accessed August 14, 2011. "Delphi Interior and Lighting Systems, a division of General Motors in Ewing, N.J., ran its last assembly line yesterday, and workers paused to say goodbye, above."
- Galler, Joan. "Ewing cheers as Obama slates million$ to clean up ex-GM site", The Trentonian, May 19, 2010. Accessed August 11, 2011. "In 1998, GM closed its Delphi Interior & Lighting Systems plant off Parkway Avenue after failing to return the plant to profitability and increase its competitiveness.... Constructed in 1937, the Ewing plant began producing automobile window regulators in 1938 under the management of GM’s former Ternstedt Division.... During World War II, the Ewing plant was one of five in the area that became Eastern Aircraft Corp. The first Avenger Torpedo Bomber was built there."
- Rojas, Cristina. "Ewing property taxes to drop with transitional year budget", The Times (Trenton), July 29, 2011. Accessed August 14, 2011. "When General Motors closed its doors, the site was assessed at nearly $7 million, but the assessment fell to $1.76 million after the factory’s demolition. The property is now valued at $940,000, or 14 percent of its value 13 years ago."
- Galler, Joan. "Ewing's vacant General Motors site soon to be cleaned", The Trentonian, August 10, 2011. Accessed August 11, 2011.