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Ford Motor Company and its Impact on the Early Arab Americans of Michigan

posted on: Feb 2, 2022

By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer


The Ford Motor Company has been powering Americans to get where they need to go for over a century. But were you aware that Arab Americans in Detroit, Michigan were also thrusting the company towards success in the early 1900s? Arab Americans lived in Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, after they emigrated from the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories.

Historically, Arabs settled in the towns of Dearborn and Highland Park, which are surrounded by the city of Detroit. Interestingly enough, you will see another connection to the Ford Motor Company as these are the two towns where their manufacturing plants were located. In fact, Ford’s main headquarters are still located in Dearborn today! In this article, we will be exploring how the Ford Motor Company positively impacted early Arab Americans in Michigan.

Arab Immigration Trends to the United States in the Early 1900s:

Photo: Arab America

First, we will be looking at the immigration trends that brought Arab Americans to Highland Park and Dearborn in the first place. Who were the early Arab Americans? The first group that settled in the Detroit area were from the Greater Syria area which included Arab Christians who immigrated around the time of 1890-1912. Later on, Muslims from Palestine came over between 1908 and 1913. They worked at the Ford Model T plant in Highland Park. Finally, Chaldeans (Christians from modern-day Iraq), and Yemeni immigrants arrived in the Detroit area up until the mid-1920s. These groups were the majority of workers on the assembly lines for Model T cars.

Ford Motor Company and Its Impact Upon Arab Americans:

Photo: PBS

Why did early Arab Americans settle in Highland Park and Dearborn, Michigan? Well, the answer lies in two things. First, the Ford Motor Company had an abundance of jobs. Second, Arab Americans were able to create their own thriving communities in these towns. So, why was working in the auto industry at Ford so appealing? How did the Ford Motor Company impact the lives of Arab American immigrants?

Well, for one thing, Ford gave out excellent wages to its workers. Ford Motor Company under the leadership of its founder, Henry Ford, paid Arab American workers five dollars a day! Five dollars a day does not sound like much in our modern-day economy; however, during the early 1900s, that was a gold mine. Today, those five dollars would be the equivalent of about 65 dollars in purchasing power! Also, minimum wage had not been established yet until the late 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even then it was only 25 cents an hour. So, to sum it up, the opportunity to be paid five dollars a day was very enticing.

Dearborn, Detroit, and Highland Park, Michigan–Origins of the Arab American Community in the United States

Photo: A Little Campy

Were the everyday lives of early Arab Americans in the United States without difficulty? Certainly not. They worked long hours in Ford Motor Company plants that were hot and not well-ventilated. Working in these auto plants gave Arab Americans the opportunity to build their own communities and provided a steady income to begin building their lives in the United States. In fact, when Muslim immigrants came to Highland Park, they built one of the first purpose-built mosques in America which also denoted they were here to stay.

Arab emigrants also established gas stations, grocery stores, and other shops that would eventually build up an entire community. Henry Ford’s legacy of hiring Arab Americans continued in nearby Dearborn, where he had later moved his auto factories. And even to this day, many Arab Americans continue to work for the Ford Motor Company, and some are also in global and high-level leadership positions.

Dearborn, Michigan: The ‘Capital’ of Arab America:

Eventually, Dearborn became another town with an Arab American majority, a feature that continues to this day. But, that community’s success can also trace its roots to Arab Americans working in the Ford Motor Company plants in the early twentieth century. The Arab American community in Dearborn has always been diverse and inclusive of both Christians and Muslims, among other faiths.


So, how did the Ford Motor Company impact the lives of newly-arrived Arab Americans in Detroit? Firstly, the Ford Motor Company gave Arab American immigrants employment, good wages, and a so-called ‘fair shake’. Arab Americans would have surely become successful if the jobs did not exist at the Ford Motor Company. However, at the time, building cars provided steady employment with an in-demand product and eased the path forward. Their lives were certainly not without hardships. However, Arab Americans were able to sustain a livelihood at the Ford Motor Company, and through hard work, they became very successful.

Arab Americans are now synonymous with Dearborn and Detroit, Michigan, as are automobiles, and the Ford Motor Company. Lastly, Arab Americans built and continue to power the community that is still vibrant, beautiful, and diverse to this day!

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