Photograph of plant employees, 1980s. All items from the Chrysler Corporation. Newark Assembly Plant records, 1970-2008. Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.

Chrysler plant history

University Library announces oral history of Chrysler's Newark Assembly Plant

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11:34 a.m., March 19, 2012--The University of Delaware Library has announced the opening of a new digital collection, the Oral History Collection of the Chrysler Corporation's Newark Assembly Plant.

This oral history collection consists of digital audio interviews with 12 former employees of the Chrysler plant in Newark conducted by UD students in HIST 468/667: Oral History, taught by Roger Horowitz, supplemental faculty in the Department of History in the spring semester of 2011. Additional interviews are planned when he teaches the class again in 2013.

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The library has provided an online description of the oral history collection that provides direct links to the digital audio files, allowing researchers and the public to listen to personal stories of former employees of the Chrysler plant who served in a variety of positions within the organization.

The oral histories, along with other digital collections of the University of Delaware Library, are available at this website.

The Chrysler oral history interviews discuss working conditions and events at the plant from the 1950s until its closure in 2008. Topics discussed include job duties, union activities, changing race and gender relations, plant culture, family life, the introduction of new technology and reactions to the plant’s closure. Brief summaries of each interview are provided in the contents list along with the names of the interviewers.

“The University of Delaware Library is delighted that this web oral history resource is now available for users. It makes clear the great influence and heritage of the Chrysler Plant in Newark,” stated Susan Brynteson, vice provost and May Morris Director of Libraries.

For more than a half century, the plant provided employment for generations of local residents and was an important economic asset and social presence in the city of Newark. After the plant closed in late 2008, the 272-acre property was purchased by UD, which is developing a Science and Technology Campus on the site.

Chrysler’s 3.4 million-square-foot Newark plant was built in 1951 to produce tanks for the U.S. Army. The plant was converted to Plymouth and Dodge production in April 1957, starting a run of nearly 7 million cars, including the LH series (Intrepid and Concorde), the AA bodies (EEKs) (Acclaim, Spirit, LeBaron), and the legendary A-body Valiant and Dart before starting Dodge Durango production. In 1969 alone, the Newark plant produced 186,177 Plymouth Furys, Dodge Polaras and C-body Chryslers. 

In 1997, Chrysler put $623 million into the Newark plant to ready it for production of the Dodge Durango. The plant was closed in December 2008 due to falling sales of the Durango and Aspen. It had just started producing hybrid-electric versions of both vehicles, and had 1,100 employees, down from 2,115 in 2005.

“The Newark Assembly Plant oral histories provide community members, scholars and researchers from around the world access to personal narratives and information that will be useful for local history, sociology, labor and economic history,” said Evan Echols, assistant librarian, Special Collections Department, who processed the collection.  

“For Chrysler workers, the Newark plant was their community as well as the means to provide a good life for their families,” said Horowitz. “The factory’s importance to former employees was reflected in the willingness of so many to be interviewed for this project.”

In addition to Horowitz’s students, Kyle Herring, a student intern from UD's Museum Studies Program, wrote descriptive abstracts for the University of Delaware Library’s finding aid for the collection.  

Like other oral histories that are available as digital collections from the library, the Chrysler Newark Assembly Plant project was collaboration between the library, University faculty and students, and community members.  Within the library, staff from the Student Multimedia Design Center, Center for Digital Collections, the Special Collections Department and the Library Computing Services Division supported the project.  

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