William S. Knudsen – Park 21


Over the past few months, many local sources are reporting that Knudsen playground is getting an upgrade due to a dedicated resident and the 8 Mile Boulevard Association.  We are a still a city of folks with the can-do / getter’ done mentality.  Speaking with staff in the GSO – Parks and Rec Dept., the funds are coming partly from Tom’s of Maine [love their toothpaste] coupled with mostly city funds.  Passing by the playground recently updates have already begun –  the ground has been cleared, new fencing is installed.  Look here for new photos in the spring.   Read more about Knudsen’s story and Detroit’s role in WWII production in this awesome op/ed piece.


The story of William S. Knudsen is one of immigrant hopes and realized dreams.
William (say it like vill-yum) immigrated to the United States from his native Denmark in February 1900. He landed work in shipyards and factories, noting the dichotomy of happy faces and violence within. Fist fights aplenty. “I was more or less forced to become a boxer..”


Mastering the concepts of production in factories, he improved upon them and caught the attention of Henry Ford; he became a prominent Ford Motor employee. He switched gears to Chevrolet in 1922 and morphed it into a powerhouse by eliminating bad design and encouraging the brand to out produce its competitor. He rose quickly through ranks and became the President of General Motors. He was knighted by homeland in 1930 and appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1940. With all this personal success [and the generous salaries that come with], he still had to win over skeptics and overcome challenges. Historians indicate through it all, he never lost his optimism.


Knudsen felt a debt to America for his immigrant success. He answered President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to assist the U.S. Military in WWII. Knudsen left his prestigious position as President of General Motors. He led the military with his expertise in equipment production and logistics. His efforts streamlined and increased weapon availability which helped the Allied Forces win the war. For his service, he was assigned the rank of Lt. General and earned the Distinguished Service Cross.

Read: A letter of ‘thanks’ from Harry Truman
Knudsen retired from the Army in June 1945. He passed away in 1948.
He raised three daughters; a son became his legacy at General Motors during the 1960’s.

knudsen 2
Sad little park for a man who changed the world.. Hey General Motors and Ford Motor.. can’t we do better?


The small park honoring Knudsen is located on Omira Street at the gateway of Detroit – 8 Mile and the I-75 service drive.

The park is unmarked; lacking any signage or dedication. The swings and basketball court are older, yet still used by local kids in the good weather.

This is both an interesting and odd location for a memorial park honoring a man who made an enormous world impact in both Detroit and in Europe. Knudsen used to his knowledge, not his might to help bring down Hitler. I realized that just maybe this is the perfect place to honor him. Perhaps the noisy rush of traffic; the rev of engines; the rumble passing semis; the smell of exhaust; the screeching of brakes may all whisper his name from the expressway below.

Learn more about William and his son, Semon Knudsen at the Detroit Public Library – Skillman Branch where their personal papers are archived.