Business

Once teeming with auto plants, Detroit now home to only a few nameplates

The smokestack of the old Hudson plant on Connors north of Jefferson falls during demolition in 1961.

Detroit is still unquestionably the world’s automotive capital, but as a
center of automotive assembly it is just a ghost of its former self.

In earlier days, hundreds of automobile plants built cars in the city. Virtually all are out of business or have moved out. Some of thoseghosts are still here, most notably the ruins of the Packard plant onEast Grand Boulevard, a reminder of the greatness that marque achieved.

Another favorite son of Detroit for decades was the Hudson. Its plantsare gone, but its memories are alive in many owners, collectors andformer employees. So are such once-famous nameplates as DetroitElectric, Graham-Paige, Hupmobile, Maxwell, Rickenbacker and Chalmers.

Here is a brief summary of some of the major auto makers who used tobuild cars in Detroit and helped make it the Motor City:


Auto pioneer Alexander Winton with his wife, opera composer Marion Campbell. Winton never built a car in Detroit but he was unwittingly instrumental in the establishment of the Packard Motor Car Co. when a car he sold to James Packard broke down.Henry Ford once interviewed for a job at Winton’s Cleveland factory, but Winton was unimpressed and declined to hire him.

      Packard (1902-54): James and William Packard founded the PackardElectric Co. in 1890 and started making arc lamps. In 1898, inCleveland, James Packard purchased the 12th horseless carriage producedby Alexander Winton. On the 60-miles drive back to Warren, Ohio, it quitrunning. He finally reached home, towed by a team of plow horses.

Packard returned to the Winton factory and gave Alexander Winton hisconstructive criticism. “If you’re so smart maybe you can build a bettermachine yourself,” the short-tempered Winton retorted. Packard did.


James W. Packard, left, and William D. Packard

      Henry B. Joy was looking for a way to get into the new auto industry. Hewent to New York in 1901 to shop for an automobile company, accompaniedby his brother-in-law, Truman H. Newberry.

They were impressed with the Packard, purchased one and drove it back toDetroit. Joy enlisted Newberry, Russel A. Alger, Jr., Phillip H.McMillan, Dexter M. Ferry, Jr., Joseph Boyer and Charles A. DuCharme,all members of old-money Detroit families to invest in his bid to bringthe Packard company to Detroit.


Packard was the leading luxury car in the ’30s. This is a ’34 LeBaron V-12.

      In early 1903, the company commissioned a new factory in Detroit, on a40-acre site on East Grand Boulevard, the outer limit of the city then.The structure was designed by Albert Kahn. Buildings at the siteincluded the first structurally reinforced concrete factory in the world.Eventually Packard had 74 buildings on 80 acres.

By 1909 the Packard was solidly established. The twin-six arrived in1916 as the first series production 12-cylinder automobile in the world.Packard became the leading American luxury car, outselling Cadillac,Lincoln, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow combined through most of the ’20s and’30s.


The Packard Plant on Grand Boulevard.

      Packard survived the Great Depression through clever marketing and lessexpensive cars. After World War II Packard continued to producemiddle-price Clipper cars which cheapened its image. Cadillac droppedits middle-priced car, the LaSalle, and sold every high-priced car itcould, making it the premier luxury car in the United States.

By 1954 sales were down to 27,000 and Packard merged with Studebaker.The last “real” Packard was produced on June 2, 1956. The 1957 and 1958Packards were re-badged Studebakers, and the name “Packard” disappearedafter 1958.


The Hudson plant, looking north on Connors from E. Jefferson.

      Hudson (1909-54): In 1909, four former associates of Ransom E. Olds (RoyChapin, Howard Coffin, Frederick Bezner and James Brady) began buildinga line of cars that became known for solid engineering, performance andvalue.

Each of the founders had put up $1,500, not much by auto industrystandards, even in those days. The big bankroller was Joseph L. Hudson,of Detroit department store fame.


The Terraplane was such a popular model of Hudson that it was spun off as aseparate line. This is a ’37 sedan.

      Roy Chapin, who emerged as the leader of Hudson Motor Car Co. and whoseson, Roy Jr., would later run American Motors — the result of a merger ofNash-Kelvinator and Hudson — prudently decided to name the car after theman who put up most of the money.

In 1919, the company decided to bring out a smaller, less expensive”companion car” to the Hudson and found a name for it on a map ofEngland — Essex, selected for its snob appeal. Hudson built the Essexthrough a separate corporation and in 1922 the Essex was thelowest-priced closed coach car in America and selling well.


Hudson workers circle the Hudson plant on Jefferson and Connors during a strike in 1941. The union claimed it was the largest picket line ever. The Chrysler plant can be seen further up Jefferson.

      By 1929, the Essex was selling so well that it was merged into theHudson line and enabled Hudson to finish third in sales among Americannameplates. The Terraplane was introduced in 1932 as a model of Essexand in 1933 Hudson dropped the Essex name and called its companion carthe Terraplane

Hudson built the Terraplane as a separate car until 1938, when it madethe Terraplane a model of the Hudson, then dropped it in 1939,apparently because it felt the Terraplane tail was beginning to wag theHudson dog and Terraplane was overshadowing Hudson.

Hudson had many glory days — famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart helping tointroduce the first Terraplane, Marshall Teague and his road-racingtriumphs in the booming big-six Hornet of the ’50s — but the Depressionhad hurt the company badly and the stakes were getting too big in theauto business for the smaller independents.

Hudson and Nash merged in 1954 to form American Motors and the Hudson,the real Hudson, was dead. From then on, Hudsons were Nashes with aHudson nameplate. The ’57 was the last Hudson of any kind.


The Graham brothers, Robert C., Joseph ., and Ray A.

      Graham-Paige (1927-47): The Graham brothers, Joseph B., Robert C., andRay A., began building trucks immediately after World War I, teaming upwith Dodge Brothers in 1921 after the deaths of John and Horace Dodge in1920. The Graham truck became the Dodge truck.

The brothers sold their interest in Dodge in 1926 and the following yeargot back into the auto business by acquiring the financially totteringPaige-Detroit Motor Car Co. The new Graham-Paige had first-yearproduction of 73,195 cars, topping the first-year record which had beenset just the year before in 1926 by Pontiac. (The record was reset oncemore in 1928 by Chrysler Corp.’s new DeSoto.)

Paige was dropped from the car’s name in 1930 and became the name of anew line of trucks. The Paige trucks did not sell well and ChryslerCorp. reminded the brothers that they had agreed to stay out of thetruck business for five years after they sold out of Dodge. So theGrahams discontinued the Paige truck line and just built the Graham car.


The 1938 Graham “Spirit of Motion” was dubbed the “Sharknose” by the public.

      The Graham was an excellent car and its 1932 Blue Streak, with bodystyling by Amos Northrup and detailing by Raymond Dietrich, wasexceptionally handsome. But the Depression was taking its toll on theauto industry and sales continued a steep downward trend. Ray Grahamcommitted suicide in 1932.

The remaining brothers introduced a Supercharged line in 1934, enhancingits already excellent reputation as a high-performance car, but havingonly a minor positive effect on sales.

The handsome styling introduced in 1936 did not help much and thecompany introduced a new body design it called “Spirit of Motion.”Because of its unusual front end and radiator grille design, it becameknown as the “sharknose” and fared poorly on the market. It was widelyregarded as too radical, or even ugly. For these same reasons,”sharknoses” are now favored by collectors and are worth more than themore conventional ’36 and ’37 models.

Desperate, Graham purchased the Cord 810/812 dies from Hupp, which wasalso on its way out of business. The very handsome Hollywood models madewith those dies in 1940 and 1941 are also favorites with collectors.


An elegant car through most of its production years was the Hupmobile. Thisis a 1910 model. The Hupmobile was built at a plant on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit.

      Hupp (1908-41): Like many early auto makers, Robert Craig Hupp gotexperience with the Olds Motor Works and Ford Motor Co. before buildinga prototype car and organizing the Hupp Motor Car Co. with a rentedfactory at 345 Bellevue Avenue to begin production.

The first “Hupmobile” was shown at the Detroit Automobile Show inFebruary, 1909. It had the seat positioned as far rearward as possibleand had a patented three-point suspension, making it comfortable for twolarge people. Over 1,500 Hupmobiles were sold in 1909, and over 5,000 in1910.

Hupp invested his personal capital in a number of supplier companies andwanted to expand Hupp Motor Car Company, similar to General Motors, buthis investors and associates were vehemently opposed to overextendingthe new company. In August 1911 Robert Hupp sold his stock to thecompany’s officers with the intention of producing another Hupmobilethrough his own Hupp Corporation. But Hupp Motor Car Co. filed a lawsuitto prevent him from using the Hupp name on a car with a gasolineautomobile.

The main Detroit Hupp Jefferson Avenue plant was enlarged in 1924 to1,570,000 square feet of floor space, and over 250,000,000 square feetwith subsidiaries counted. By 1928, sales reached over 65,000.

Sales plunged after the stock market crash. For 1934, Raymond Loewydesigned beautiful aerodynamic Hupmobiles with faired-in headlamps andthree-piece windshields. But the company was in a shambles. Productionwas suspended in late 1935. The tooling for the front drive Cord 810/812was purchased to use for the rear-wheel drive Hupmobile and JohnTjaarda, who designed the Lincoln Zephyr, was brought in to adapt thedesign for the Hupmobile.

The result was the beautiful Skylark, now a collector car. But itcouldn’t save Hupp. In September, 1939, the Hupp Corp. entered into anagreement with the Graham-Paige Company, which would build cars for bothcompanies using the former Cord tooling. After production of over500,000 Hupmobiles, the last Skylark rolled off the line during the weekof July 8, 1940, using another company’s obsolete body and assembled ina competitor’s plant.

Anderson Electric (1907-19); Detroit Electric (1919-39): The AndersonCarriage Co., which had been established in Port Huron in 1884, wasmoved to Detroit the following year by its founder, William C. Anderson.And in 1907, he moved the company into the new automobile business,beginning production of an electric car called the Detroit Electric,designed by George M. Bacon.

The Detroit Electric became the most famous and longest-lived electriccar until it quietly disappeared from the scene during the Depression.

In 1911, Anderson purchased the Elwell-Parker Co., of Cleveland, electricmotor builder which had previously supplied the Baker Electric. Thisgave Anderson ability to build the entire car except for wheels andtires.


This 1915 Detroit Electric represented the prime of America’s most successfulelectric car.

      The Detroit Electric was an urban car which appealed mainly to women.Production peaked in 1916 at 3,000 units. In 1918, Anderson retired andM.S. Towson, formerly of Elwell-Parker, took over. In 1919, thecompany’s name was changed from Anderson to Detroit Electric Car Co..

By then, electrics in general had fallen from favor because of theirlimited range. The Detroit Electric was one of the few still inproduction. A false hood and mock radiator were added to the car to makeit look more like a gasoline car. As the ’20s wore on, the handwritingon the wall became more clear and Detroit Electric began shifting frompassenger car to commercial vehicle output.

After the Depression began, Detroit Electric began using Willys-Overlandand Dodge bodies. Production dwindled to by-order only and the companydissolved in 1939.

Blomstrom (1902-04); Queen (1904-06; DeLuxe (1906-09): Carl H.Blomstrom manufactured a small single-cylinder automobile called theBlomstrom. It had a single cylinder of eight horsepower with a 5.5 inchbore and a 6 inch stroke developing eight hp. By the end of 1902 he hadmade two dozen Blomstroms. In 1903 a new type was built with a patentedtwo-cylinder opposed engine.

In 1904 the C. H. Blomstrom Motor Car Company was formed and located at75 Clark Avenue near River Road, embracing 19 acres. The name of the carwas changed to Queen, a two-passenger runabout.

In October 1906, after building about 1,500 Queens, the Blomstrom Companyamalgamated with the De Luxe Motor Car Company. Fewer than 100 ‘DeLuxes” were made up to August, 1909, when the De Luxe Motor Car Companywent out of business and sold all assets to Everett-Metzger-Flanders.


The 1909 Brush was a sprightly little runabout.

      Brush (1906-12): Alanson Partridge Brush established the BrushRunabout Co. in November, 1906. The design of the Brush was very simpleand stayed that way for the life of the marque. There was notransmission, but a variable speed clutch that gave eight forward speedsand one reverse. At high speed it became simply a friction clutch.

The Brush runabout was a bargain at $500 and production climbed from 500in 1907 to 10,000 in 1910, equaling the output of Benjamin Briscoe’sMaxwell-Briscoe Company, with whom Brush was associated. Both companieswere joined that year into the United States Motor consolidation. U. S.Motors collapsed in 1912, Brush was discontinued in 1913.

Commercial (1903-05): The Commercial Company manufactured a 500 lb.electric runabout called a businessman’s carriage. It was powered by a.75 hp motor capable of 40 miles on one charge of its 10-cell batteryand attained speeds up to 14 mph. The factory was located at 259-267Franklin Street in Detroit where electric powered trucks were alsoproduced. Dr. J. B. Book was president and Frederick S. Evans wassecretary and manager.

Dingfelder (1903): Max Dingfelder had a small factory at 958 Jefferson in Detroit. In 1903 he produced a number of two passengerrunabouts. The “Dingfelder” weighed 500 lbs. and had a 3.5 hp one-cylinder motor

E-M-F (1909-1912): The “E” in E-M-F was Barney Everitt, who had made afortune in Detroit as a body builder; “M” was William Metzger, salesmanpar excellence who had played a leading role during the early years ofthe Cadillac and had co-founded the first Detroit auto show in 1899; “F”was Walter Flanders, who had learned how to build cars efficiently asHenry Ford’s production manager.

The E-M-F was planned as a high-volume car at the same time Ford wasgetting his assembly line in order next door on Piquette Street. TheEveritt-Metzger-Flanders Co. was formally announced June 2nd, 1908,following acquisition of the Northern and Wayne companies and theirplants and equipment. Chief engineer was William E. Kelly, who had designedthe Wayne.

Studebaker took E-M-F over completely by 1912, and all subsequent carswere marketed as Studebakers. A Studebaker logo can still be seenfaintly on the back of the building from the Milwaukee rail overpass.


A most unusual car built in Detroit for only a few years was the Krit. This is a 1910model.

      Krit (1909-15): The Krit Motor Car Co. was organized in July 1909 tobuild a car designed by Kenneth Crittenden, who had worked at Ford andRegal. The former C. H. Blomstrom Manufacturing Company’s factory on thecorner of Wight and Lieb was acquired to build the first cars as 1910models.

The Krit Motor Company was having financial problems, and in 1911 WalterS. Russel of the Russel Wheel and Foundry Company led a syndicate topurchase control.

A six cylinder was offered in 1913, but sales were down. More changeswere made to streamline the body in 1915, but could not stave offbankruptcy.

An interesting feature of the car in light of events later in thecentury was that its badge incorporated a swastika, thought to be agood-luck symbol. It wasn’t.

Lozier (1910-18): In 1910, Harry Lozier Jr. organized a company andmoved into a new Albert Kahn factory on Mack Avenue to build ahigh-quality rival to the Packard.

The Lozier was one of the most expensive cars in the United States,which spurred a disagreement among the company directors. Lozierresigned the presidency and in August, 1912, Harry M. Jewett was electedto replace him. Jewett was also president of the successful Paige MotorCo. Jewett resigned in May 1913 and was replaced by Joseph M. Gilbert,former general manager of the American Tire Company. Production ended inSeptember 1918.

Paige-Detroit (1909-27): Harry Jewett made a fortune in mining aroundthe turn of the century and decided to try the same in the then infantauto industry. He acquired a car designed by Andrew Bachle which wasbeing promoted by Fred O. Paige.

Since Jewett didn’t know much about autos, he installed Paige aspresident of his newly formed Paige-Detroit Motor Car Co. in 1909. In1910, having learned a bit about cars, he decided that the Paige was “apiece of junk” and fired Paige, took over himself and hired a newengineering department to design a new car. The new car was a vastimprovement on the older one and Paige sales gradually picked up. Thefirst six-cylinder Paige appeared in 1915.

The Paige gained a reputation for graceful styling and good performance.A smaller companion car was introduced in 1922, named after thepresident and founder, Harry Jewett.

In 1927, Jewett decided he had had enough of the auto business and soldthe company to the Graham brothers, Joseph B., Robert C., and Ray A.,who reorganized it as Graham-Paige Motors Corp.

Reliance (1903-07): The Reliance Automobile Company was organized inlate 1903 to build a car designed by E. 0. Abbott and W. K.Ackerman, both of whom were previously with the Cadillac Company. Aplant of the former Detroit Safe Works at 87 and 89 Fort Street East wassecured for manufacturing.

In 1907 the Reliance Motor Car Company decided the future of theautomobile was in commercial vehicles and it sold its car business toThe Crescent Motor Co. The Reliance truck business was sold to GeneralMotors in 1909 and evolved into the G.M.C. Truck.

Rickenbacker (1921-28): Captain Eddie Rickenbacker returned as a WorldWar I air ace to a hero’s welcome. He decided to produce an automobile.By coincidence, Barney Everitt had a successful body manufacturingfactory on East Jefferson in Detroit, but was anxious to build acar, using the hero’s name.

The Rickenbacker Motor Co. was officially incorporated in 1921. TheMichigan Avenue plant of Disteel Wheel was taken over, and a new factorydesigned by Albert Kahn was erected later at 4815 Cabot Avenue.The Rickenbacker car got great publicity when it was chosen by Detroitcompanies to make the first “transcontinental radio tour” over theLincoln Highway because it “offers the least resistance to radio becauseof vibration.”

On June 27, 1924, the Rickenbacker Motor Co. announced it would havefour-wheel mechanical brakes. It was the first volume-produced,medium-priced car to use them. There were anti-four wheel brake ads inthe papers by competitors, such as Studebaker, who didn’t offer them andclaimed they were unsafe. By the end of 1924, the Rickenbacker Motor Co.had lost $150,000.

A sweeping price reduction was made in July 1925. But dealers had stockon hand that was purchased at the previous wholesale prices, and theirloss created disenchantment. For 1926 the company introduced theRickenbacker Super Sport that sold for $5,000. It had atorpedo rear deck, aerofoil bumpers, cycle fenders made with laminatedmahogany, bullet-shaped headlamps, safety glass all the way around, andno running boards. Prices were reduced again in June 1926, resulting inan unusual influx of business. The dealers were furious. Rickenbackerquit. The plant was sold to Barney Everitt in November 1927, and wasused to make aircraft.

The 1906 Wayne was built in Detroit and named after Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

      Wayne (1904-08): The Wayne Automobile Company was formed in 1901 byCharles F. Palms (whose grandfather was the largest landowner inMichigan). The company and car were named for General “Mad” AnthonyWayne, who was decorated for his heroic efforts during the RevolutionaryWar and Indian wars in the Northwest Territory.

The Wayne automobile was designed by William Kelly. The first Waynehad a two-cylinder motor with chain drive. It sold for $1,200 without acanopy.

The three-story Wayne factory was of brick construction that measured400 x 60 feet and was three stories high. It was situated on five acreslocated at Piquette and Brush.

In 1907 Byron Everitt became president of the Wayne Automobile Company,and sold his Everitt Carriage Trimming Co. to Walter 0. Briggs, who hadbeen the manager. This was the beginning of the Briggs Manufacturing Co.that supplied automobile bodies to many different companies along withmany other products. Briggs was a baseball fan and personal friend ofDetroit Tigers owner Frank Navin. Briggs took over the Tigers after Navin died.

In early 1908 Walter Flanders left Ford Motor Co. to manage theWayne Company. Everitt and Flanders soon formed a partnership with BillMetzger. The Wayne marque was ended when the E.M.F. Company wasorganized.


The end of the Hudson plant.

Richard A. Wright is a Detroit-area free-lance writer.By Richard A. Wright