Industry, Education, Technology, & Entertainment: Detroit 1865-1900

Belle Isle Park, est. 1876 (Image credit: Belle Isle Conservancy)
Belle Isle Park, est. 1876 (Image credit: Belle Isle Conservancy)
Map of Detroit's Growth from 1806-1926

Map of Detroit’s Growth from 1806-1926

The Civil War had a huge impact on Michigan and Detroit. Michigan supplied many of the companies that marched south, to fight the Confederates, including some of the first all-African-American companies. Detroit, aside from being an important stop on the Underground Railroad, became an industrial center which would produce the Union’s cannons. In 1863, the first streetcars were drawn down Detroit’s streets behind horses and Detroit suffered its first race riots. At the time, there was a large population of German Catholics in the city and they rioted against the mandatory draft laws enacted for the Civil War. It was called “the bloodiest day that ever dawned in Detroit.”

James Vernon, creator of Vernor's Ginger Ale

James Vernon, creator of Vernor’s Ginger Ale

After the unrest of the Civil War, which ended in 1865, Detroit continued to develop into an even larger national mecca. Detroit residents are familiar with Vernor’s Ginger Ale, but some might not know that it was created by a Civil War veteran in 1866. Alongside industrial growth, Detroit saw a huge growth in education. Detroit’s first high schools were founded in this time along with Wayne State (known as the Detroit Medical School at the time) in 1868 and the University of Detroit Mercy (known as Detroit College) in 1881. Shortly after the invention of the telephone, Detroit received its first telephone call. It played music from Chicago. In 1881, the Detroit Baseball Company, Detroit’s first baseball team, won the National League Championship or “World Series” as it was called at the time. Along with industry, education, technology, and sports, Detroit would found the Detroit Museum of Art, in 1888. This museum would become Detroit’s most prestigious museum: the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Detroit Medical School

Detroit Medical School

Detroit icon Henry Ford, who was born in 1863, began bringing Detroit into the automobile manufacturing industry in 1896, when he test drove his first car. From that point, Ford would found the Detroit Automobile Company which would fail only two years later after producing only two cars. In 1901, Ford began again by founding the Ford Motor Company. Despite the fact that Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, he was the first to combine auto manufacturing with the assembly line. This moved the automobile from a luxury product for the rich to a commonplace necessity for all middle class Americans.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, & Harvey Firestone

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, & Harvey Firestone

By 1900, Detroit was the world’s largest producer of stoves for cooking and heating. Along with that, Detroit boasted large industries in ship building, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, beer, rail cars, machine parts, and steel. With this power and only a bit over a decade later, Detroit would be called into action once again as the “Arsenal of Democracy”.

Detroit Stove Works, Largest in the world

Detroit Stove Works, Largest in the world

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