Chapter 25: Michigan becomes an urban state.
These percentages are only rough indicators of population distribution and density. The Census Bureau has for many years used a population of 2,500 as the cutoff point in deciding whether to call a community or area rural or urban. This meant that Bad Axe, for example, in the heart of the essentially agricultural northern Thumb area, fell on the urban side of the line while Bloomfield Hills, in the Detroit industrial area, until recently had to be classified as rural. To correct such incongruities, the Census Bureau in 1950 began to make the urban-rural breakdown more meaningful sociologically and economically, as well as demographically. It devised additional categories, such as metropolitan areas, in order to classify communities such as Bloomfield Hills as urban--regardless of their population--when its residents and activities are closely tied in with those of a nearby large city, in this case Detroit. Nevertheless, there remain numerous isolated small communities which fall on the urban side of the Census Bureau's scale that, because of their strong associations with their area's agricultural activities and in view of the social and economic implications of the term, are more rural than urban. (1) However, the implications of the percentage breakdowns of 1920 were clear. The era in which life in Michigan, because of some economic activities (particularly farming), centered on small towns and country villages, had now given way to one in which an urban, industrialized life would more accurately reflect the average Michiganian's experience.
The movement from the farms to urban centers had been one of the most important changes that had taken place throughout much of the United States in the years following the Civil War. The trend was nationwide, but in Michigan the movement to the cities was slower than in much of the rest of the Great Lakes region until the turn of the century. Until the 1890s Michigan, unlike its neighbors to the south, was still partially in what could be called the frontier stage of development, because it was not until that period that the last major undeveloped area in the state was settled. Until that time, Michigan's major attraction had been the potential offered by its undeveloped lands. The area south of a line from Saginaw Bay across to Muskegon had filled up first, with the agricultural opportunities being the great drawing card. This region has always contained the largest share of the state's population--99.1 percent of Michigan's entire non-Indian population resided there in 1840. This percentage declined in each successive census until it stabilized at about 75 percent of the state's population in the censuses of 1900 and 1910. A second region, containing the bulk of the state's timber resources, encompassed the remainder of the Lower Peninsula north of the agricultural region and that part of the Upper Peninsula east of Marquette and Dickinson counties. As the lumber boom developed, this region's share of the state's population increased steadily, reaching 11.4 percent by 1880, 16.9 percent by 1890, and peaking at 18.3 percent in 1900. The last area to be settled was the western part of the Upper Peninsula, where the discovery of copper and iron ore deposits in the 1840s began to attract settlers, whose numbers by 1910 constituted 7.7 percent of the state's population. As first the lumber industry and then the mining industry reached their limits of growth and then began to decline, the populations of the northern areas also began to decline, with the proportion of the state's population living in the region where the lumbermen had once been kings falling to less than 9 percent of the total by the 1930s while the copper- and iron-mining districts contained only 3.8 percent of the state's population by 1940.
The declining percentages in the northern two-thirds of the state after the early years of the twentieth century indicated that the southern area's share of the population increased with each decade's census figures. In absolute terms, however, the population of this region, as well as that of the state as a whole, would have declined in the course of the twentieth century had the state still been forced to rely primarily on the older types of economic activities. What might have happened was foretold by the slowdown in the state's growth rate toward the end of the nineteenth century. Between 1890 and 1900, Michigan's population increased from 2,093,890 to 2,420,982, a percentage increase of 15.6--half the growth rate of the previous decade. More significantly, the increase was due more to the natural increase of the resident population than it was to the movement into the state of new residents. Where hundreds of thousands of people from other states and foreign immigrants had poured into Michigan in the decades immediately preceding the nineties, the number of residents from other parts of the country increased by less than 120,000 during the nineties, while the number of persons of foreign birth was actually less in 1900 than it had been in 1890. Michigan had lost its image of a land of opportunity, and the population figures in the early years of the new century gave little indication of a return to the more positive image of the mid-nineteenth century, with the growth rate in the first decade of the century remaining well below the national average. But then came a dramatic reversal in the second and third decades. Between 1910 and 1920, Michigan's population grew by 30.5 percent, double that of the two previous decades and far above both the regional and national rates, and the figures for the twenties were even better--a growth of 32 percent. The turnaround was entirely due to the soaring population figures for the southern part of the state, and within that area it was manufacturing, not farming, that was now the great magnet, particularly into the automotive centers in the southeastern part of the state. (2)
Among Michigan cities, Detroit has always been in a class by itself. As early as 1870, it had almost five times as many people as Grand Rapids, the next largest city. Although Detroit was the Michigan metropolis from the beginning, it became one of the nation's major cities only after the coming of the automobile. Despite a steady increase in its population in the nineteenth century, it had lagged behind younger neighbors in the Great Lakes area such as Cleveland and Buffalo. At the beginning of the twentieth century, nearly one of every eight Michiganians resided in Detroit, in contrast to the figure of 1840, at the height of the agricultural boom in Michigan's interior, when only one of every twenty-three people in the state lived in Michigan's largest urban center. But nationally, Detroit's population of 285,704 in 1900 placed it only thirteenth on the list of the largest cities in the country. It was a city that was noted for its beauty. Its tree-lined streets, the virtual absence of any buildings of more than three or four stories, and its comfortable residential areas helped to provide an atmosphere resembling that of a small town more than one of a big city. Geographically, the city was still concentrated along the river. Only in the latter part of the century had there been much movement inland, with the city limits reaching as far as Highland Park only in 1891. Most of the area that would come within the city by the 1920s was still farmland in 1900. Highland Park and Hamtramck, the two communities that would become entirely surrounded by Detroit's twentieth-century expansion, were small towns of about 400 and 3,000 people, respectively, in this period; the opening of the Ford assembly plant in the former and the Dodge factory in the latter would transform them into booming industrial cities after 1910.
To the west out of Detroit on Michigan Avenue, little had changed since the pioneers had taken this route into the interior. One passed through miles of farmland before reaching Dearborn, a community of less than a thousand people occupying a small portion of what is now the western section of this sprawling industrial center. Downriver from Detroit, the small communities of River Rouge, Ecorse, Wyandotte, and Trenton existed, but upriver, the Grosse Pointe area was still primarily an area of summer homes for wealthy Detroiters. Not until 1910 did it begin to change into an area of year-round occupancy. Traveling inland on Woodward Avenue and past Highland Park, one eventually reached Birmingham and Bloomfield Center (today's Bloomfield Hills). In a later time, these places, like Grosse Pointe, would become the most prestigious addresses for Detroit's industrial elite. Such familiar present-day Detroit suburban communities as Lincoln Park, Melvindale, Livonia, Southfield, Hazel Park, and Warren did not exist at all at the start of the century.
Grand Rapids was the second largest city. There the rapid development of the furniture industry had stimulated an increase in the city's population from 32,016 in 1880 to 87,565 in 1900. By this time the Furniture City had reduced the ratio between the number of its residents and those of Detroit from the 1-to-5 figure of 1870 to a more respectable 1-to-3 margin of difference. Among other communities, only the lumber centers of Saginaw, with a population of 42,345, and Bay City, with 40,747 (counting Bay City and West Bay City as one community), would fall into what later generations would regard as cities of considerable size. Other cities, such as Lansing, Kalamazoo (which was not incorporated as a city until 1884), Jackson, Battle Creek, Ann Arbor, and Flint, would be looked upon as little more than small towns by late twentieth-century standards.
Nevertheless, typical urban problems such as supplying water for domestic use, fire fighting, police protection, sewage disposal, and public transportation had become matters of increasing concern in Michigan and were being dealt with by the end of the nineteenth century. In Grand Rapids a private company had been incorporated in 1849 to supply water for the city. A rival concern began operations in 1854. The two were merged in 1870, but disastrous fires in that year caused citizens to clamor for a more abundant supply of water. Another conflagration in 1873 intensified the demand, and the following year the city laid eleven miles of water mains. Wooden pipes, prepared by boring out the center of logs, binding them with hoop iron, and covering them with asphalt, were installed. The private company continued to supply water until 1920, when it was purchased by the city. In Detroit, where the transition from private to public operation of the waterworks had occurred as early as 1836, approximately a fifth of the families by 1886 had running water in the home. But at the end of the century wells were still a familiar sight in the yards of Detroit homes. A similar pattern of development occurred in other cities. A series of fires in the early 1850s persuaded citizens of Kalamazoo of the need for an adequate source of water in that city, although the system was not fully developed until the late 1860s. By contrast, in Flint the city waterworks remained a private company until the second decade of the twentieth century, with the future auto industry giant Billy Durant involved in the management of the company for a time after its incorporation in 1883. As for the related development of sewage systems, the health hazards created by polluted water supplies initiated an increase in governmental expenditures as cities grew in size. East Saginaw, for example, had allocated $16,000 for sewage facilities in 1866, but by 1889 the community's expenditures in this area had reached $500,000. Of course, older methods of sewage disposal would survive for many years. In Ypsilanti, where the erection in 1890 of its distinctively designed water tower, so familiar to generations of students at the nearby college, had marked the inauguration of indoor plumbing for those residents who wished to tie into the system, an occasional septic tank was still to be found within the city in the latter part of the twentieth century. Not until that same period did increasingly rigid public health standards, plus the infusion of federal funds, bring on a massive new sewage construction development that incorporated into these systems more and more small towns and neighboring rural areas and eliminated both septic tanks and outhouses.
In Detroit the race riot of 1863 had led to the establishment of a city police force in 1865. (3) By 1883 it consisted of 193 men, with an annual budget of more than $170,000. Grand Rapids abandoned the old privately financed night watchmen system in 1871 when it created its first city police force, consisting of a chief and eight patrolmen. In Kalamazoo, which was still a village, the marshal in the early 1870s began employing a couple of policemen, one for daytime, the other for nighttime duty, and special police were hired when a circus or some other outside attraction came to town. The same period also saw the disappearance in Michigan's larger cities of the volunteer fire companies. Detroit, the first community to take this step, had nineteen engine houses by the 1880s, staffed with professional firefighters equipped with horse-drawn steam pumpers. Although the city did experiment with self-propelled steam fire engines, they proved not to be a satisfactory substitute for the traditional horse-drawn equipment, which continued to be used in the Motor City as late as 1922. After 1870 fire alarms could be turned in by means of an electric telegraph system, and by 1886 there were 188 alarm boxes at strategic points in the city. In Grand Rapids, volunteer fire companies, subsidized by the city and knee-deep in politics, carried the responsibility for fire fighting until the creation of a full-time paid force in 1895. In Kalamazoo the transition was gradual. Two men were hired by the village in 1870 to assist the four volunteer companies in hauling hose in case of fire, and in 1877 a full-time paid force of six men was hired to replace one of the volunteer companies. The first fire-alarm box was installed the same year, with twelve in service by 1882.
New approaches to the problem of lighting the city streets were adopted in the last half of the nineteenth century. Gas lights, using gas made from coal or some other source, were first used in Detroit in 1851 with the formation of the Detroit Gas Light Company. The formation of a rival gas company a few years later divided the city into two sections--each company having one section as its exclusive territory. The two firms were merged in 1893, forming what is now the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, supplier of natural gas to much of southeastern Michigan as well as other areas such as Grand Rapids. Naphtha lamps were experimented with in the 1870s, and in 1881 a contract was made with a private company to illuminate Detroit's streets with electric lights--powerful arc lights mounted on towers as high as 160 feet. These spectacular, though ineffective, features of the city landscape remained until 1918 when the city's last light tower was taken down.
The first gas company in Grand Rapids started in 1856. The following year in Kalamazoo the first of numerous local utility firms that would later be merged to form the present Consumers Power Company began producing gas from pine resin, obtained from a local lumber mill. This proved too expensive a process, however, and the company soon switched to the more common method of making gas from coal, obtaining the latter from the nearby Jackson coal mines. During the following decade, other gas companies, which likewise eventually came into the Consumers Power organization, were established in Pontiac, East Saginaw, Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint. These outstate areas, however, did not lag behind Detroit in adopting electric street lighting, with the Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power Company, organized in 1880 by William Powers--one of the pioneers in the furniture industry--installing twelve steel light towers in 1881, some of which survived down into the 1920s. Powers used waterpower from a nearby lumber mill to power his dynamo, and his Grand Rapids operation may have been the world's first commercial hydroelectric installation. It was certainly in advance of a small installation in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1882, and Thomas Edison's original steam station in New York City that same year, both of which are usually cited as marking the birth of commercial electricity. Electric companies were in operation later in the eighties in Saginaw, Bay City, Flint, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Pontiac. These companies, together with the gas companies in several of the same cities, would all be part of mergers that would eventually lead to the establishment of the Consumers Power Company, the major supplier of electricity and natural gas in much of the Lower Peninsula outside the immediate Detroit area. (4) In the 1890s Kalamazoo citizens voted to establish a municipal light company, which was sold to Consumers Power in 1956, but Lansing continues to operate the city-owned electric power plant that it established in 1892, as do Holland and Grand Haven, among other outstate communities with publicly owned power plants. In Detroit the present Detroit Edison Company, the principal supplier of electricity in southeastern Michigan, was formed in 1903 as an outgrowth of several earlier private power companies, mainly the Edison Illuminating Company, whose most famous employee in the nineties was its chief engineer, Henry Ford. In that same period, however, Detroit's reform-minded Mayor Hazen S. Pingree led a successful fight to establish a municipal power plant, which in 1895 took over the lighting of city streets and also of public buildings. In a period when public versus private operations of such utilities was hotly debated, Detroit's municipal lighting plant, though its city service was limited, was cited by advocates of public power as an example of a successful operation of this type. Despite what may have been the hopes of its founders, however, it did not presage a move to public ownership of all electrical power service in the city. In the 1960s it was proposed to sell the city power plant to Detroit Edison as an economy measure, but the city ultimately decided to retain the facility.
In their early stages of development both gas lighting and electric lighting were principally used for outdoor lighting or in stores, factories, and public buildings. Some private homes began to install gas lights by the 1860s and 1870s, but it was not until the 1890s that residential use of electric lighting became widespread, and even then most homes in the state were still using either candles or kerosene lamps for lighting purposes. Similarly, telephone service, which arrived in Michigan in a surprisingly short time after Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his invention at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, was not widely adopted outside of businesses and a few wealthy family residences until the end of the nineteenth century.
One new urban development of these years that affected a broad cross section of these cities' population was the adoption of improved systems of public transportation. Until the 1860s, the great majority of city residents got where they had to go by walking. Only wealthy families could afford the luxury of owning and operating horse-drawn carriages. In the 1840s in Detroit, horse-drawn hacks and omnibuses began to appear on the streets, but in 1863 a more adequate form of public transportation began to appear with the opening of the first street railway line on Jefferson Avenue. Later in the sixties Grand Rapids followed suit. Beginning in the eighties cable cars were used for several years to negotiate the hilly sections of Grand Rapids. (5) In 1886 Port Huron was the first city to electrify its streetcar operations, which up to that time had been horse-drawn. In Detroit the public was dissatisfied when the private companies that had been franchised to operate streetcar lines failed to electrify their service, and this dissatisfaction led to Mayor Pingree's most famous reform campaign against private traction interests. His conclusion was that the streetcars should come under municipal management, but not until 1922 did Detroit acquire ownership of the street railways, by which time the increasing use of automobiles made the acquisition far less of an asset to the city than it would have been a quarter century earlier. (6)
The streetcar was the first step toward expanding the city because it enabled workers to live some distance from where they were employed. The next step was to provide the same kind of cheap, frequent transportation service between neighboring communities. This was more difficult to bring about, since a company planning to develop such a line (which came to be referred to as an interurban) would have to obtain a franchise to operate within each municipality through which the line passed as well as acquiring the right of way between communities. Also, until the 1890s the problems of transmitting electric power over distances of more than twenty miles hindered the development of electrically powered transportation systems.
Michigan's first interurban, connecting Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, was an outgrowth of Ann Arbor awarding in 1888 a franchise for the construction of a street railway system in that city. When the neighboring city of Ypsilanti sought to provide similar service to its residents, it found that it was regarded as too small to support such a system, but the New York promoter who was approached on the matter felt such a line could pay for itself if it was extended from downtown Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor, seven and a half miles away. After some negotiations, the necessary approvals were obtained from Ypsilanti and the officials of the two townships through which the line would pass, and the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Street Railway Company was formed in 1890. The tracks were laid and service between the two cities was inaugurated in January 1891. Initially, the interurban cars, which were steam-driven, carried passengers to the Ann Arbor city limits, where passengers transferred to the electric cars of the Ann Arbor Street Railway Company. Shortly, however, the interurban company purchased the Ann Arbor streetcar firm, and in 1896, when the interurban line was electrified, the two systems were formally combined as the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Electric Street Railway. From the outset the Ypsi-Ann, as it was popularly called, was a success. The Michigan Central Railroad, which had run through the two cities since the late 1830s, charged 25cents for the trip. The interurban charged only 10cents, with bargain rates for those who bought books of tickets. It soon had six hundred passengers a day, in contrast to the forty passengers that the railroad had been carrying between the two cities. The interurban passengers were attracted not only by the cheap fares but also by the greater frequency of service. It proved especially popular with the students at the University of Michigan and the Michigan State Normal because it provided the predominantly male student body at the Ann Arbor school an inexpensive way of getting together with the predominantly female student population at the Ypsilanti school.
Late in 1897 the Ypsi-Ann was purchased by a Detroit group, which reorganized the company as the Detroit, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Service from Ypsilanti to Detroit was inaugurated in June 1898, with a branch line also opened between Wayne and Northville. In 1899 another branch linked Ypsilanti with Saline, and in 1901 the decision to extend the line from Ann Arbor to Jackson led to the reorganization of the company as the Detroit, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Jackson Railway. By 1902 over five thousand passengers a day rode the cars of this line between Jackson and Detroit. The company had become part of the Detroit United interurban network, which by 1901 had come to control interurbans that brought Wyandotte, Orchard Lake, Pontiac, Port Huron, Flint, and Toledo, as well as Jackson, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, into the system. In the outstate area, the Michigan United Traction Company, centered at Jackson, operated interurbans to Lansing, Battle Creek, and Kalamazoo, while Grand Rapids was the center of another network that linked that city with such communities as Muskegon, Holland, and Saugatuck, providing Saugatuck, which had never had a railroad connection, with its first adequate land transportation facility.
By 1919 there were over a thousand miles of interurban tracks in Michigan, with cars operated by eighteen companies having a total investment of approximately $140 million. Nearly all of this mileage was in southern Michigan, with only scattered interurban service in other parts of the state. The interurban was an important transition in the development of transportation patterns. Although it was theoretically possible to travel by interurban, with numerous transfers, from Bay City to Cincinnati, it was a service designed for the local market. Because of the interurban, people could commute several miles to work each day. Once this practice had become widespread, however, the increasing availability of the automobile and its even greater flexibility in travel led to the rapid decline of the interurban in the twenties. On Michigan's pioneer interurban, the Saline branch line was abandoned in 1925, the branch to Northville in 1928, and finally, on September 30, 1929, service on the main line itself was abandoned. Five years later, the last remaining interurban service in Michigan, connecting Niles and South Bend, Indiana, ceased operations. (7)
The development of the railroad and the related streetcar and interurban systems in the nineteenth century had greatly reduced the importance of roads to the point that these avenues of travel took on mainly local significance because they enabled the farmers to get to their nearby markets. The railroads had largely assumed the function of facilitating long-distance travel that the Chicago Road and other territorial roads had performed in pioneer days. The Constitution of 1850 had given the local townships responsibility for maintaining the state's roads. In 1883 the legislature had passed a special act permitting six townships in Bay County, together with the communities of Bay City and West Bay City, to form a special road district to finance the construction of three stone roads. Ten years later, a general law permitted a county, by a vote of its residents, to establish a county road department that would build and maintain a system of arterial roads in the county, serving a larger area than the local township roads. By 1905, however, only eighteen of the state's eighty-three counties had exercised this option.
At this time, Michigan had approximately 68,000 miles of public "wagon roads," as they were called. Nearly all of these were simply dirt roads. Only 7,712 miles had gravel surfacing and only 245 miles were listed as macadam roads--the most advanced surfaced road of that day. Nearly all these roads were under township supervision. Each township elected an official to oversee its roads. He did not need to have any professional training. Such training was not regarded as important. The amount of money available for road work was limited. Property owners paid a road tax, but it was possible to work out this tax by putting in one or two days of work on the roads each year. No matter how diligent the local officials might be, however, the roads throughout the state generally became impassable during the rainy and wet periods in the fall and the spring. Little hope for improvement in these conditions was expected as long as a decentralized system of road control was maintained and until some new source of funds could be found to pay for the high cost of surfacing roads.
Agitation for good roads arose in the late nineteenth century as a result of the sudden popularity of the bicycle. This created a new group of road users whose interests were different from those of the farmers. Bicycle clubs sprang up, and a Michigan man, Horatio S. Earle, became president of a national association of these enthusiasts, the League of American Wheelmen. This organization became the leading promoter of road improvements because bicycle riders, desiring to take trips on their machines, were soon made acutely aware of the wretched conditions of most roads. Horatio Earle became so identified with this cause that he was nicknamed "Good-Roads" Earle. As a member of the Michigan senate in 1901, he secured the appointment of a special committee, of which he was the chairman, to investigate state road conditions. Earle brought in as a consultant to the committee Frank F. Rogers, a former Port Huron city engineer who had been active in the good-roads movement and who would later be elected to four four-year terms as state highway commissioner. At the time of Rogers's service with Earle's committee, however, the state was prohibited by the state constitution from participating in the road-building business. Earle campaigned successfully for an amendment adopted in April 1905 that authorized the establishment of a state highway department and permitted the state to be involved in the improvement of the "leading public wagon roads." (8)
Governor Fred Warner appointed Earle to the newly established position of state highway commissioner, which was an appointive position until 1913 when it was made elective. The same legislative act of 1905 also established the state highway department and assigned Earle and his staff to the task of collecting information about the state's roads, providing instruction to county and township districts on the repair and building of roads, and the distribution of funds for the improvement of the more important wagon roads outside cities and villages. These funds, designated as "rewards," were granted to local road districts in varying amounts according to the type of improvement that was carried out. During the twenty years that this law was in effect, about $25 million in state reward money was distributed. The money came from motor vehicle license fees, which were first levied in 1905.
That the total amount of money collected from motor vehicle licenses through 1909 was only $20,000 illustrates the as yet limited effect of motor traffic in the state. In 1905 there were only about three thousand cars in Michigan, and as late as 1913, when the first reliable traffic counts began to be made, horse-drawn traffic on the state's roads still outnumbered automobile traffic. Nevertheless, this growing number of automobile owners began to make their voices heard in matters of road improvement. Where the farmers and merchants favored a radial system of roads, fanning out from the towns into the surrounding farmlands, the automobile tourists, like the bicyclists before them, favored the construction of a network of roads crossing the state, rather than the farm-to-market approach. Automobile enthusiasts formed groups that held annual tours in various sections of the state, both to publicize the generally miserable condition of the existing roads and to promote the desirability of constructing cross-state highways, or "pikes," as they were called. Some of these groups later evolved into organizations that promoted the benefits of tourism in their region in general. Thus the West Michigan Pike organization became the West Michigan Tourist Association.
In response to this kind of pressure, the legislature in 1913 moved to establish a three-thousand-mile state trunkline network. The construction of these through roads would still be in the hands of the local highway agencies, but the state would provide double the reward money for the improvement of these roads as it would for farm-to-market roads. But progress in the state was slow. By 1917 only 13 percent of the state's 74,190 miles of public rural roads were listed as surfaced, that is, covered with something more than the dirt or other kinds of soil common to the area of the road. In contrast, Indiana reported that 42 percent of its roads were surfaced.
The federal government would eventually be responsible for the development of a surfaced, all-weather network of highways that the twentieth-century motorized public demanded. The establishment of the Office of Road Inquiry in 1893 marked the return of the federal government to a more active role in encouraging road improvements, a role that it had largely abandoned in the 1830s when President Andrew Jackson decided that such matters were more appropriately dealt with by the states. For almost two decades, however, the Office of Road Inquiry was simply a gatherer of information about road conditions. In 1912 Congress appropriated half a million dollars to aid in the improvement of post roads, with the office supervising the distribution of these funds. Each state was allotted $10,000 to improve a road that was used in the rural mail delivery system. To receive this money the state had to provide matching funds of $20,000 and submit the plans that were developed for the post-road project to the federal agency for approval.
Aside from the limited nature of this federal assistance, the type of road improvement that it encouraged was in the tradition of the local road. The need for national highways began to be promoted in 1912, when Carl G. Fisher of Indianapolis, head of the Prest-o-lite company and promoter of the Indianapolis 500-mile auto race, proposed to leaders of the auto industry that they support the building of a coast-to-coast highway. "A road across the United States! Let's build it before we're too old to enjoy it," Fisher told them. He soon got pledges of four million dollars toward a goal of ten million, to be used for grants to local and state governments to make improvements along the route. In 1913 Fisher, together with the Detroit automakers Henry Joy and Roy Chapin, formed the Lincoln Highway Association, and William S. Gilbreath, who would head the Automobile Club of Michigan from 1916 to 1936, blazed the way in laying out this first transcontinental highway from Indianapolis to the West Coast, while in the east the road ran from Indianapolis to Times Square in New York City. In 1915 Joy drove one of his company's Packards over the Lincoln Highway, demonstrating by the incessant problems he encountered how impractical such a transcontinental tour was at that time and thereby helping to create additional pressure for action to provide motorists with surfaced highways. (In 1915 Fisher also formed the Dixie Highway Association to provide a through road from southeastern Michigan, where the road's name still survives, to Florida.) In Michigan Joy and most of his fellow auto company executives supported the lobbying activities of the Michigan Good Roads Association, with the Reo company in the Lansing area, Buick in the Flint region, and Ford in Wayne County making financial contributions to the improvement of roads in their home territories. (9)
In the horse-and-buggy era, surfaced roads usually meant a macadam road or some other stone or gravel surface. The slow-moving buggy and wagon wheels gradually packed the stones at the top down into the lower layers of rocks, producing a hard surface that was usable in wet weather and dry. The fast-moving rubber tires of automobiles and the suction force of the speeding vehicle, however, tore these roads to pieces, forcing road builders in an automotive age to search for a better kind of surfacing method. In Michigan the Dow Chemical Company successfully experimented with the use of calcium chloride as a binding agent that helped to maintain gravel roads, while the use of oil as a binding material led to the evolution of the macadam road into asphalt pavement. But concrete pavement, first used at Bellefontaine, Ohio, in 1893-94, would come to be recognized as the most satisfactory surface on heavily traveled roads. Much of the credit for popularizing the use of this material must go to the Wayne County Road Commission, which in 1909 paved one mile of Woodward Avenue beyond Six Mile Road in the Detroit area--the first mile of concrete highway in the country. Road builders and engineers from many areas came to Wayne County to study the effects of traffic on this kind of surface, and the favorable results led to a rapid increase in the use of concrete. Whereas in 1909 there had been only 364,000 square yards of concrete pavement in the entire country, by 1914 there was an estimated 19.2 million square yards of concrete pavement. (10)
In 1916 Congress passed the Federal Road Aid Act, which provided the first substantial infusion of federal funds in upgrading the nation's roads. Over a five-year period, $75 million in matching funds would be made available to state highway departments for the improvement of rural post roads. Michigan accepted the offer in 1917 by providing the necessary matching state funds. By June 1920 the state had received nearly a million dollars of federal money and had placed some 335 miles of federal-aid roads under construction. Only some 69 miles of federal-aid roads had been completed, however, and with motor vehicle registrations in the state having risen to 326,000 by 1919, the demand for faster action could not be ignored. The state constitution that year was amended to authorize a bond issue of $50 million for road building. Meanwhile, a conference of highway officials from across the country met in Detroit in 1918 and called for a half-billion-dollar federal road-building program. Senator Charles Townsend of Michigan led the fight in Congress that resulted in the passage in 1921 of the Federal Highway Act, which was specifically aimed at the creation of an interstate network of highways. Under the act, each state was to designate up to 7 percent of its rural road mileage as "primary roads." Federal money to the amount of $75 million per year would be available on a fifty-fifty matching basis for the improvement of these roads, which officially became part of a federal system of highways in 1924. The east-west roads, such as U.S. 2 running through the Upper Peninsula, received even numbers, while north-south highways, such as U.S. 31 running up through the western side of the Lower Peninsula, were given odd numbers.
By the close of 1924, about $81 million in federal-aid money and $50 million in bond money had been spent on the most massive road-building program in Michigan's history. The state trunkline system had been increased to 6,601 miles, of which only a thousand miles were not improved. Under the leadership of Governor Groesbeck, Michigan concentrated much of its efforts on building concrete roads. Old standards were now obsolete. Road widths were increased, and Michigan pioneered in building bypasses to take the heaviest motor traffic around the downtown business districts. The first steps were also made toward the construction of divided highways when Woodward Avenue between Detroit and Pontiac in the 1920s was rebuilt with forty-foot strips of concrete separated by a center section occupied by the interurban tracks. When the interurban ceased operation this was converted to a grassy median.
By 1924, when the bond money ran out, Michigan had constructed 1,195 miles of concrete highway out of a total of 3,398 miles of surfaced roads that were built in this program. Much of the remaining mileage was gravel surface, with relatively little use yet made of asphalt. Whatever the surface, however, the cost of road improvements had skyrocketed. Motor vehicle taxes were not sufficient to pay the expenses, and property owners objected to paying for improvements that were designed to be of primary benefit to people who did not reside in the area and did not pay local property taxes. In 1925, therefore, Michigan followed the example of other states by imposing a 2cents gas tax so that those who used the highways would pay for the cost of their improvement. Farmers backed this tax, while automobile groups opposed it on the ground that they were being penalized. The principle that the user should pay for a public facility was a new concept which had not previously been applied to such public facilities as schools or parks. (11)
The road improvements of the twenties led to an increased desire to take advantage of these roads. Together with the generally prosperous economic conditions in much of that decade and the introduction of time-payment plans for automotive buyers, this desire led to an enormous increase in motor vehicle registration figures, which reached 1,439,317 by 1929--nearly four and a half times the figure of ten years earlier. The car changed individual family travel habits. In addition, motorbuses began to take over the passenger trade previously handled by interurbans and railroads. A few primitive buses had appeared before the First World War, but in the twenties they developed rapidly. State regulations of buses were instituted in 1923. In the Upper Peninsula bus service between Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie was initiated in 1925. By 1927 regular bus schedules were maintained in the Lower Peninsula between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Detroit and Chicago, and Detroit and Port Huron and the Saginaw area. By 1929 there were 164 companies operating 1,500 city buses in the state. Increased regulation and higher standards imposed by the state, however, gradually drove out the small operators and forced consolidation into such major national corporations as Greyhound and a few regional bus lines, such as Shortway, serving southeastern Michigan, and the unforgettably named Blue Goose buses that served parts of northern Michigan.
The popularity of the bus, with its low fares and greater flexibility, led to the demise of the interurban by the end of the twenties, and the related development of motor trucks for freight service took a heavy toll on railroad revenues. By the end of the twenties, the Pere Marquette railroad in particular was in constant financial trouble, in part caused by this new competition, although the major railroads were, for the most part, not seriously hurt by bus and truck competition until the Depression of the thirties.
Improved transportation affected all areas of Michigan, but the impact was felt most in the rural areas, where it completely transformed life. The electric interurban had made it easier for those farmers who lived close to one to get to town and to cities which few would have visited prior to this development. But it was the coming of the automobile, the truck, and the bus that brought about a real revolution in transportation for the farmer. By 1920 as many as 40 percent of Michigan's farms had automobiles, and by 1930 nearly 20 percent owned trucks. The automobile and the truck made it possible for farmers to get their products to market faster. It brought farmers and their families closer to the cultural advantages of the cities. It made the consolidated school possible and thereby brought high school within easy reach of farm youth. In a broader sense, the automobile was a major factor in breaking down provincialism and changing a traditionally restricted and narrow point of view.
Closely related to improved transportation was faster communication. The farmer of 1865 received mail only by calling at the closest post office, which might be many miles distant. Few farmers ever read a daily or even a weekly newspaper. Rural free delivery was started in Michigan in 1896. The village of Climax in Kalamazoo County was selected as the point of departure for the first carriers. One of them used a horse and buggy, the other a bicycle. The bicycle proved impractical, and the horse and buggy was used almost exclusively up to the advent of the automobile. By 1899 some fifteen rural routes were in operation, and the service was thereafter extended to practically every part of the state. The innovation of parcel post in 1910 was of particular importance to farmers. Now they could get the huge mail-order catalogs of Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and other firms, and they and their families were thereby introduced to a variety of merchandise undreamed of in the country store. They could order items, have them sent parcel post, and delivered by the carrier. (12)
Then came the telephone. The Bell patent expired in 1893, making possible the organization of hundreds of local companies. It was some time before service was extended beyond the cities, but during the first decade of the twentieth century, private companies or local cooperative concerns built many lines into rural areas. The average farm home was on a "party line," which included several neighboring farmsteads, thus promoting neighborhood visiting and gossip. By 1920 nearly 50 percent of the farms had telephones.
Radio brought the words and other sounds of the outside world into the rural home. Wireless telegraphy had been in use for some years and had been utilized particularly by ships at sea in distress. One of the pioneers in this field was Thomas E. Clark of Detroit, who came to be known as "Wireless Clark." Thousands of amateurs all over the land played with wireless telegraphy in the same way that their fathers had toyed with horseless carriages. As early as 1908 Clark carried on a conversation by "radiophone" from a station near Alpena with a ship eight miles out in Lake Huron. The honor of being the first broadcasting station in the world is usually given station KDKA in Pittsburgh, but station WWJ in Detroit is a close competitor for primacy in this field. Operated by the Detroit News, WWJ broadcast its first scheduled program on August 20, 1920. Small stations soon sprang up in different parts of Michigan, and by the late 1920s receiving sets were becoming so inexpensive that almost any family could acquire one. They brought fine music, professional players, lectures, and news as well as popular music, "soap operas," and Hollywood chitchat into the farm home. From a more practical viewpoint, radio quickly became a necessity to keep the farmer abreast of farm prices, weather forecasts, and scientific information in the field of agriculture. Station WKAR, operated by Michigan State University, specialized in this kind of information. (13)
A third transformation in rural life has come about through the increased use of machinery in the work of the field and the home. The early combines were huge contrivances and were adaptable only to the vast stretches of the western prairies. More useful to the Michigan farmer was the binder, which came into being in 1879 to bind cut grain into sheaves, which were then placed in small "shocks" or in large stacks until the threshing machine was available. The latter, operated by a steam or gasoline engine, made its seasonal rounds of a community of farms and did away with the threshing of grain with flails on the barn floor. Threshing became a midsummer event on the farm. The men toiled like titans in the broiling sun, while women labored in the kitchen for hours on end to provide their best cookery for the famished workers at a noon dinner and again at supper time. Then during the 1940s the more compact combines began to appear in large numbers on Michigan farms. By 1950 the threshing rig, with its puffing engine, thresher, and bailer, had become almost extinct. Little shocked or stacked grain may be seen today on Michigan farms, except in the areas of southern Michigan where Amish farmers still use the older method.
Other mechanical improvements included the Deere plow with its steel moldboard that appeared in the 1850s, and the Oliver plow, fabricated of chilled steel and put on the market about 1870. The amount of machinery required by farmers increased steadily as hay loaders, cream separators, manure spreaders, spraying equipment, cornpickers, and dozens of other contrivances became available.
The coming of the tractor effected one of the most significant revolutions in the history of American agriculture. Prior to the 1920s, when the tractor became common, the average farmer devoted a large proportion of labor and acreage to planting, growing, and harvesting hay and grain for the work horses. As the tractor replaced the horse as a source of power on the farm, more acreage became available for the production of food and fiber. This marks the beginning of the nation's farm surplus problem. By 1930 there were 34,600 tractors on Michigan farms; the number increased to 66,500 in 1940, to 149,372 in 1949, and reached a total of 194,205 in 1959, nearly two for each farm. The number of horses and mules on Michigan farms declined from 396,000 in 1920 to 37,000 in 1959.
The farmer's wife shared with her spouse the conveniences the machine age contributed to the farmstead. To her the coming of electricity was a special blessing. This great servant not only lighted the house and the barns but also operated the radio and television sets, cream separator, vacuum sweeper, poultry incubator, and innumerable other devices. At first, electrical current was generated by plants operated by gasoline engines in the basement or an outbuilding, but during the three decades from 1920 to 1950 lines from central power plants reached a large proportion of farmsteads. In 1920 only 8 percent of Michigan farms had electricity; by 1948 the proportion had risen to 96.6 percent, a percentage exceeded only by Ohio and Rhode Island. Privately owned public utilities got the jump on the federally financed Rural Electrification Administration (REA) cooperatives in Michigan and kept ahead. The Consumers Power Company built the first rural electrical power line from Mason to Dansville in 1926. Consumers served 58 percent of the Michigan farms with electricity by 1946; another 20 percent were customers of the Detroit Edison Company. The remaining 22 percent included customers of seven privately owned companies and forty-three municipal plants, leaving only a small fraction of the total as members of REA cooperatives. (14)
These and other changes, as well as trial and error, brought about a transformation in the type of products that came from Michigan farms. Until almost 1900 wheat was the leading agricultural product in the state. But Michigan could not compete in wheat production with the prairie states and the prairie provinces of Canada. By 1950 Michigan had less than a third of the wheat acreage it had had in 1880. Wheat would remain an important cash crop in the state, however, and Michigan is one of the largest producers in the country of winter wheat used for making pastries and breakfast foods. Almost twice as much acreage is devoted to raising corn, but two-thirds of the corn is used for feeding livestock. Wool, shorn from the backs of sheep, was another important farm product in the nineteenth century, with Michigan usually ranking third or fourth in this category each year. Again because of competition from other areas, including such foreign sources as Australia, sheep raising in Michigan declined after 1900. By 1956 Michigan had dropped to twenty-third among wool-producing states, although its position improved slightly thereafter. The place formerly held by sheep was largely taken by swine. The number of pigs on Michigan farms increased from about 301,000 in 1892 to 554,000 in 1968. By the mid-1970s the number of market hogs alone was topping 600,000, while by 1990 the total number of hogs had topped 1.3 million. In general the growing of livestock and the sale of livestock products assumed much greater importance in this century. By 1960 54 percent of the total farm income in Michigan came from livestock and livestock products, with dairy products alone accounting for 27 percent of the farm income. Beginning in 1973 farm crops again accounted for over half the state's total cash farm receipts, but the contributions of the livestock and poultry segments remained great, with Michigan's 344,000 dairy cows, for example, sending 5.23 billion pounds of milk to the market in 1990.
Perhaps the most marked change in Michigan farm production in the twentieth century was increased specialization. Increased specialization meant that farmers became producers more comparable to manufacturers than to farmers of a century ago. Instead of producing on the farm as much as possible of what their families needed for food and clothing, farmers concentrated more and more on one specialized crop or product, buying other food and supplies from the stores and markets like city people. General farming, with emphasis on maximum production of products for home consumption, has almost disappeared. Sizable areas in the Upper Peninsula and in the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula have farms that specialize in growing potatoes, one crop that farmers in those areas in the late nineteenth century discovered did well in conditions that rendered most other types of agricultural activities unprofitable. In the Saginaw Valley and the Thumb region, navy beans are the leading farm product, making Michigan the leader in the country in the production of these and other types of dry beans. After the passage of the Dingley tariff in 1897, which provided protection of domestic sugar from foreign competition, the growing of sugar beets became another major specialty of the Thumb area. Michigan has generally been among the leaders in sugar beet production, ranking fourth in the nation in 1990. In southwestern Michigan, notably Berrien, Van Buren, and Allegan counties, fruit is the major product. Michigan's fruit belt extends northward along the shore of Lake Michigan into Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties. In 1990 Michigan, as it generally had in the past, ranked first among the states in tart cherry production as well as first in blueberries. It also was third in apple production, fourth in sweet cherries, and fifth in strawberries, grapes, prunes, and plums.
Central and southwestern Michigan have for many years been major producers of peppermint and spearmint oil. The muck lands of southern Michigan are devoted largely to the growing of vegetables. In 1990 Michigan led all states in the production of cucumber pickles, ranked third in seasonal production of asparagus, carrots, and celery (although urban development in the Kalamazoo area has virtually wiped out the celery production there that had once been Kalamazoo's most famous product), fourth in tomatoes for processing, and fifth in cauliflower.
In addition to increased specialization, farmers found that they could no longer farm using the pioneer methods that they had learned from parents and neighbors. They were forced by competition and perhaps by social pressure to rely increasingly on scientists for gadgets and advice. More and more they depended on the specialists of Michigan State University (called Michigan Agricultural College until 1925 and Michigan State College from 1925 to 1955) to help learn techniques and procedures that would increase the yield of their acres and raise their incomes. Michigan State was a leader in devising practical methods of serving the farmers. In 1875 extension work began. In towns all over the state "Farmers' Institutes" were held, where experts from East Lansing talked to farmers about how scientific findings might help them better their lot. Regular bulletins describing agricultural experiments were distributed beginning in 1885. Federal aid for the establishment of experiment stations was provided in 1889. It was the agricultural college that developed new and better grains, such as American Banner wheat, Rosen rye, Markton oats, and Spartan barley. Better breeds of farm animals and new strains of fruits and vegetables have come in a steady stream from the experiment stations. Short-term courses were provided and an annual Farmers Week was set aside when farmers and their families came to East Lansing. Farmers were encouraged to keep systematic records and to use business methods. They learned how to fix cars, trucks, or tractors if something went wrong. They continued to teach their children what they knew about farming, but this no longer sufficed; many of these offspring now spent four years at East Lansing acquiring scientific knowledge and skills to make them better farmers.
Among the faculty members at East Lansing who were leaders in the movement for scientific agriculture was Dr. Robert C. Kedzie. It was he who championed the idea of holding farmers' institutes in various parts of the state and who persuaded the legislature to reward farmers who planted roadside trees by reducing their taxes. Dr. Manly Miles demonstrated spectacular results from scientific fertilization, and William J. Beal established the first seed-testing laboratory in America, "first in a chain that led to the modern miracle of hybrid corn." (15) Most notable of all was Liberty Hyde Bailey, a native of South Haven, who, after serving on the faculty of Michigan Agricultural College, moved to Cornell and became one of the leading authorities and writers in America on horticulture. (16)
Farmers formed an amazing variety of organizations based on specialized aspects of farming: the Michigan State Horticultural Society (1870), the Michigan State Poultry Improvement Association (1925), the Michigan Berkshire Association (1912), and the Michigan Horse Breeders Association (1912), to mention a few. The most important farm organization in the twentieth century has been the Michigan State Farm Bureau, which came into being in 1919 as a central organization to look after such matters as transportation, taxation, and legislation for farmers. Hundreds of farm cooperatives became affiliated with the Farm Bureau. Farmers were urged to work together through the Farm Bureau on all matters of general concern. Fire and life insurance were made available after 1928 by this organization. In each county, through federal aid, a county agricultural agent and a home-demonstration agent were appointed to help farmers and farm spouses with their problems.
The various farm organizations operated as pressure groups for favorable legislation and got a great deal of it passed. The compulsory licensing and inspection of canneries, provisions for grading grapes and potatoes, milk-marketing laws, and many others found their way to the statute books. Several state agencies were created for the benefit of the farmer, these being combined in 1921 into a State Department of Agriculture. An Apple Commission created in 1939 to promote the consumption and sale of Michigan apples, and a Cherry Commission, set up in 1947 to do the same for cherries, are but two of a number of agencies that came to promote the state's various farm products.
Agricultural associations and societies had been formed prior to the Civil War to arrange for county fairs. Some counties, Allegan for example, have held county fairs each year for far more than a century. An act passed by the legislature in 1915 provided state funds to help defray the cost of premiums paid farmers on their prize-winning products exhibited at these fairs.
Farm organizations attracted rural youth as well as adults. The 4-H Club program was launched in 1917. State aid to 4-H clubs to the amount of $75,000 was given in 1966. The Future Farmers of America, an organization of boys studying agriculture in the schools, also received state aid amounting to $30,000 in the same fiscal year.
The most striking development relating to Michigan agriculture in the twentieth century, however, is the drastic alteration in the size of this activity and the numbers of people it affects. In the mid-nineteenth century, nearly 85 percent of Michigan's population depended on agriculture for their subsistence. A century later, less than 5 percent of the population still depended on farming for the bulk of their living. The percentage of the population living in rural areas was greater than that number, but most of these people were not engaged in farming. Instead, those living in small towns depended on trade, small manufacturing, processing, or professional services for their income. Thousands who lived in rural areas had jobs in factories situated in nearby cities and could not be regarded as farmers at all. Finally, many farmers depended on work off the farm for a considerable portion of their income. In 1929 only 15 percent of the people living on farms worked a hundred days a year or more at some other employment. By 1964 that percentage had risen to 64. Other income accounted for more than the value of agricultural products on 68 percent of Michigan farms by that date. By 1987, only some 24,000 farms, less than half of those remaining, had annual sales of $10,000 or more. (17)
The early years of the century witnessed the last period in the growth in the number of farms and the amount of farm acreage. The number of farms, which had stood at 62,422 in 1860, reached a peak of 206,906 in 1910. Thereafter, with only small exceptions, the figure has been declining, dropping to only 52,000 farms by 1993. As the number of farms declined, however, the average size of those that remained has increased. Total farm acreage in the state reached a peak of 19,032,961 in 1920, more than half the entire land area of Michigan. Farm acreage has declined since that date, and by 1993 it had dropped to 11 million. But the average size of the farms, which had stood at 113 acres in 1860 and had declined to only 86 acres in 1890, had risen to 206 by 1993, a figure that was, however, still considerably less than that of the average farm in all other Midwest states except Ohio. The value of farmland and buildings per acre rose from $33 in 1900 to $75 in 1920, but then declined to a low of $45 in 1935, before the start of another upward trend, reaching an average of around $1,000 an acre by the 1980s. The total value of Michigan's farm products, which was about $147 million in 1900, was about $3,384,959,000 in 1993, but again the story was not one of a progressive movement upward. Surpluses after World War I caused constant problems for Michigan farmers, as they did for American farmers in general, with the result that Michigan crop receipts of nearly $400 million in 1920 would not be equalled or surpassed until 1969. (18)
Thus the agricultural statistics all tend to reinforce the evidence provided by the population census which showed a shift from a rural to an urban Michigan occurring in the early years of the twentieth century. After 1920 the agricultural statistics inevitably indicated that as opportunities on the farm also declined, more and more young people would migrate from the rural areas into the cities, where the economic opportunities were now to be found.
In northern Michigan the story was the same as in the rural areas of southern Michigan. Wartime demand for minerals and agricultural products between 1914 and 1918 brought considerable prosperity to the Upper Peninsula. But after the close of the war a long period of economic decline set in due to a combination of circumstances. Farmers all over the nation, particularly those in northern Michigan, suffered from adverse conditions in the 1920s. Farmers in the Upper Peninsula, tilling soils far less fertile than those of the prairie states, could not compete successfully in such a situation. Some left to find jobs in the cities down below, but most of them hung on, hoping for better days. There was actually a small increase in the number of farms in the Upper Peninsula between 1920 and 1930, but much less than in the preceding two decades. It is probable that many workers formerly employed in logging and mining and now thrown out of work in those industries were hoping to earn a living on the land. While the population of the state as a whole increased by almost 1.2 million between 1920 and 1930, that of the Upper Peninsula declined from 332,556 to 318,675. Iron mining reached a peak production of 18,993,000 tons in 1920, dropped to less than one-quarter of that amount in 1921, then leveled off to an average of about 15 million tons annually during the remainder of the decade. But mechanization made it possible to produce the iron with less manpower, and as a result hundreds of iron miners were left without jobs.
Even more serious was the decline in copper mining. Prices of copper dropped sharply in the 1920s, and as a consequence only the richest lodes could be mined profitably. For half a century after the production of Michigan copper had begun it enjoyed a marked advantage by virtue of the fact that the rock contained copper in its pure state. This advantage was partly overcome when the Bessemer process was adapted to convert the sulphide ores of the western mines. The Arizona and Montana mining companies also benefited from the value of silver and gold mined as a by-product. These factors had been operative for some years before 1920. But lower labor costs in Michigan helped compensate for the difference until about the time of World War I, due to the abundance of immigrant workers who were willing to work for lower wages than western miners received. Labor costs of Michigan copper-mining companies in the 1920s increased by about 50 percent, and the passage of restrictive immigration acts cut off the supply of cheap immigrant labor. Meanwhile, copper prices in the 1920s averaged about 10 percent below those of the prewar period. As a consequence, production declined from the peak of 267 million pounds in 1916 to 92 million pounds in 1921. There was some improvement after that, but in no year did the output reach more than 83 percent of the 1905-1912 average. Employment dropped faster than production, because fewer workers were required for selected mining. In 1909 copper mining had provided employment for 19,000 workers; the number was down to 12,200 in 1919 and declined still further to 7,800 in 1929. (19)
The Depression decade of the 1930s intensified the difficulties already in evidence during the preceding decade. In spite of agreements among the copper companies to control production, the price of copper declined to a low point of 5.6cents per pound. Of the six companies that had been operating in 1929, four were completely shut down by 1933. Almost 6,000 miners lost their jobs. Between 1910 and 1940 Houghton County lost almost half its population. Two-thirds of the families in Keweenaw County and more than one-third of those in Houghton County were on relief in 1934, as compared with 12.2 percent in the state as a whole. Iron mining was also hit hard by the great Depression of the 1930s, though not so badly as copper mining. Production, which had been at an annual level of about 15 million tons in the 1920s, was down to one million tons in 1932. By 1939, however, it was back up to around 11 million tons. One casualty of the Depression was the fabulously rich Chapin Mine near Iron Mountain, which had produced continuously since 1880. It was closed in 1934. The distress in the mining areas had a tendency to drive people back to the land, and the number of Upper Peninsula farms increased significantly between 1930 and 1935. Because of the effects of the Depression elsewhere, there was little opportunity to find employment by leaving the region.
But during the decade of the 1940s, while the population of the state as a whole increased by 20 percent, the population of the Upper Peninsula decreased by more than 20,000. War production and the postwar boom created a demand for labor and encouraged an exodus from the Upper Peninsula. World War II, like World War I, stimulated both iron and copper production. But the output of Michigan mines failed to reach the high levels of World War I, and higher copper production was made possible only through the premium price set by the government on Michigan copper to compensate for the higher costs in that area. After the war, Calumet and Hecla was the only significant miner of copper in Michigan, and even its mines were closed for several months in 1949 when copper prices slumped. Iron production after the war averaged about 11 million tons annually, far below the record production of thirty years before, while the reappearance of farm surpluses after the war made the marginal farming of the Upper Peninsula even less profitable.
Elsewhere in northern Michigan, the picture was equally dark in areas where lumbering had prospered in an earlier day. By the end of the nineteenth century the virgin pine forests of the Lower Peninsula were virtually all cutover, and the process of logging the forests of the Upper Peninsula peaked and began to decline in output within a few years after the start of the new century. Production, which had reached nearly three billion board feet annually in the 1880s, by 1932 had reached a low of 160 million. Beginning around the turn of the century, the state and federal governments took steps to allow a second growth of timber to reforest the land through increased attention to forest fire prevention and other conservation measures. This new growth was then ultimately opened to selective cutting, permitting this carefully controlled logging activity to restore production to somewhat more respectable levels that fluctuated over the years from a figure of 615 million board feet in 1948 to 341 million in 1990. This was still a far cry from the peak production of the boom years and, with the highly mechanized character of this activity, the required number of workers was small compared to the late nineteenth-century figures.
One bright spot in Michigan's economy that had its impact on some areas of central Michigan in the mid-1920s and that recalled an earlier time when Michigan was famous for its raw materials was the emergence of the oil industry. In July 1925 the central oil pool at Saginaw was discovered, and by 1927 almost two hundred wells had been drilled in and around that city. Maximum production of 1,400 barrels of oil a day was reached in June 1927, but wasteful methods reduced the pressure in the field to such a degree that probably only 25 percent of the available oil was produced. Then the Discovery Well at Mount Pleasant was opened in 1928, and that city quickly developed as the center of the Michigan petroleum industry. Subsequent drilling would leave few areas of the Lower Peninsula untouched by an oil boom, no matter how short-lived these usually were. Although Michigan never would rival Texas, Oklahoma, or the other leading oil-producing states, it would remain a significant producer of both oil and natural gas. The fuel shortage of the 1970s stimulated further interest in exploration of Michigan's resources. Production, which had peaked at a little over 23 million barrels of oil in 1939 and had then leveled off, set a record of 39 million barrels in 1979--double the production reached only five years before. With market demand falling sharply in the 1980s, oil production had dropped to only about 21 million barrels in 1990, but that same year natural gas production hit a new high of 171 billion cubic feet. (20)
In contrast to northern Michigan and the rural areas of southern Michigan, where the old ways of life could no longer maintain a strong, growing economy after about 1920, urban areas of southern Michigan now enjoyed their greatest periods of growth. Detroit grew from a city of 285,704 in 1900 to 993,739 in 1920 and continued on to 1,568,662 in 1930. Other cities enjoyed an even more spectacular percentage increase in their populations, with Flint growing from 9,803 in 1890 to 91,599 in 1920 and 156,492 by 1930, while Dearborn, which had had a population of less than a thousand in 1900, had topped fifty thousand by 1930 after the opening of the giant Ford Rouge plant. Urban growth, although slowed by the economic Depression of the 1930s, would continue with renewed vigor in the 1940s and thereafter. Only three cities in the state had had more than 50,000 inhabitants in 1910. By 1950 there were ten and by 1990 there were thirty. Six cities in 1910 fell in the category of having between 25,000 and 50,000 inhabitants. The number of such cities had reached ten by 1950 and twenty-one by 1990. But the pattern of growth in the latter decades of the century was noticeably less uniform than it had been earlier. Most of the older cities posted declining population numbers, with those for Detroit, which fell from a peak of 1,849,568 in 1950 to 1,027,974 in 1990, providing the most dramatic example; but in most cases these losses were offset by sharp increases in the populations of these cities' surrounding suburban communities.
One notable feature of this urban growth is that it has been confined to a large extent to the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. None of the cities over 25,000 in any of the censuses of the twentieth century was found north of Muskegon. Marquette came the closest in the Upper Peninsula when its population hit 23,288 in 1980, only to fall to 21,977 in 1990. Sault Ste. Marie and Escanaba were the only other Upper Peninsula cities over ten thousand in population in 1990. Several cities in the Upper Peninsula, such as Ironwood, Hancock, and Calumet, suffered sizable losses in population from the peak figures reached early in the century. In the northern part of the Lower Peninsula the same general pattern prevailed, with Mount Pleasant's population of 23,746 in 1980 being the closest any city in that area came to the 25,000 mark.
The development of the automobile industry accounts for much of the urban growth, though not all of it, during the early decades of the century. Although the automobile industry went through great changes in the period after the First World War, Michigan's dominance in the industry was not affected adversely but instead was enhanced. Many of the smaller companies had difficulty surviving a sharp postwar depression that hit in the summer of 1920 and continued on into 1923. Two of these firms, Maxwell and Chalmers, familiar names in Detroit, were put in charge of Walter P. Chrysler, who had left the General Motors organization at the end of 1919 because of disagreements with William C. Durant. Chrysler put the two companies through bankruptcy proceedings, salvaged enough to reestablish a new Maxwell company, and abandoned the Chalmers car entirely. But Chrysler and a team of young engineers and designers were interested in a new, more advanced model, and in 1925 Chrysler was able to secure the necessary financial backing to reorganize the company once again, this time as the Chrysler Corporation. He dropped the Maxwell and began putting out the Chrysler. Realizing, however, that he could not compete effectively with only one model to offer the public, he jumped at the chance that was offered in 1928 to buy control of the Dodge company, not only because it gave him another car, and a highly respected one at that, but also because it brought the Dodge dealers, among the best in the industry, into his organization.
General Motors survived the postwar depression, but with great financial losses and the loss of its head, William C. Durant, who was forced out of the corporation in December 1920 for complicated financial reasons. The new executive head, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., who had been brought into the organization by Durant, now proceeded to establish a rational plan for managing this huge industrial complex, one that became a model for corporations. More important, perhaps, was Sloan's recognition that by the mid-twenties conditions in the industry were changing. Up to that time the automakers had had the advantage of selling their product to people who had never owned a car and were eager to buy. By the twenties, however, the market was beginning to reach a saturation point, and Sloan saw that the emphasis now, instead of being placed on the expansion of factory space to keep up with the demands of an ever growing market, must be placed on the development of selling techniques that would persuade individuals who already owned a car to buy a new one. Although the practice of annual model changes had been present in the industry almost from the start, Sloan now placed a new emphasis on making changes in the exterior appearances of General Motors cars so that they would look distinctly different from the previous year's models. While thereby appealing to the buyer's desire to keep up with the latest styles, Sloan also encouraged people to move up the price scale by carefully differentiating between General Motors' several cars, from the least expensive Chevrolet to the most expensive and prestigious Cadillac. (21)
Under Sloan's leadership, therefore, General Motors moved to the forefront in all categories during the twenties, attaining the dominant role in American industry that it has held ever since. In the process it replaced the earlier leader, the Ford Motor Company, which continued under Henry Ford's direction, even though his son Edsel held the title of company president from the end of 1918 onward. In 1919 Ford bought out all the other stockholders, placing control of the company stock entirely in the hands of the Ford family. The expense of carrying out this move--James Couzens was paid some $29 million for his stock holdings, which he had originally acquired for a few thousand dollars sixteen years earlier--plus the financial problems brought on by the postwar depression caused Ford some anxious moments, but he carried his company through the crisis, and by 1922 and 1923 Model T sales were reaching new highs. Henry Ford, however, ignored the advice of his son and others to heed the signs that the public desired a fancier car than the trusty old Tin Lizzie. In the mid-twenties General Motors' Chevrolet division, under William S. Knudsen's direction, moved in on Ford's previously unchallenged dominance of the low-priced automobile market. Although not as cheap as the Ford, the Chevrolet had features not available on the Model T and was more up-to-date in its appearance. By 1927 virtual parity between the two cars had been reached, and in May Henry Ford recognized the need for change. The last Model T was turned out, and the Ford operations came to a near standstill while Ford and his staff worked on the design of a new model. When that model, the Model A, was introduced at the end of the year it temporarily regained for Ford the number one spot in the low-priced field, but it was only temporary. The superior management of General Motors and the wide range of models it offered assured that corporation of the top spot in overall automotive production, while Ford, under the increasingly inflexible and outmoded management policies of its founder, was soon struggling to maintain the number two spot in the face of the rapidly rising challenge presented by the Chrysler Corporation.
By the end of the twenties, the Big Three auto companies, as they were now dubbed, produced about 75 percent of all the cars in America. Although General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler had production facilities throughout the country, their main operations were centered in Michigan. Among the smaller companies, Hudson, Packard, and Reo gave Michigan a sizable share of the remaining United States auto production, leaving the non-Michigan companies with an ever shrinking share of the market.
Of the cities that owed their growth largely to the automotive industry, none outside Detroit could match Flint. There the great Buick and Chevrolet plants, together with the AC Spark Plug factory and the Fisher Body plants, employed thousands of workers. It was a General Motors town. In 1961, for example, General Motors paid its employees and suppliers in Flint almost half a billion dollars, a figure that could hardly have been comprehended by the lumbermen who had dominated that city a century earlier. Saginaw, which like Flint was a former lumber town, also felt the impact of the automobile age. The largest gray-iron foundry in the world and an extensive Chevrolet plant testified to that fact, while huge bean-storage elevators and sugar refineries provided the city with a link to an older economic heritage. Lansing owed more of its growth to the genius and enterprise of R. E. Olds and Oldsmobile than to the fact that it was the center of the state government. Only a minority of the city's population was employed in governmental positions. The majority depended on manufacturing, business, and service trades for their living. Jackson was another southern Michigan city that grew in population. It was the home of many automobile companies whose products turned out to be failures. The Jackson, the Imperial, the Cutting, the Briscoe, and the Earl are examples. But industries supplying automotive plants proved to be more successful. Goodyear Tire and Rubber built a major plant in Jackson, as did Dow Chemical. Plants supplying automobile engines and other parts also contributed heavily to the growth of Muskegon, the one-time lumber capital of western Michigan. The production of various kinds of auto or truck parts was also carried on in cities such as Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, better known for other manufactured products, as well as smaller places like Allegan, Holland, and Owosso.
But of all Michigan cities, Detroit attracted the most attention. Life in that city between 1900 and 1930 was reminiscent of the boomtowns of the mining regions of an earlier era, only on a far bigger scale. As the city's population increased nearly sixfold, the city expanded geographically to the Oakland County line on the north, encircling, in the process, the towns of Highland Park and Hamtramck, which also boomed but were now unable to annex any additional land to sustain increased population. Subdivisions sprang up overnight, and the city was hard-pressed to keep up with the demand to extend full city services into the new residential developments. The lovely shade trees which had once helped to justify Detroit's claim that it was America's most beautiful city were cut down to widen the streets. The old mansions, abandoned by their owners when they moved to more fashionable parts of the city or out of the city entirely to Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, or other wealthy suburbs, were transformed into apartments or were torn down to meet the need for more business properties. It was an age of bustle, confusion, construction, vast schemes, big financial deals, and colorful personalities. The old slogan of "Detroit the Beautiful" was replaced by "Dynamic Detroit." Even before the First World War, reporters were beginning to flock to the city to write stories about how they found an excitement in the air which made the great majority of them--both American and foreign observers--view Detroit in a favorable light as the city that best typified the new machine age of the twentieth century. (22)
In addition to reporters and observers who visited Detroit in these years, hundreds of thousands of other people flocked to the Motor City and its industrial satellites seeking jobs in the booming factories. Foreign immigration reached new peaks in the early years of the century. This was no new experience for Detroit or for Michigan, of course, but there was a decided shift in the areas from which the bulk of these immigrants came. The majority of the immigrants prior to 1900 had come from the British Isles, Germany, other parts of northwestern Europe, and Canada. Many immigrants continued to arrive in Michigan from these areas. A sizable number of Germans came in the twenties, for example, and persons of Dutch background in western Michigan continued to sponsor immigrants from the Netherlands who helped to preserve much of the original flavor of the Dutch culture in the Holland-Grand Rapids area. But the majority of the immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe, and because they were so different in language and culture from much of the existing population in the state, they were inclined to settle together in specific areas and to retain their customs, language, and habits. Unlike the earlier peoples that had come to Michigan, these immigrants were almost entirely attracted by the possibility of jobs in the cities and not by the opportunities in agriculture, lumbering, or mining. In addition, the very movement toward mass-production techniques that was fostered by Michigan's auto industry proved a powerful incentive for much of this new wave of immigration. These immigrants came mainly from a rural peasant background and lacked the skills that were important in earlier manufacturing activities but that now had become increasingly less important as most jobs along the assembly line could be learned by a new worker in only a few hours. (23)
The most numerous of these new European immigrants were the Poles, who in Detroit replaced the Irish and the Germans as the most prominent of Detroit's foreign-born element. Poles also settled in sizable numbers in such other industrial areas as Lansing, Saginaw, and Grand Rapids, where those of Polish background became second only to the Furniture City's Dutch population. Polish immigrants could be found in Michigan in earlier times, and in the mid-nineteenth century some of the first Polish immigrants were attracted by the state's agricultural opportunities, with Parisville in Huron County, a rural settlement founded in 1856, constituting the first Polish community in Michigan. Posen in Presque Isle County and Bronson in Branch County, which holds an annual festival celebrating its Polish heritage, are two other Polish rural communities dating from the 1870s. In Detroit the first Polish Catholic parish, St. Albertus, was established in 1871, and by the 1890s some estimates place Polish residents as making up 15 percent of Detroit's quarter of a million population. Accurate figures are not available, however, since many of these immigrants were recorded as Germans, Austrians, or Russians, after the nations that then occupied the various parts of Poland. It was, however, the growth of the auto industry in the twentieth century that brought the greatest influx of Poles into Detroit. By 1930, despite restrictions on immigration that had been enforced for some time, Poles constituted the largest foreign-born group in Detroit, numbering 66,113. Despite the size of Detroit's Polish population, however, the industrial enclave of Hamtramck came to symbolize the Polish influence. As late as 1907, that town was still basically a farming community, strongly dominated by Germans, with a population of around 2,200. The opening of the Dodge plant soon changed all that. By 1915 Hamtramck's population was over 21,000, of which number 80 percent were Polish. By 1920 the population had soared to 48,615 and the last traces of the earlier non-Polish influence had disappeared. Although in later years the proportion of Hamtramck's population of Polish origins was reduced by the movement into the city of people of other backgrounds, the Polish influence still remained dominant, as indicated in a news story in 1954 which noted that some city council sessions were conducted in Polish, Polish newspapers could be bought on almost any street corner, kielbasa and parowki were sold at Polish meat markets, and young people learned to dance the mazurka and kujawiak. (24)
Despite the attention that was centered on the Poles, the ethnic population of Detroit and other industrial centers in Michigan was very diverse. Among other major eastern and southern European groups to settle in the state were the Italians, of whom 28,581 lived in Detroit by 1930. That same census for Detroit showed 21,711 of Russian birth, 11,162 of Hungarian birth, 9,014 from Yugoslavia, 7,576 native Rumanians, and 6,385 Greeks. Detroit's Macedonian settlement was the largest in the United States, as was its Belgian settlement, which was of earlier origins. In some parts of Detroit the foreign-born element in 1930 was as high as 60 percent of the population.
The eastern and southern European element, however, did not constitute the only largely new additions to Michigan's diverse population. The 1930 census indicated that more than 27,000 persons of Finnish birth were in Michigan. The greatest number of these immigrants had come in the early years of the twentieth century and although most followed the earlier nineteenth-century Finnish immigrants into the Upper Peninsula, a sizable number were attracted by the job opportunities in the auto plants of the Detroit area. There they made the residents of southern Michigan, as they had of northern Michigan, acquainted with such distinctively Finnish institutions as the sauna. Peoples from the Near East also began appearing, most of them, again, finding jobs in the auto plants. Ransom Olds became well known for his employment of immigrants from the Holy Lands, and by the twenties the Ford Rouge plant was responsible for making Dearborn one of the few cities in the United States with an Arab settlement. Even earlier, in 1919, the first Muslim mosque in the country was built in Highland Park to serve that town's Arabic-speaking population, although the greatest number of the Near Eastern immigrants were members of the Eastern Orthodox religion. By 1973 Detroit had the largest Arabic-speaking community in North America, while those of Armenian descent who were living in southeastern Michigan were reported to number 35,000 in 1967.
World War I and the tight restrictions that were imposed by Congress on immigration in 1924 curtailed the flow of peoples from outside the country on which Michigan's manufacturers had been depending to supply their need for more workers. They then turned to the South, where they found a large surplus population eager to find the economic opportunities that the southern agricultural economy could not provide. Prior to this time, few residents of Michigan had come from the South. In 1850, for example, the number of residents who had been born in Connecticut was nearly double the number of those who came from all of the southern states combined. Blacks had been found in Michigan since colonial times and most of them, and those who came in the nineteenth century, had had southern origins, but by the latter part of the nineteenth century Michigan's black population remained a relatively small element, increasing from 15,100 to 1880 to only 17,115 in 1910.
At the latter date 5,741 blacks lived in Detroit. They resided in a small area which previously had been inhabited by Germans, Italians, and Jews. Although the professional class among this group had increased in size, most of these people were engaged in unskilled jobs and rented, rather than owned, their homes. They had gradually won a degree of acceptance from the overwhelmingly white majority in the city, probably, in most cases, because the small size of this black population appeared to present no threat to the whites. These conditions all changed after 1916, as Detroit's booming war industries actively promoted the migration to Detroit of southern blacks. By 1920 Detroit's black population numbered 40,838, a sevenfold increase over the figure of ten years before, and the great expansion of the auto industry in the twenties brought a continued influx, with Detroit's blacks by 1930 totaling about 120,000. The state's black population that year was 169,453, ten times the number found only twenty years before. Those living in a rural area, where a substantial part of the earlier black population had resided, now constituted no more than 5 percent of Michigan's blacks, and by the twenties there were ample warnings of the racial strife that would intensify in the urban areas as the growing black populations in the industrial cities aroused increasingly hostile feelings among many of the white residents, based on age-old prejudices and the economic threat the blacks seemed to present in the minds of many white workers. (25)
Contributing to these tensions was the fact that by 1930 there were 165,926 whites who had been born in the South, mostly in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and who were competing for the same jobs that had attracted the blacks. The support that the Ku Klux Klan briefly received in southern Michigan in the mid-twenties was at least partially generated by the effect that this competition had in exacerbating long-held racial feelings and were one indication of the negative results that went with the economic benefits that came with the urbanization and industrialization of Michigan.
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|Publication:||Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 24: World War I and its aftermath.|
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