1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Detroit

DETROIT, the largest city of Michigan, U.S.A., and the county-seat of Wayne county, on the Detroit river opposite Windsor, Canada, about 4 m. W. from the outlet of Lake St Clair and 18 m. above Lake Erie. Pop. (1880) 116,340; (1890) 205,876; (1900) 285,704, of whom 96,503 were foreign-born and 4111 were negroes; (1910 census) 465,766. Of the foreign-born in 1900, 32,027 were Germans and 10,703 were German Poles, 25,403 were English Canadians and 3541 French Canadians, 6347 were English and 6412 were Irish. Detroit is served by the Michigan Central, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, the Wabash, the Grand Trunk, the Père Marquette, the Detroit & Toledo Shore Line, the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton and the Canadian Pacific railways. Two belt lines, one 2 m. to 3 m., and the other 6 m. from the centre of the city, connect the factory districts with the main railway lines. Trains are ferried across the river to Windsor, and steamboats make daily trips to Cleveland, Wyandotte, Mount Clemens, Port Huron, to less important places between, and to several Canadian ports. Detroit is also the S. terminus for several lines to more remote lake ports, and electric lines extend from here to Port Huron, Flint, Pontiac, Jackson, Toledo and Grand Rapids.

The city extended in 1907 over about 41 sq. m., an increase from 29 sq. m. in 1900 and 36 sq. m. in 1905. Its area in proportion to its population is much greater than that of most of the larger cities of the United States. Baltimore, for example, had in 1904 nearly 70% more inhabitants (estimated), while its area at that time was a little less and in 1907 was nearly one-quarter less than that of Detroit. The ground within the city limits as well as that for several miles farther back is quite level, but rises gradually from the river bank, which is only a few feet in height. The Detroit river, along which the city extends for about 10 m., is here 1/2 m. wide and 30 ft. to 40 ft. deep; its current is quite rapid; its water, a beautiful clear blue; at its mouth it has a width of about 10 m., and in the river there are a number of islands, which during the summer are popular resorts. The city has a 3 m. frontage on the river Rouge, an estuary of the Detroit, with a 16 ft. channel. Before the fire by which the city was destroyed in 1805, the streets were only 12 ft. wide and were unpaved and extremely dirty. But when the rebuilding began, several avenues from 100 ft. to 200 ft. wide were—through the influence of Augustus B. Woodward (c. 1775–1827), one of the territorial judges at the time and an admirer of the plan of the city of Washington—made to radiate from two central points. From a half circle called the Grand Circus there radiate avenues 120 ft. and 200 ft. wide. About 1/4 m. toward the river from this was established another focal point called the Campus Martius, 600 ft. long and 400 ft. wide, at which commence radiating or cross streets 80 ft. and 100 ft. wide. Running north from the river through the Campus Martius and the Grand Circus is Woodward Avenue, 120 ft. wide, dividing the present city, as it did the old town, into nearly equal parts. Parallel with the river is Jefferson Avenue, also 120 ft. wide. The first of these avenues is the principal retail street along its lower portion, and is a residence avenue for 4 m. beyond this. Jefferson is the principal wholesale street at the lower end, and a fine residence avenue E. of this. Many of the other residence streets are 80 ft. wide. The setting of shade trees was early encouraged, and large elms and maples abound. The intersections of the diagonal streets left a number of small, triangular parks, which, as well as the larger ones, are well shaded. The streets are paved mostly with asphalt and brick, though cedar and stone have been much used, and kreodone block to some extent. In few, if any, other American cities of equal size are the streets and avenues kept so clean. The Grand Boulevard, 150 ft. to 200 ft. in width and 12 m. in length, has been constructed around the city except along the river front. A very large proportion of the inhabitants of Detroit own their homes: there are no large congested tenement-house districts; and many streets in various parts of the city are faced with rows of low and humble cottages often having a garden plot in front.

Of the public buildings the city hall (erected 1868–1871), overlooking the Campus Martius, is in Renaissance style, in three storeys; the flagstaff from the top of the tower reaches a height of 200 ft. On the four corners above the first section of the tower are four figures, each 14 ft. in height, to represent Justice, Industry, Art and Commerce, and on the same level with these is a clock weighing 7670 ℔one of the largest in the world. In front of the building stands the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument, 60 ft. high, designed by Randolph Rogers (1825–1892) and unveiled in 1872. At each of the four corners in each of three sections rising one above the other are bronze eagles and figures representing the United States Infantry, Marine, Cavalry and Artillery, also Victory, Union, Emancipation and History; the figure by which the monument is surmounted was designed to symbolize Michigan. A larger and more massive and stately building than the city hall is the county court house, facing Cadillac Square, with a lofty tower surmounted by a gilded dome. The Federal building is a massive granite structure, finely decorated in the interior. Among the churches of greatest architectural beauty are the First Congregational, with a fine Byzantine interior, St John’s Episcopal, the Woodward Avenue Baptist and the First Presbyterian, all on Woodward Avenue, and St. Anne’s and Sacred Heart of Mary, both Roman Catholic. The municipal museum of art, in Jefferson Avenue, contains some unusually interesting Egyptian and Japanese collections, the Scripps’ collection of old masters, other valuable paintings, and a small library; free lectures on art are given here through the winter. The public library had 228,500 volumes in 1908, including one of the best collections of state and town histories in the country. A large private collection, owned by C. M. Burton and relating principally to the history of Detroit, is also open to the public. The city is not rich in outdoor works of art. The principal ones are the Merrill fountain and the soldiers’ monument on the Campus Martius, and a statue of Mayor Pingree in West Grand Circus Park.

The parks of Detroit are numerous and their total area is about 1200 acres. By far the most attractive is Belle Isle, an island in the river at the E. end of the city, purchased in 1879 and having an area of more than 700 acres. The Grand Circus Park of 41/2 acres, with its trees, flowers and fountains, affords a pleasant resting place in the busiest quarter of the city. Six miles farther out on Woodward Avenue is Palmer Park of about 140 acres, given to the city in 1894 and named in honour of the donor. Clark Park (28 acres) is in the W. part of the city, and there are various smaller parks. The principal cemeteries are Elmwood (Protestant) and Mount Elliott (Catholic), which lie adjoining in the E. part of the city; Woodmere in the W. and Woodlawn in the N. part of the city.

Charity and Education.—Among the charitable institutions are the general hospitals (Harper, Grace and St Mary's); the Detroit Emergency, the Children’s Free and the United States Marine hospitals; St Luke’s hospital, church home, and orphanage; the House of Providence (a maternity hospital and infant asylum); the Woman’s hospital and foundling’s home; the Home for convalescent children, &c. In 1894 the mayor, Hazen Senter Pingree (1842–1901), instituted the practice of preparing, through municipal aid and supervision, large tracts of vacant land in and about the city for the growing of potatoes and other vegetables and then, in conjunction with the board of poor commissioners, assigning it in small lots to families of the unemployed, and furnishing them with seed for planting. This plan served an admirable purpose through three years of industrial depression, and was copied in other cities; it was abandoned when, with the renewal of industrial activity, the necessity for it ceased. The leading penal institution of the city is the Detroit House of Correction, noted for its efficient reformatory work; the inmates are employed ten hours a day, chiefly in making furniture. The house of correction pays the city a profit of $35,000 to $40,000 a year. The educational institutions, in addition to those of the general public school system, include several parochial schools, schools of art and of music, and commercial colleges; Detroit College (Catholic), opened in 1877; the Detroit College of Medicine, opened in 1885; the Michigan College of Medicine and Surgery, opened in 1888; the Detroit College of law, founded in 1891, and a city normal school.

Commerce.—Detroit’s location gives to the city’s shipping and shipbuilding interests a high importance. All the enormous traffic between the upper and lower lakes passes through the Detroit river. In 1907 the number of vessels recorded was 34,149, with registered tonnage of 53,959,769, carrying 71,226,895 tons of freight, valued at $697,311,302. This includes vessels which delivered part or all of their cargo at Detroit. The largest item in the freights is iron ore on vessels bound down. The next is coal on vessels up bound. Grain and lumber are the next largest items. Detroit is a port of entry, and its foreign commerce, chiefly with Canada, is of growing importance. The city’s exports increased from $11,325,807 in 1896 to $37,085,027 in 1909. The imports were $3,153,609 in 1896 and $7,100,659 in 1909.

As a manufacturing city, Detroit holds high rank. The total number of manufacturing establishments in 1890 was 1746, with a product for the year valued at $77,351,546; in 1900 there were 2847 establishments with a product for the year valued at $100,892,838; or an increase of 30.4% in the decade. In 1900 the establishments under the factory system, omitting the hand trades and neighbourhood industries, numbered 1259 and produced goods valued at $88,365,924; in 1904 establishments under the factory system numbered 1363 and the product had increased 45.7% to $128,761,658. In the district subsequently annexed the product in 1904 was about $12,000,000, making a total of $140,000,000. The output for 1906 was estimated at $180,000,000. The state factory inspectors in 1905 visited 1721 factories having 83,231 employees. In 1906 they inspected 1790 factories with 93,071 employees. Detroit is the leading city in the country in the manufacture of automobiles. In 1904 the value of its product was one-fifth that for the whole country. In 1906 the city had twenty automobile factories, with an output of 11,000 cars, valued at $12,000,000. Detroit is probably the largest manufacturer in the country of freight cars, stoves, pharmaceutical preparations, varnish, soda ash and similar alkaline products. Other important manufactures are ships, paints, foundry and machine shop products, brass goods, furniture, boots and shoes, clothing, matches, cigars, malt liquors and fur goods; and slaughtering and meat packing is an important industry.

The Detroit Board of Commerce, organized in 1903, brought into one association the members of three former bodies, making a compact organization with civic as well as commercial aims. The board has brought into active co-operation nearly all the leading business men of the city and many of the professional men. Their united efforts have brought many new industries to the city, have improved industrial conditions, and have exerted a beneficial influence upon the municipal administration. Other business organizations are the Board of Trade, devoted to the grain trade and kindred lines, the Employers’ Association, which seeks to maintain satisfactory relations between employer and employed, the Builders’ & Traders’ Exchange, and the Credit Men’s Association.

Administration.—Although the city received its first charter in 1806, and another in 1815, the real power rested in the hands of the governor and judges of the territory until 1824; the charters of 1824 and 1827 centred the government in a council and made the list of elective officers long; the charter of 1827 was revised in 1857 and again in 1859 and the present charter dates from 1883. Under this charter only three administrative officers are elected,—the mayor, the city clerk and the city treasurer,—elections being biennial. The administration of the city departments is largely in the hands of commissions. There is one commissioner each, appointed by the mayor, for the parks and boulevards, police and public works departments. The four members of the health board are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. The school board is an independent body, consisting of one elected member from each ward holding office for four years, but the mayor has the veto power over its proceedings as well as those of the common council. In each case a two-thirds vote overrules his veto. The other principal officers and commissions, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council, are controller, corporation counsel, board of three assessors, fire commission (four members), public lighting commission (six members), water commission (five members), poor commission (four members), and inspectors of the house of correction (four in number). The members of the public library commission, six in number, are elected by the board of education. Itemized estimates of expenses for the next fiscal year are furnished by the different departments to the controller in February. He transmits them to the common council with his recommendations. The council has four weeks in which to consider them. It may reduce or increase the amounts asked, and may add new items. The budget then goes to the board of estimates, which has a month for its consideration. This body consists of two members elected from each ward and five elected at large. The mayor and heads of departments are advisory members, and may speak but not vote. The members of the board of estimates can hold no other office and they have no appointing power, the intention being to keep them as free as possible from all political motives and influences. They may reduce or cut out any estimates submitted, but cannot increase any or add new ones. No bonds can be issued without the assent of the board of estimates. The budget is apportioned among twelve committees which have almost invariably given close and conscientious examination to the actual needs of the departments. A reduction of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, without impairing the service, has been a not unusual result of their deliberations. Prudent management under this system has placed the city in the highest rank financially. Its debt limit is 2% on the assessed valuation, and even that low maximum is not often reached. The debt in 1907 was only about $5,500,000, a smaller per capita debt than that of any other city of over 100,000 inhabitants in the country; the assessed valuation was $330,000,000; the city tax, $14.70 on the thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Both the council and the estimators are hampered in their work by legislative interference. Nearly all the large salaries and many of those of the second grade are made mandatory by the legislature, which has also determined many affairs of a purely administrative character.

Detroit has made three experiments with municipal ownership. On account of inadequate and unsatisfactory service by a private company, the city bought the water-works as long ago as 1836. The works have been twice moved and enlargements have been made in advance of the needs of the city. In 1907 there were six engines in the works with a pumping capacity of 152,000,000 gallons daily. The daily average of water used during the preceding year was 61,357,000 gallons. The water is pumped from Lake St Clair and is of exceptional purity. The city began its own public lighting in April 1895, having a large plant on the river near the centre of the city. It lights the streets and public buildings, but makes no provision for commercial business. The lighting is excellent, and the cost is probably less than could be obtained from a private company. The street lighting is done partly from pole and arm lights, but largely from steel towers from 100 ft. to 180 ft. in height, with strong reflected lights at the top. The city also owns two portable asphalt plants, and thus makes a saving in the cost of street repairing and resurfacing. With a view of effecting the reduction of street car fares to three cents, the state legislature in 1899 passed an act for purchasing or leasing the street railways of the city, but the Supreme Court pronounced this act unconstitutional on the ground that, as the constitution prohibited the state from engaging in a work of internal improvement, the state could not empower a municipality to do so. Certain test votes indicated an almost even division on the question of municipal ownership of the railways.

History.—Detroit was founded in 1701 by Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac (c. 1661–1730), who had pointed out the importance of the place as a strategic point for determining the control of the fur trade and the possession of the North-west and had received assistance from the French government soon after Robert Livingston (1654–1725), the secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners in New York, had urged the English government to establish a fort at the same place. Cadillac arrived on the 24th of July with about 100 followers. They at once built a palisade fort about 200 ft. square S. of what is now Jefferson Avenue and between Griswold and Shelby streets, and named it Fort Pontchartrain in honour of the French colonial minister. Indians at once came to the place in large numbers, but they soon complained of the high price of French goods; there was serious contention between Cadillac and the French Canadian Fur Company, to which a monopoly of the trade had been granted, as well as bitter rivalry between him and the Jesuits. After the several parties had begun to complain to the home government the monopoly of the fur trade was transferred to Cadillac and he was exhorted to cease quarrelling with the Jesuits. Although the inhabitants then increased to 200 or more, dissatisfaction with the paternal rule of the founder increased until 1710, when he was made governor of Louisiana. The year before, the soldiers had been withdrawn; by the second year after there was serious trouble with the Indians, and for several years following the population was greatly reduced and the post threatened with extinction. But in 1722, when the Mississippi country was opened, the population once more increased, and again in 1748, when the settlement of the Ohio Valley began, the governor-general of Canada offered special inducements to Frenchmen to settle at Detroit, with the result that the population was soon more than 1000 and the cultivation of farms in the vicinity was begun. In 1760, however, the place was taken by the British under Colonel Robert Rogers and an English element was introduced into the population which up to this time had been almost exclusively French. Three years later, during the conspiracy of Pontiac, the fort first narrowly escaped capture and then suffered from a siege lasting from the 9th of May until the 12th of October. Under English rule it continued from this time on as a military post with its population usually reduced to less than 500. In 1778 a new fort was built and named Fort Lernault, and during the War of Independence the British sent forth from here several Indian expeditions to ravage the frontiers. With the ratification of the treaty which concluded that war the title to the post passed to the United States in 1783, but the post itself was not surrendered until the 11th of January 1796, in accordance with Jay’s Treaty of 1794. It was then named Fort Shelby; but in 1802 it was incorporated as a town and received its present name. In 1805 all except one or two buildings were destroyed by fire. General William Hull (1753–1825), a veteran of the War of American Independence, governor of Michigan territory in 1805–1812, as commander of the north-western army in 1812 occupied the city. Failing to hear immediately of the declaration of war between the United States and Great Britain, he was cut off from his supplies shipped by Lake Erie. He made from Detroit on the 12th of July an awkward and futile advance into Canada, which, if more vigorous, might have resulted in the capture of Malden and the establishment of American troops in Canada, and then retired to his fortifications. On the 16th of August 1812, without any resistance and without consulting his officers, he surrendered the city to General Brock, for reasons of humanity, and afterwards attempted to justify himself by criticism of the War Department in general and in particular of General Henry Dearborn’s armistice with Prevost, which had not included in its terms Hull, whom Dearborn had been sent out to reinforce.[1] After Perry’s victory on the 14th of September on Lake Erie, Detroit on the 29th of September was again occupied by the forces of the United States. Its growth was rather slow until 1830, but since then its progress has been unimpeded. Detroit was the capital of Michigan from 1805 to 1847.

Authorities.—Silas Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan (Detroit, 1884 and 1889), and “Detroit, the Queen City,” in L. P. Powell’s Historic Towns of the Western States (New York and London, 1901); D. F. Wilcox, “Municipal Government in Michigan and Ohio,” in Columbia University Studies (New York, 1896); C. M. Burton, “Cadillac’s Villageor Detroit under Cadillac (Detroit, 1896); Francis Parkman, A Half Century of Conflict (Boston, 1897); and The Conspiracy of Pontiac (Boston, 1898); and the annual Reports of the Detroit Board of Commerce (1904 sqq.).

  1. Hull was tried at Albany in 1814 by court martial, General Dearborn presiding, was found guilty of treason, cowardice, neglect of duty and unofficerlike conduct, and was sentenced to be shot; the president remitted the sentence because of Hull’s services in the Revolution.