Detroit’s 7th Gift to the World: Automobiles


Yesterday was Motown and Detroit music. Today, we give the world our final gift this year: the automobile.

Detroit isn’t called the Motor City for nothing. True, other cities (and countries – notably Europe) had autos before Detroit. But it was Detroit that took the automobile to a whole new level, bringing it to the masses, and changing life for Americans and the rest of the world.

Despite the Big 3’s current uphill battle to hang onto market share in the U.S., Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler are forces to be reckoned with, both domestically and abroad, and Detroit remains the auto capital of the world. Detroit’s domestic automakers are also major contributers to the local, regional, national and global economy: GM is number 3 on the 2006 Fortune 500 list, and Ford is number 5. Auto-related companies Delphi, Lear, Visteon, and Masco are in the top 200, as well. GM is the world’s largest automaker and has been the global industry sales leader for 75 years, and the Big 3’s contributions to the city of Detroit and the area of Southeastern Michigan in everything from funding arts and culture activities to proactive environmental land use is enormous.

The auto industry is more than just cars, though. From the introduction of windshield wipers to the first mile of paved concrete, Detroit and its auto industry have made the world a better place and shaped today’s society. Here’s a brief historic timeline highlighting important dates and happenings in Detroit’s auto industry from the late 1890s through 1971:

1896: Ransom E. Olds becomes first auto-manufacturer in Detroit.
1900: Olds opens the world’s first auto-plant on Jefferson and Concord (destroyed by fire in 1901).
1900: Columbia car introduced in Detroit. It features a left-side steering wheel and an engine in the front of the car, as opposed to under the driver’s seat.
1903: There are 11,000 cars, 1 million bicycles, and 17 million horses in the U.S.
1904: 2,735 Michigan workers produce 9,125 cars.
1908: Ford begins making Model T.
1908: General Motors organized.
1909: First mile of paved concrete in the world on Woodward Avenue between 6 and 7 Mile in Detroit.
1910: GM is first American auto company to offer closed bodies.
1910: There are 202 different makes of cars in the world. (Today, only four of these 202 survive: Buick, Ford, Cadillac and Oldsmobile).
1910: The phrase “traffic jam” coined in Detroit.
1911: Detroit creates the world’s first “center line”.
1914: 67,538 Michigan workers make 442,982 cars and trucks (78% of American’s total vehicle production).
1914: Henry Ford stuns the nation by offering a $5 a day wage. Before this, average per hour wages were 30 cents. The day following the announcement, 10,000 applicants show up at Highland Park Plant.
1918: First three-light traffic signal in the world put up at Michigan and Monroe in Detroit.
1920: First intersection with traffic signals in all directions in the world put up at Woodward and Fort in Detroit.
1924: Chrysler introduces world’s first V-6.
1927: 15 millionth Model T rolls off the line.
1929: Hudson Motor Car Co. in Detroit introduces first mobile home.
1930: Detroit’s population hits 1.6 million, six times what it was in 1900.
1933: “New Center News” newspaper created. Today it is known as “Detroit Auto Scene“; it is the oldest free newspaper in the nation.
1934: GM conducts first-ever vehicle rollover test.
1936: Fisher Body in Detroit introduces windshield wipers.
1937: GM recognizes UAW after first sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan.
1954: Allison Division introduces auto-transmission for trucks and buses.
1962: GM introduces the first fuel cell car in the world, the Electrovan. Astronauts on Apollo 11 use fuel-cell technology on their – and America’s – first trip to the moon.
1971: GM designs LunarRiver, making Apollo 15 astronauts the first Americans to “drive” on the moon.

2 Comments so far

  1. mel (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 3:15 pm

    Yes, the best contribution to the world ever. The automobile literally took us out of the “horse and buggy” age and into the modern era of transportation. Celebrate the car. It’s an American tradition!

    Great photo of 1959 Ford.

  2. till (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

    Pretty good, even though you know that the automobile was invented by Benz in 1885 (or something). :P

    What is it with Detroit ‘stealing’ our stuff? ;)

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