Archive for the ‘History’ Category

"Flash of Genius" Hits Theaters Next Week; Ford Grabs onto "Oh Shit! Handle"

When I was a kid, my mom drove a Bronco II Ford SUV. This SUV, like most cars nowadays, had interior handles for each passenger, just above the door windows, to hang onto if the driver were to take a hard turn, or drive into a scary situation. My dad used to lovingly call these “Oh Shit! Handles.”

My dad worked for Ford for 34 years, and like many of our parents (and many of us!) we rely on the auto industry for our well-being and livelihood, whether working directly for one of The Big Three, an engineering firm that supports The Big Three (or Toyota or Honda), or one of the many area advertising agencies that promotes the auto industry.

The Big Three have certainly made lots of mistakes and miscalculations, and their past leadership is very much to blame for the sorry state the industry finds itself in today. And certainly, the industry deserved the harsh criticism of the independent filmmakers who produced Who Killed the Electric Car? and Roger and Me, films that justifiably showed how greedy power players and corporate executives have continued to influence the auto industry away from innovation and working 21st-century business models and into the same old ways of doing things.

But while Who Killed the Electric Car? and Roger and Me were important protests against bad auto-industry practices and the executive greed that spawned these practices, there’s a new Hollywood movie coming to theaters that threatens to tarnish the name of our American auto makers without any seeming purpose but to sell tickets at the box office.

In “Flash of Genius,” Greg Kinnear stars as Wayne State professor Robert Kearns, who, in the 1970s, invents the intermittent windshield wiper, a much sought-after technological advance for the auto industry at the time. Instead of giving the man credit, the auto industry (Ford, in particular, is named as the main culprit) steals the invention and denies the good professor–who’s been working hard just to keep his family fed–any monetary reward or credit for the invention. Kearns enters into an intense and long legal battle against Ford, which he wins after years of fighting in the courts. “Flash of Genius” is one of those feel-good movies about how the little guy, with lots of grit, determination, and an unquenchable thirst for justice, is able to win out against the powers that be.

Inspiring stuff. Unless, of course, you live in Michigan, and you can feel in your gut how much this movie will villanize our auto industry in the mind of the American consumer.

Ford is an easy target here–a sitting, and very wounded corporate duck–and I can’t think that this movie will do anything but make people less likely to buy American cars. The movie won’t make Ford any better. It won’t force protests that will make Ford correct bad practices or create greener vehicles–the market is already making that happen. No, the movie will just turn people even more against Ford, solidifying the automaker as a corporate Mr. Potter in consumers’ minds, working only toward keeping all of the George Baileys of this world down and out.

Granted, “Flash of Genius” is based on a true story, and a story that deserves telling. And I’m not trying to stick up for Ford’s past actions. I just question the timing and the intent of this film. Things are already bad enough around here due to the mismanagement of the auto industry over the years. But when the industry (and Michigan) is at its lowest, does it really make sense to kick us when we’re already down? Even though the story is about the industry exploiting one of our own, it’s the kind of PR nightmare that the transitioning American auto companies don’t need.

And let’s not kid ourselves that any other industry could possibly replace the automobile industry if it were to go down. Governor Granholm’s plans to make Michigan a manufacturing hub for green technologies are certainly on the right track for our future economic prosperity, but they could never fill in the hole that a completely broken auto industry would leave.

So grab onto the “Oh Shit! Handles” everybody, because “Flash of Genius” is going to make this recovery an even bumpier ride for the auto industry, and the city and state that rely on it.

More background from The Free Press, and here’s the trailer:


Buildings of Detroit Documents the Demolition of Tiger Stadium

If you’re like me, then you’ve been shocked each time you’ve driven down Trumbull lately at how quickly the demolition of Tiger Stadium has taken place. Every time I drive past, slack-jawed and disbelieving, I keep telling myself I should get down there to take some pictures of what’s left before it’s all gone. And while I still need to do this, at least I’ve been able to fall back on the website Buildings of Detroit to do the noble work of capturing critical moments in the demolition.

Check out Buildings of Detroit’s Youtube page to see video of the demolition and find images here, and then browse the site itself to check out their great information on the many architectural jewels of Detroit. The site offers great photos and histories of our shared architectural wonders and ruins.

Perhaps we should dump the incinerator first, and then move on to Kwame

This week’s Metro Times cover story by Curt Guyette, “The Big Burn: America’s largest garbage incinerator and the movement to shut it down,” is both a must read and a call-to-arms for all Detroiters, both metro and suburban.

It is both absolutely ridiculous and sadly typical that Detroit has the country’s largest incinerator, and even more ridiculous and typical that the city officials who have the power to move the city in a new, more environmentally sustainable direction are leaning toward keeping this monstrosity (I’m looking right at you, Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams!). Detroit needs a challenge, and reducing our waste by making recycling the law (that’s right, the law) in Detroit is a great start. With a vigorous recycling program and more education regarding environmental and health issues, the choice won’t need to be between an incinerator and landfills. The answer will be a better life for Detroit and the surrounding area–environmentally and economically.

We could utilize the sage advice and experience from the good folks at Recy-clean in this challenge. In fact, you can start by going to see them regularly at 1331 Holden with these items at the following times:

Wednesday 10am-2am
Saturday 9am-3pm

Oh, and that $600-$1200 you’ll be getting from old mother Bush this May, it wouldn’t hurt to make a donation to this and other great Detroit non-profit organizations who do a bunch of great things for you for free.

Go Ahead, Take a Peek…

Remember that neighborhood spying that I mentioned in my intro post? Well, this weekend you can do it on the up-and-up!

This coming Sunday, December 16, is the annual Boston Edison Holiday Home Tour. Here’s your chance to take a peek inside some fantastic homes in the neighborhood that once housed all of the freeways in Detroit. Or, at least the people that they were named after. James Couzens, Charles Fisher, and of course Henry Ford once called this neighborhood home. The architecture of these homes is just breathtaking, and, as my gramma would say “they just don’t make ’em like that anymore”. Tickets are $20 and include transportation around the houses on display and refreshments at the end of the tour. Head to the neighborhood’s website, Boston Edison, for more details.

Palmer Woods, home of the famous Bishop’s Residence isn’t holding it’s annual home tour this year, but is instead hosting a monthly concert series beginning in December.

40 Years Ago Today

The worst riots happened 40 years ago on this day, the Infamous 1967 riots.

You can find more information and history on various media sites, but basically the police raided an after-hours bar, where 80 black patrons were, and soon after police took them out, people on the streets began breaking into storefronts, vandalizing, and looting. Within 48 hours national guard moved in, and restored order eventually.

The riots have had a lasting effect in the minds of Detroiters and the suburbanites outside of the city.

The mayor was spoke at the ceremony held at Virginia Park this afternoon in the city.

Cool Detroit website alert

Launched a little less than a month ago, Detroit 1976 is a great new site put out by Naviciti, the Detroit company behind the easy-to-use Map Detroit. Like Map Detroit, the site has an interactive map – but the cool part is, it’s a map of Detroit’s central business district (CBD) in 1976.

There are loads of other cool features, such as the ability to see aerial images of the CBD from as far back as 1949, but rather than regurgitate the post I just wrote about, check it out here.

Walter Reuther Library @ WSU

I always enjoy the last page of Hour Detroit’s magazine; the one with the old pictures entitled “The Way it Was”. It seems most of these pictures are from the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library or the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State. I love the Burton Historical Collection; I could spend hours pouring over old microfilms there and would love to check out the images at the Reuther library. Not having gone to school at Wayne, I’m wondering if the library is just for students, or if Detroit residents can use it…any info. would be greatly appreciated!

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:

Detroit trivia tidbit: Olde English D

Call me a freak for useless trivia, but I love it. This fascination goes even further when it has to do with Detroit. I know there are other Detroit trivia hounds out there, so I’m introducing a new weekly post called Detroit Trivia; I’ll be bringing you a unique fact or piece of information about the D every week. Now, onto the fun…

First up, a little-known fact about the Detroit Tigers‘ Olde English D.

Cool Picture

I found this cool picture on Wayne State’s Virtual Motor City site . It is a repository of old news photographs from around the state and city. This picture is centered on the Public Library on Cass facing East taken apparently after the library was just built. You can see what looks like the beginning of construction of the DIA across Woodward behind it. The Macabees Building isn’t built yet and neither is most of Wayne State (it was neighborhood back then). The street in the immediate foreground looks to be 2nd (which is now Gullen Mall).

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