Friday, May 20, 2022

Michigan's Struggle for Statehood

The British officially turned over Fort Detroit to the United States and evacuated on July 11, 1796. At noon, the Union Jack was lowered and the American flag was raised. Michigan was officially part of the United States under control of Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair.  

On July 13th, United States Colonel John Hamtramck arrived with 400 soldiers to secure the Detroit command. Detroit consisted of a wharf, a fort, and a citadel of about 100 houses, shops, taverns, and Ste. Anne's Church. Ribbon farms extended on both sides of Detroit from the St. Clair River up stream to the Rouge River downstream.

The first United States Federal Census in the Michigan Territory was in 1800. Detroit's numbers were so small that they were lumped in with Wayne County's numbers. It was estimated that 500 people lived within the stockade with another 2,100 living on nearby farms. 

In 1810, the first Michigan Territorial census counted 770 people living in Detroit while the rest of Michigan territory showed a population of 4,762. With a combined population over 5,000, Michigan was entitled to three seats on the Northwest Territory's legislature. By 1815, Detroit was incorporated as the City of Detroit with its own governing board.

Population growth was slow in Michigan because the Surveyor-General of the United States issued a faulty land report based on flawed and incomplete information that the territory was nothing but lakes, swamps, and sandy land. Most settlers hoping to homestead farmland out West opted to follow the Ohio River water highway to Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The erroneous account delayed Michigan's development.

The inaugural trip of the steamship Walk in the Water, named after a Wyandot tribal chief, left from Buffalo, New York for its destination of Detroit, Michigan in 1818. This marked the beginning of regular steam service carrying passengers and goods between the East and Detroit. Steamship travel on Lake Erie opened up Michigan and the Great Lakes area for farming, timber, and mining interests from New York City. 

The 1820 census showed Detroit's population to be 1,442 while Michigan's population grew to 8,927. Government-funded post roads were built radiating from Detroit helping to develop small towns and farming communities inland. On a public safety note, City Fathers erected a public whipping post near the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson avenues to discourage petty crime and drunkeness. It remained in use until 1831. As a result of the Greek War for Independence, 1822 saw a huge influx of Greek immigrants to the Detroit area.

Travelers headed to Buffalo, New York.

The United States' second wave of immigration consisted mostly of Irish and Germans. Many of these newcomers constructed the Erie Canal between 1817 to 1825. The Irish with horses and mules dug 363 miles of canal while German stonemasons engineered bridges and built thirty-six locks that raised freight boats and other canal traffic 565 feet in elevation from east to west. When the canal opened on October 26, 1825, it set off a land boom in Michigan and Detroit until 1837.

The 1830 census of the Michigan Territory counted 85,000 people which qualified Michigan for statehood. There was a delay because of the Toledo Strip dispute with Ohio in 1835. This was the original Buckeye/Wolverine rivalry. The so-called Great Toledo War was a stalemate settled with ink rather than blood.

Michigan was admitted to the Union on the condition that the Ohio boundary be accepted. Ohio got the Toledo Strip and Michigan got the entire Upper Peninsula with some of the most gorgeous and extensive lakefront property in the United States. Statehood was granted in 1837. 

Michigan soon adopted its state seal and motto designed by Lewis Cass in 1835. The bald eagle symbolizes the United States, while the elk and the moose holding a shield symbolize Michigan, with the Latin word "Tuebor" meaning "I will defend." The state's motto is "Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice" (If you are looking for a beautiful peninsula, look around you), all on a field of dark blue.

Erie Canal Populates the Great Lakes Region

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Walter P. Chrysler--Unlikely Automobile Titan

Walter P. Chrysler with his Chrysler Six.

Walter Percy Chrysler was born in the prairie town of Wamego, Kansas on April 2, 1875. As a young boy, he admired his father and the work he did as a railroad engineer for the Kansas Pacific railroad. He loved the excitement of the roundhouse and the mightly roar of the steam locomotives that were serviced there. 

Sometimes, young Walter was allowed to ride with his father in the locomotive cab as the train cut through the quiet countryside. He would pull the whistle cord announcing the passage of the train through small towns and sleeping villages. 

Walter's early association with the raw power of the steam locomotive instilled in him a fascination with mechanics, but Walter's father wanted his son to enter college after high school. Much to his father's disappointment, seventeen-year-old Walter began a four-year mechanic's apprenticeship in a railroad machine shop sweeping the floor.

Walter was anxious to become a journeyman machinist and master mechanic, so he could afford to marry his high school sweetheart. To supplement his chosen career, Walter was an avid reader of Scientific American magazine, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree from International Correspondence Schools headquartered in Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

Chrysler worked for several Western railroads as a itinerant mechanic who soon developed a reputation as a gifted, problem- solving engineer. He was particularly skillful at fine-tuning the valves of the massive steam-powered locomotives. After a year of traveling as a journeyman mechanic, he landed a foreman's assistant job at the Sante Fe roundhouse in Wellington, Kansas. 

After working another year there, Chrysler was able to save some money. He was homesick for his hometown, but more importantly, he was lovesick for Miss Della V. Forker, his Ellis, Kansas girlfriend whom he married on June 4, 1901.


Della Viola Folker

The bride's family and friends felt Della had married beneath her station in life. They preferred she marry a professional or a businessman rather than a train mechanic. Her parents did not fully appreciate what hard work and ambition lurked beneath the surface of their son-in-law. 

The happy couple started married life with $60. They spent the next two years in Salt Lake City where Walter worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway at thirty cents an hour for a ten-hour day. He rose through the ranks from crew foreman, shop foreman, and master mechanic. As his reputation for plant efficiency grew, so did his family with two daughters and two sons. He needed to find a job that paid more.

In 1908 at the age of thirty-three, Walter Chrysler was offered the job of general works manager of the American Locomotive Company (ALC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at a starting salary of $8,000 a year. In two years, he turned the ailing company around by showing a profit for the first time in years. The company's bankers took note. Chrysler was asked if he had ever thought about entering the automobile business. Of course he had.


Chrysler was an automobile enthusiast from the beginning of the industry. In 1908, he went to the Chiciago Auto Show and fell in love with a Locomobile touring car with a $5,000 price tag. He could only justify spending $700 from a family savings account, but he had to have that car. 

Chrysler borrowed $4,300 from a local banker when he found a friend who co-signed for the loan. The car was painted ivory white with red interior trim and a cushioned bench seat. The canvas top was khaki-colored.

1908 Locomobile with equipped tool box on the running board.

Rather than drive the car to Pittsburgh over unimproved country roads, Chrysler shipped the car home by rail. Once in town, he hired a team of horses to tow his new car home. For the next three months, Chrysler disassembled and reassembled the car no less than seven times. After he was familiar with the car's mechanical systems, he gassed it up and became a motorist. Soon after he paid back his car note, Chrysler bought a six-cylinder Stevens-Duryea.

The following year, Chrysler was summoned to New York City to discuss a business proposition. He met for lunch with Charles W. Nash, president of Buick Motor Company, who was looking for someone to become production manager at his plant to reduce costs and increase profits. 

Nash asked Chrysler what ALC was paying him yearly. By then, he was pulling down $12,000 a year. Nash offered Chrysler a 50% cut in pay with yearly performance bonuses to move his family to Flint, Michigan and manage Buick Motors.

Recognizing the long term future of personal transportation, Chrysler turned his back on the railroad industry in a move that would change his life forever. After eighteen months under Chrysler's direction, the Buick line outperformed other General Motors models. Production soared from 50 cars a day to 550 cars a day. He was soon promoted to vice president and general manager of Buick Motors for the next three years earning $50,000 a year.

In 1915, original General Motors founder William "Willie" Durant bought back his company after a hostile takeover by bankers and stockholders. He traded stock from his successful startup company Chevrolet and brought the Chevy brand under the GM banner, once again becoming the president and chairman of the board.

William "Willie" Durant

Chrysler turned in his resignation, but Durant recognized his value to the corporation. Durant offered Chrysler a three-year contract making him president of Buick at $10,000 a month salary with a yearly half-a-million-dollar bonus of GM stock. He would report to nobody but Durant himself. 

Under Chrysler's leadership, Buick became GM's strongest brand and the most successful automobile brand in the country, but Durant and Chrysler had different management styles which led Chrysler to resign after his three-year contract ran out. Durant bought out Chrysler's GM stock for ten million dollars making him one of the richest men in the country. Their parting was amicable.

Within the year, Walter Chrysler assumed directorship of the Willys-Overland Motor Company of Toledo, Ohio, for a one million dollar a year salary. Two years later, he left Willys-Overland over disagreements with the company's owner. 

In 1921, Chrysler bought controlling interest in the struggling Maxwell Motor Company. Over the next several years, he phased out the Maxwell brand which was drowning in debt. Chrysler and several engineers he hired away from Studebaker Motors developed a high compression, six-cylinder engine. With auto bodies built by the Fisher Brothers, the new car was named the Chrysler Six and took the automobile world by storm in 1924. 

The basic model included at no extra cost to the buyer, the first high-compression, inline six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 70 mph; the first replaceable oil and air filters to extend engine life; full pressure lubrication from an external oil pump; a fluid drive transmission for smooth shifting and greater performance; four-wheel hydraulic brakes for improved stopping distance; the first emergency brake as standard equipment in a low-priced automobile; and the first fuel and temperature gauges on the dashboard. The Chrysler Six sold 32,000 units for under $2,000 each in its first year of production.

In 1925, the Maxwell Motor Corporation was reorganized into the Chrysler Corporation. The old Chalmers engine plant was purchased and renovated for production of Chrysler's new engine, but it soon became clear that the new corporation still had trouble keeping up with demand. 

In 1928, Chrysler purchased the Dodge Brothers' state-of-the-art factory complex and its extensive inventory from Dillon, Read & Company for $170,000,000, much of it in Chrysler stock. That same year, he created the Plymouth brand as Chrysler's low-priced competition for Ford and Chevy. In what seemed like overnight success, Chrysler Corporation became one of Detroit's Big Three automakers.

Also in 1928, Chrysler's adult sons showed no interest in the automobile business, so their father created a separate real estate venture to be managed by them. Between 1928 and 1930, he personally supervised the construction of the seventy-seven story Chrysler Building in New York City, which remains one of the world's great art deco monuments.

Model of Chrysler Building  

For his skillful piloting of the Chrysler Corporation into one of America's Big Three automakers and his undertaking of the construction of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, Walter P. Chrysler was honored as Time magazine's 1928 Man of the Year. In 1935, he stepped down from the presidency of Chrysler but continued on the board of directors.


On May 26, 1938, sixty-three-year-old Walter Chrysler suffered a stroke at this Long Island, New York estate. While he recovered at home, his beloved wife Della died just over two months later from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of fifty-eight on August 8th. Walter Chrysler survived for two more years before dying from a second stroke on August 18, 1940 at the age of sixty-five.

A notice was posted at all Chrysler plants on Wednesday, August 21st, that all machinery would be shut down at 10:00 am and workers were to spend fifteen minutes in silence as a tribute to Chrysler while his funeral services were being held at All Saints' Church in Great Neck, Long Island, New York City.

All Chrysler Corporation vice presidents and directors were named honorary pallbearers. Speaking at the funeral service, manufacturer and Detroit Tiger owner Walter O. Briggs said, "Walter P. Chrysler symbolized the vision and courage which made America great."

President of Chrysler Corporation of Canada John D. Mansfield said, "Walter P. Chrysler was one of the great industrialists of modern times. His death has taken from the world one of its giants." 

Richard T. Frankensteen, director of the United Auto Workers (UAW) spoke for the rank and file, "Chrysler's passing is cause on the part of Chrysler workers for deep regret. Despite temporary disagreements, Walter P. Chrysler was a man sincerely desirous of working to improve the lot of his workers with his general principles of fair dealing with labor."

After Chrysler settled a contract dispute with the UAW's sit-down strike in 1937, he summed up his pride and appreciation in the local Detroit newspapers for his workforce. "There is more to industry than money and machines. There are men. I have worked too many years on account of my own family to be forgetful that it is their women and children that men keep on working. How could I be unmindful of that obligation when I am so proud of what we have accomplished together?" 

Walter Chrysler identified with is workforce because of his years of personal struggles as an underpaid mechanic and machinist. With all of his triumphs, he was at his core a simple man of simple tastes who was happiest when he was out in his factories rubbing elbows with the men who stood where he once labored.

Walter and Della were interred in their family masoleum in Sleepy Hollow, Tarryton, New York. They were survived by daughters Thelma and Bernice, and sons Walter Jr. and John.

Henry Ford had a different approach to the United Auto Workers and labor relations. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Downriver Detroit's Vagabond Showman Nick Butsicaris

Rick Wiesend (Tim Tam) with Nick Butsicaris, Dan Wiesend, Earl Rennie, Don Grundman, and John Ogen.
I remember Nick Butsicaris best from sophomore gym class at Allen Park High School. I don't know who took more dodge balls in the face--him or me. But by senior year, Nick became an instant celebrity as a member of the singing group Tim Tam and the Turnons.

The Tim Tams teamed up with a local band of talented freshmen from Allen Park High named The Satellites. Together, they created a rock doo-wop sound reminescent of The Four Seasons. Their 1966 debut record "Wait a Minute" sold 30,000 copies in the first month of release charting #76 on Billboard's National Chart. In a 2019 national radio survey of "The Top 100 Songs of the 1960s," it was voted #40.

But timing is everything in the music business. Harmonic male singing groups lost favor with fans by the late 1960s who couldn't hear enough of the fresh new sound of the British Invasion that dominated the radio air waves. Alas, after several recordings, the Tim Tams became a one-hit wonder--neither the first nor the last.

When I ran into Nick fifty years later at a class reunion event, I had no idea he had been the manager of some of rock music's most iconic groups of the 1970s and the 1980s. After Tim Tam and the Turnons disbanded in 1969, Nick and his friend David Leone formed a startup company called Diversified Management Agency (DMA). The partnership launched Nick on a memorable show business career. Nick shortened his last name to Caris because it was "faster and easier to sign contracts and checks."

Nick began managing and handling bookings for many of the Motor City's high octane rock & roll acts like Mitch Rider, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper at venues like Detroit's Grande Ballroom, the Olympia, the Masonic Temple, local sports stadiums, and university fieldhouses. When those acts hit nationally, DMA went from a local boutique agency to a national business.

Nick to the left again with bare chested Ted Nugent after a Cobo Hall sellout in the 1970s.

Nick toured with his groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s. His job was to interface with promoters and tour managers, manage his bands and their road crews, and take care of the tour's business arrangements. Fans pay to see a great show, but behind the scenes, the business was often a three-ring circus. 

When I asked him about the downside of the job, Nick was quick to respond, "Being on the road so much. Touring takes its toll on everyone and their families. Many of the performers don't get to see their kids grow up, and they miss many important events in their kid's lives.

"That's just one of the many costs of fame and success. Some people didn't survive the drug craze. Without a supportive wife and family, I might have been a casualty too. But I kept my priorities straight. I had a job to do and a family to support."

Nick said the high point of his career was standing on the California Jamfest stage on April 6, 1974 at the Riverside, Ontario Speedway in California--considered by many to be the last of the classic rock festivals before the corporate takeover of the rock business.

"Looking out over several-hundred-thousand screaming fans, I kept thinking 'Not bad for a kid from Detroit.' DMA managed most of the groups that performed at the original Cal Jamfest."

Nick gets his nephews a photo opp backstage with Kiss.

In the late 1980s, Nick left the Detroit rock & roll scene for the bright lights of New York City joining the William Morris Talent Agency managing headline groups like The Eagles, Nazareth, Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Steve Miller, Aerosmith, and many others. Nick left William Morris at the end of the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over Tour in 1994. Towards the end of his career, he managed tribute shows that traveled internationally, like The Australian Pink Floyd Show and The Music of Led Zeppelin--A Rock Symphony. During his successful management career, Nick has earned dozens of gold and platinum record awards--several went multi-platinum.

When asked if he missed the rock & roll business, Nick replied, "Every time I see MTV or VH1 and see music videos of bands I've managed, it's like watching a movie of my life. It's easy to get nostalgic for the good times, but the business has evolved and so have the movers and the shakers. It's been very exciting to be a part of show business, but I'm content to sit on the sidelines. Rock & Roll touring is a young man's game." Nick has returned happily to his Downriver Detroit roots.

"Wait a Minute" by Tim Tam and the Turnons, and Bob Seger and the Last Herd singing "East Side Story."