The Players of the Early General Motors Corporation
The dreamer of the automobile industry was William C. Durant. Born in Boston, and raised in Flint, it was Durant who conceived the combination that would have given him control of the automobile industry. This was the combination he envisioned as also including Ford, Maxwell-Briscoe, the E. R. Thomas Company and, although not much was said about it, the Reo Motor Car Company.
Durant’s interest in automobiles came by way of a succession of jobs—clerk in a grocery store, mill-hand, clerk in a drugstore, patent medicine salesman, clerk in a cigar store, insurance salesman and secretary of Flint’s privately owned waterworks. Salary, $25 a month.
One of his responsibilities as secretary of the water company was to talk with complaining customers. He grew to know a great deal about human nature. One day he was given a lift in a two-wheel road cart. Attracted by the conveyance, he asked questions, learned it was made in Coldwater, Michigan, and went there. The next day he paid $50 for the patent rights on the cart.
Returning to Flint, he sought out his friend, Josiah Dallas Dort, who was clerking in a hardware store. Forming a partnership, the two men went to W. A. Paterson, who made carriages, and contracted with him for ten thousand carts at eight dollars each. Taking to the road, Durant sold the carts at $12.50 each. Then, with Dort, he formed the Durant-Dort Carriage Company.
Within a few years, and before he was forty years old, Durant was a millionaire, and was losing interest in the business that made him rich. He went to New York to familiarize himself with the ways of the Stock Exchange, and, while in New York, began thinking about automobiles.
In Flint, James Whiting was unhappy with the prospects of the Buick Motor Company which he had taken over from Benjamin Briscoe, Jr., so that when Durant came back and began asking questions about Buick, Whiting was happy to provide what answers he could. Characteristically, Durant listened, then got behind the wheel of the car. For two months he drove the car over the roughest roads he could find, through mud and sand and gravel, uphill and downhill, down country lanes and over corduroy roads. Every time the car wilted under the punishment, he watched every move until the mechanics finished their work; and started all over again.
At last he was satisfied. On November 1, 1904, William C. Durant took over control of the Buick Motor Company.
Five years had passed since David Buick proposed that Detroit honor Cadillac with a memorial in the form of a huge statue that would stand at the foot of Belle Isle. Three years had passed since the same David Buick satisfied Whiting that the car which bore the name of Buick could negotiate, under its own power, the sixty-five miles that separated Detroit and Flint.
The story of the statue had its beginnings in 1901, when Detroit was making plans to celebrate its two-hundredth anniversary. Buick offered his idea to a committee of distinguished citizens who solemnly discussed it, and tabled it.
“What I propose,” said Buick to the committee, “is really a tremendous building, taller than any skyscraper. It will he looking toward the city Cadillac founded, and it will have the outward appearance of a human figure. The smallest part of the figure will be at the ankles, which will be twenty-five feet in circumference. Its broadest portion will be across the shoulders, where it will be one hundred feet wide. The circumference of the throat will be seventy-two feet, and of the body eighty-nine feet. The head will be seventy-two feet in circumference.
“In the interior I would have an art museum and an observatory from which, with the aid of powerful telescopes, the surrounding country could be viewed for many miles.
“There will be room in each leg of the statue for eight elevators. In the body, between the hips and the shoulders, there will be space for fifteen stories, each fifteen feet from floor to ceiling. Two of these stories could be thrown together to make a big convention hall.”
David Buick’s colossal Cadillac never merged into reality, but he has his own monument. A shining nameplate fastened to millions of motor cars carries his name over the world.
He remained with Durant and with the Buick company until 1908, when he resigned. Unfortunately, he did not share Durant’s vision of the automobile industry. Within four years Buick became the cornerstone of General Motors. Within six years, Durant had to swallow the hard terms of the masters of money, and step down. Always thinking in terms of expansion, Durant was always searching for money. He had reached the time when none was available.
Arthur Pound wrote about it in The Turning Wheel:
“He [Durant] kept the golden ball in the air by sheer dexterity and courage through six straining years of exceedingly rapid expansion. Looking backward upon the activities of a quarter of a century ago, it can be seen that the notable human qualities behind this triumph also had their defects, which eventually caused Mr. Durant’s retirement from the vast business which he originated. But it can also be appreciated that his qualities were precisely those needed to get the foundation laid with whatever tools and materials were at hand.”
It may be added that the “qualities were precisely those needed” to bring him back into control. But while Durant was suffering temporary defeat, so was Henry Ford.
The Famous Patent Suit Against Ford
On May 28, 1909, Judge Charles Merrill Hough was on the bench in the Circuit Court of the Southern District of New York, and was listening to the long-awaited arguments in the suit against the Ford Motor Company for infringement of the Selden patent. After several days of testimony, and the submission of a very large number of documents, the lawyers rested. On September 15, 1909, Judge Hough gave his decision. It supported Selden, and subjected Ford to heavy penalties.
Ford issued immediate instructions to his attorneys to appeal and, if necessary, to keep on appealing until, as he said to a Journal reporter on February 12, 1910, the Supreme Court of the United States holds “that the Selden patent is not valid.”
On November 22, 1910, in New York, the case came before the three justices of the United States Court of Appeals. On November 27, 1910, the arguments were ended. On January 10, 1911, and speaking for colleagues, and for himself, Justice Walter Chadwick Noyes handed down an opinion which gave Ford a complete victory.
The long fight was over. If there was a disposition on the part of the officials of the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, who were supporting Selden and financing his suit, to challenge the strength of the opinion, as Ford had challenged the opinion of Justice Hough, they gave no indication. In fact, they seemed to agree with the editorial viewpoint of the Journal which stated, on January 11, 1911, that “the Court’s decision is a declaration of liberty and equality of opportunity.”
That was Ford’s contention. He believed he was fighting a monopoly, and said so. In February 1910, the A. L. A. M. ran advertisements in New York, Chicago and Detroit newspapers advising the public that it “is clearly the duty of every law-abiding American citizen to respect the exclusive right secured by the patent.” The advertisement maintained that members of the association were “chiefly responsible for the development of the automobile to its present perfected state,” and argued that “there is no reason why anyone who is buying a car should not buy a car licensed under the Selden patent. The licensees build cars of all classes and for all prices.”
Ford fired back in the advertising columns of the same newspapers, stating that the Selden patent was “a freak among alleged inventions, and is worthless as a patent, and worthless as a device.” He insisted that the Hough decision “is only the first round of a patent battle. There remain the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court to both of which we can, and, if necessary, will carry the case.”
A bond protecting the purchaser of a Ford car from damages was offered, and back of these bonds were placed all the assets of the Ford Motor Company—stated, at the time, to be approximately $12,000,000.
The court fight received wide attention, and Ford received wide acclaim for the stubborn fight he had made. Newspapers referred to him as “Ford the Fighter,” and the public responded in a way that was especially pleasing to him. In the year 1910-11, the sales of Ford cars totaled 34,528; in the year of 1911-12, the first full year after the decision of the Court of Appeals, total sales were 78,440 cars.
The Vice and Fun That Made 1910 Detroit
The patent decision was celebrated in a good many places besides Rector’s, in New York, where Ford was host at a victory dinner. Classes were raised in the Pontchartrain, at Fred Postal’s Griswold, the Normandie, and Jim Hayes’s Wayne Hotel—and in each of the thirteen bars that populated Whisky Row, which was that one-block section of Lafayette Avenue that swept to the point where Michigan Avenue and Griswold Street join to make a triangle.
Fully aware of the importance of the automobile industry, Detroit was preening itself because the federal census of 1910 ranked it among the ten largest cities in the United States. Its population was 465,766, and the citizens were beginning to realize that the free-and-easy days, even of its Whisky Row, could not last forever.
Police headquarters was a drab oasis of decency in a desert of delinquency. To the east on Champlain Street (now Lafayette east) stretched a segregated district where ladies of free-and-easy ways dwelt in comparative security. Sometimes they defied their detractors by riding abroad in carriages to do their shopping, daintily carrying raised parasols to shield them from the sun.
Northward, but well within the shadow of the law, were such institutions as the House of All Nations in which were planned, and executed, the most flagrant of crimes; of similar complexion was the Bucket o’ Blood saloon. Its name told its story.
To the west, commercialized vice wrote its own ticket, and the penmanship was mostly the practiced hand of Hattie Miller, who lived to a ripe old age, defying not only police and prosecutors, but grand juries as well. Her squalid low brick fortress was the scene of many a police raid, in daylight and after dark. The story is told of Lou Goodnow, one of Detroit’s bright devotees of journalism, telephoning from Hattie Miller’s with the story of the current raid. Finally, after interruptions, the city editor admonished the reporter to remain calm.
“Calm!” yelled Goody over the telephone. “Could you stay calm if Hattie Miller’s bulldog was gnawing at your vitals?”
So it was, that vice flourished in the early-century years, and the closer to police headquarters the greater the urgency to evil. True, men of honor and of probity were in authority at city hall and at police headquarters, but sometimes the situation proved too complex. Archaic laws still were in effect. The forces of evil could walk around them, and see through them.
It was into this situation that Frank H. Croul walked with a long, firm stride. Scion of an old Detroit family, a manufacturer, and a banker, Croul had a passion for law and order. He became Police Commissioner in 1909, on appointment of Philip Breitmeyer, a mayor who was a florist and who, in his political practices, was as gentle as the blossoms he sold.
Croul’s civic record included a tour of duty as a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners, where his penchant for cleanliness and order found expression. This was said to have been a carry-over from his school days at the military academy at Culver, Indiana.
His factory at the foot of Leib Street, the Detroit Oak Belting Company, was typical of its owner, being a model of neatness and cleanliness. The big dock itself was a river-front show place. Nobody along the river kept a more meticulous house than Frank Croul. When he became Police Commissioner, he dressed up the department overnight.
Its personnel emerged one bright morning with shoes shined, trousers pressed, hands encased in spotless white gloves. The astonishment of the natives was great. At first, the citizenry called the spruced-up minions of the law, “toy soldiers.” True to his Culver days, the commissioner persisted, and his policy of dressed-up policemen soon won the public. Not only that, it won the men of the department.
Token of complete surrender came at last from John S. Haggerty, old-time Republican politician, who was one of Croul’s severest critics.
“He made only one mistake in all his life,” said Haggerty. “He put white cotton gloves on our policemen. It slowed them up on the draw.”
A typical Frank Croul story concerns two veteran detectives. Off on a summer furlough they decided on a trip to St. Clair Flats on the steamer Tashmoo. That fleet greyhound of the lower lakes was fully equipped for business and for pleasure, meaning there was a bar below decks and slot machines aplenty. The policemen were having a good time when the new commissioner entered. He was making one of his periodic voyages to the Old Club, a favorite rendezvous at the Flats. Apparently he failed to notice the two officers. They noticed him.
They retreated to the main deck to think things over. In the end they took the philosophical view.
“We’re in the grease as it is,” said one. “Let’s go back to the bar and get ourselves another drink.”
They did. Croul had vanished. The bartender smiled blandly. “You boys certainly got a great boss,” he said. “He told me to serve you anything you want, and charge it to him.”
“That’s swell,” responded the detectives, and then one of them asked: “How did he know we’d be back?”
I asked him that,” grinned the bartender, “and he said, with a big smile, ‘Hell, they’ll come back all right. They always have.’”
The foot of Leib Street, where the Detroit Oak Belting Company’s dock invited attention from river and shore, was a favorite swimming hole for the city’s lower east side youth. Father Tom Cary learned to swim there, as did his brother, Jim. Hugh Ferry, who rose from scratch to the leadership of the Packard Motor Car Company, was another. Dr. John L. Finlayson, whom everybody called “Cap” because of his superiority in major sports, notably football, favored this dock. William B. Wreford was another.
It was Wreford who entered into an agreement with Croul. The town’s future police commissioner did not object to the boys swimming off his dock, if they would but make some concessions to propriety and drape their naked little bodies in a garment or two.
“The boys will have to do something,” said Croul. “We can’t have them swimming naked off the dock. We have young women working in our offices, and besides, all the ladies riding up and down the river on the ferry boats can see them. From now on they’ll have to wear tights (early-century for swimming trunks) and they’ll have to have tights without holes in them.”
Bill Wreford spoke up. “Tights cost fifteen cents a pair. That’s a lot of money, Mr. Croul.”
“I know it,” answered the manufacturer. “So I’ll supply the tights.”
And he did. A tights department was established as an operation of his plant at the foot of Leib Street.
This was typical of Croul. He cleaned up the swimming situation in the same genial open-handed manner that he cleaned up the police department. In the same way, he cleaned up the city, hut he encountered obstacles, and among the obstacles was Whisky Row.
As already mentioned, there were thirteen saloons in the single short block where the venerable Free Press had its being. There were places where a man could place a bet on a horse; there were places that had eating facilities; there were places such as McIntosh’s, directly across the street from the Free Press, where the best free lunch in town was on display. A huge roast of beef went into action every day at four o’clock. A glass of beer brought a pan-gravy-drenched dividend that paid many a struggling doctor’s or lawyer’s or reporter’s way.
They were all open saloons, and McIntosh’s bar extended one full block from Lafayette to Michigan. Once, there was a shambles of a sort in McIntosh’s bar. That was when, in the well-dressed bloom of his youth, there came to work on the Free Press a young artist named Charles Hassinger. He joined a noble company, including Freddie Nash, Art Marschner and Archie Allen.
It was the custom of these lads, purely from artistic impulse, to gaze from their quarters on the second floor of the Free Press to the row of taverns across the street. Usually, the curb in front of these would be lined with empty beer barrels. In sunny weather, on the barrels, and oft in the cool of the evening, would recline the carefree citizens of the day.
The reception accorded the early-century species of panhandler was not reassuring. Artist Hassinger was handy with implements other than pens and brushes. In hours away from his drawing board he employed deftly twirling ropes and fire irons. He could shoot the eyes out of masterpieces at one hundred paces. And once, as proof of proficiency, he shot the eyes out of Ajax, a plaster cast of which Artist Marschner was very proud.
It was Mr. Hassinger who conceived the idea of aiming his pellets at the beer-barrel roosters across the street. The results were very happy. Evenings, the artists’ dim studio would be dimmer. Then the marksman would get in his best shooting. The other artists saw possibilities in these exercises and armed themselves with air rifles, similar to the weapon employed by Hassinger.
Under his instruction, they grew expert. And when the door of William McIntosh’s saloon would swing open in the summer breeze, one of the artists would deftly pump a pellet into the bar, sometimes neatly clipping the foam from a thirsty customer’s schuper.
This sort of thing went on for some time. The frequenters of the bar and the recliners on the empty barrels became alarmed— “ambushed,” as McIntosh said, “by an unseen marksman.”
It was Officer James Sprott, the caber-tossing Caledonian, the conqueror of John L. Sullivan, and the biggest man in the department, who solved the mystery. One evening, when the fun was at its peak, in he walked. But, as it was reported afterwards, he did not resort to the extreme measure of confiscating the air rifles until he personally tried out all the weapons, with highly satisfactory results.
The episode marked the end of the summer siege, and there should be some sort of a moral to this tale, but there isn’t. Unless, of course, you want to regard the fact that shortly thereafter, Buffalo Bill and his Great Wild West Show came to town. When the show left town, Charles Hassinger left with it, having shortened his name to Chuck Hass.
He was not heard of again for another year, when reports infiltrated the studios and ateliers of Detroit that he had won all the Western rodeo championships, both as a roper and a sharpshooter. When next he came to Detroit, it was as the star attraction at the Temple Theatre.
This was the Whisky Row of the early century, the Free Press of the early century, boasting of a skillful staff which included Ed Kranich, who covered the State Capitol at Lansing, and Hugo Gilmartin, who covered the national political scene in Washington. And this was the Free Press of Eddie Guest, whose fame could never outstrip the loyalty that attached to a poet who never left the newspaper that gave him his first opportunity.
This was the Whisky Row that set out to challenge Frank Croul. And Croul heard the challenge, and answered it:
“The law says saloons must close at 2 A.M. The law means just that. These saloons will obey the law.”
Somehow the word got around that Croul was a man who meant what he said. Bill McIntosh called in a locksmith, and had locks made for both doors. For the first time in its history, the saloon closed promptly at two o’clock ever morning.
A Character Can Give a City extra Character
But years before, and whatever the closing time, the Russell House and the Wayne Hotel bars had lost one of their best customers. He was James Scott and, on March 9, 1910, he died. Long before that, he quit drinking and he quit gambling. Alice Marion Edwards, the woman he married in 1876, died in 1901 and, without her, Scott was lonely indeed.
In his loneliness, he developed a craving for the respect of his fellow men. He went to church regularly in search of the things of the spirit. Wistfully, he remembered his boyhood, and talked about it a good deal. He was early orphaned and, though left a fortune, was precariously educated at several schools, notably the one that projected on piles over the waterfront. This was a single-room project over the general grocery store of Nathaniel Prouty, and was Detroit’s first free public school.
Scott gave early indications of gambling skill. As a child he was expert at the game of marbles. Among those with whom he tested skills were Thomas W. Palmer, who became a United States senator; Guy F. Hinchman, who became a leading ship candler; Nat Pitcher, son of Dr. Zina Pitcher, who got to be mayor; Peter Gadwa, whose father came to Detroit from Quebec to build ships for Oliver Newberry; John and Jed Higgins, Lewis Cass Forsyth and Richard R. Elliott. Favorite site of the marble tournaments was a wide stretch on the east side of Woodward Avenue, between the Presbyterian Church and the session house next door.
In the 1850’s, when Jim Scott was growing into manhood, Detroit was what the police now would designate a “wide-open town.” Gambling flourished in the downtown section, and although the law forbade it, the police did not. Drinking was the rule, and in the gay social circles every sideboard boasted its decanters. It was in that atmosphere that Jim Scott grew up. He had money; he had time; he had a craving for excitement.
And now, in the spring of 1910, he was dead. In his lawyer’s office was a will, which was a good deal like any other will except in one particular. It bequeathed a large sum of money (the amount is still in disagreement, with $300,000 being the sum usually mentioned) with which to build a memorial fountain at the foot of Belle Isle. In the will it was stipulated that near the fountain should be a life-size statue of its donor.
In the first days after the news of the contents of the will were published in the newspapers, Detroit was boiling with indignation. Here was a gambler, a sport, a libertine, and a town drunk—so people said—who, beyond the grave, must be laughing uproariously at his gargantuan swindle. Sermons were preached, letters flooded the newspapers, politicians were indignant. For weeks the controversy raged. For weeks Jim Scott had no defender. The fortune he had placed at the disposal of the city for the erection of a memorial apparently would revert to the state, since he had no heirs and no assigns.
But suddenly, hardly with any warning, there was a turn in the tide. Letters began to come into the newspaper offices from persons whose names had never appeared in print. Mr. Scott had helped them in time of need. He helped another. He helped someone who had been very ill. He saved a destitute family from starvation.
Stories of quiet charities, unostentatious giving, came from many parts of the city. Lawrence Barrett, the tragedian, whose name was linked with the names of Booth and Salvini and other exalted ones of the classic drama, had written a letter asking Mr. Scott for money to save his theatrical ventures, and the money was forthcoming.
Mayor Philip Breitmeyer raised the first official voice in Scott’s defense. Alderman David Fleinemann silenced the dead man’s detractors in the council chamber:
“I look about these walls, and see the sanctified faces of many an honored man who oftentimes enjoyed a game of poker with James Scott. This man spent the closing years of his life trying to make people happy. He was the apostle of sunshine. He loved children, and he loved Belle Isle as a place where the children of Detroit could be happiest.”
In the midst of the hubbub, an old man arose in the council chamber and held up his hand for silence. He was the venerable Senator Thomas W. Palmer.
“The first time I ever saw Jim Scott,” he said, “was in a little schoolroom. He was standing up, a wee laddie in a frock, and the tears were running down his face because the teacher had scolded him. That was seventy years ago. I called him my friend on that day. He called me his friend ever since.
“In his early childhood he grew up with a crowd of red-blooded, fun-loving young people. Then there were no diversions for them, no Y.M.C.A.’s. Without parents, without the loving influence of a mother or a sister, he followed the easiest path. And yet he never did a vicious thing in all his life.
“And I’ve known in my time many a good church worker, full of years and full of sanctity, enjoy quietly the very things James Scott enjoyed publicly, and without shame, because he knew no other kind of life.”
|Jim Scott got his Fountain.|
The senator sat down. His simple speech brought quiet in the council chambers although, outside them, the argument was to continue a while longer.
About this same time, Roy Francis came chugging down Fort Street in his brand new one-cylinder Queen automobile. He was driving home from his job in the Queen plant, which was on Clark Street, near Fort, and a good three miles from the City Hall.
Generally speaking, times were pleasant. The civic slogan boasted “In Detroit, Life is worth living;” Breitmeyer, a florist who insisted his very name meant Bright Mayer, was actually the mayor; another solid citizen, William Howard Taft, who was built on the same generous physical lines as Breitmeyer, was President of the United States; the Tigers were battling the Athletics for first place in the American League; and, in Dayton, Ohio, a young inventor, Charles Franklin Kettering, was completing his experiments on an electric self-starter.
Detroit Needs a Gas Station
But Roy Francis was not thinking of these things. He was worried about running out of gasoline. Suddenly, his car sputtered into silence. He was out of gas again.
So Francis pushed his Queen car to the corner of First and Fort Streets, and set out for the nearest garage or grocery store, which were the only places that sold gasoline.
After an extended shopping tour, he returned with a bucket of gasoline and a short temper. Then and there, he made a decision, lie made up his mind to quit his job and open up a store where people could buy gasoline without having to wait for a mechanic to stop tinkering with a brass-fronted Ford. Maybe he’d sell linen dusters, so drivers could keep dirt off their Sunday pants. He might sell gauntlets. Or veils, so the ladies could keep their complexions on straight.
And that is how Roy Francis came to open the first gasoline station in Detroit, although it probably was pure coincidence that he opened it where he had stalled. And, too, it might also have been coincidence that all this was directly across Fort Street from Colonel Fred M. Alger’s horse barn, which stood directly behind the Alger home.
After picking his location, Francis went to the yards of the public works department where some old election booths were stored, and made arrangements to move one and convert it into a gasoline station. Francis’ troubles were not over. Two oil companies refused to sell gasoline to him; the City Council refused to issue a building permit. It was explained that the council did not want anyone selling gasoline after dark—”too much of a fire hazard,” Francis was told.
Francis went ahead anyway. He put up his shed on property owned by Henry B. Joy, who demanded three months’ rent in advance. After digging up the rent, Francis put in an iron tank and had it filled with gasoline. To gas up a car was something of a chore.
First off, when a car rolled up to be replenished, Francis had to grab it as it stopped and, by sheer force, render it stationary. Then he had to help the driver down out of the seat. Next, he had to remove the seat from the car, unscrew the top of the tank, and fill the tank. The gasoline was toted out to the car in measuring pails. This chore was repeated until the tank was filled. Then the cap went back on; also, the seat; and, finally, the driver. This operation complete, the engine was coaxed to a start.
Francis did all right. Within two months, Detroit’s first gasoline station was going full blast. On Sunday mornings, thirsty cars would be lined up on Fort Street all the way to the Pere Marquette railroad station, two good city blocks away! By this time, Francis had attached a garden hose to the iron tank, and installed a pump. An attendant stood at the pump, and pumped the gas by hand.
No longer was it necessary for automobile owners to have gasoline delivered to their homes by horse and wagon, and have it poured into galvanized tanks set up in their back yards.
One of Francis’ customers was Frank Herbert (“Cap”) Harvey, who came to work on the News January 5, 1897. All of Cap’s activities were in the field of automobiles. As an advertising solicitor, the pint-sized Cap admitted to some sartorial difficulties. Standard equipment for advertising solicitors included a Prince Albert coat, a high silk hat, and a cane. For Cap, the Prince Albert always had to be cut down to size, the tall, silk hat made to special order.
The costume had an electrifying effect on Hereward S. Scott, business manager of the News. Smiling behind his whiskers, he hired Cap the moment he applied for a job. The costume had the same effect on William C. Durant. He parted with a Buick, listed at $1,250, on a strictly trade basis.
Probably it was the first advertising agreement entered into between a motor manufacturer and a newspaper.
Roller Skating Becomes the Rage
Another Francis customer was Jim Hayes who, in 1910, was accepting the congratulations of all Detroit for adding roller skating to the conveniences of the Wayne hotel. This convenience was in the form of the Wayne Roller Skating Rink, which was one of the largest in the land. It had 32,000 feet of floor space; and “no rink ever had a more refined, genteel clientele”--or so claimed Hayes.
Peter J. Shea was manager, and every night he led the grand march. Always at his side was the beautiful Ethel Walsh, as she was at his side when thousands of roller skaters lined up at Grand Circus Park, and skated down Woodward Avenue in pairs. They glided down the main street of the town to Jefferson, where they made a sweeping right-hand turn, and gracefully on to Third Street and the big Wayne Rink.
The Straub Sisters Band (all on roller skates, and there were six of them) led the parade, and the only male in the bevy of the entire service, they could have Mutt and Jeff in thirty feminine beauty and talent was Herb Straub, a brother, who played the drums. The five lovely ladies were really sisters, In Bellaire, Ohio, their father made candy to support his family, and played a white-headed flute to entertain the community. His wife was an organist at the Lutheran Church, and early in their marriage they determined upon a large family.
As it turned out, there were five girls and one boy, and it was decided that the name of each girl should end with an “a.” Like this:
Loretta wavered between the piano and the clarinet, and decided to study both. Veronica took to the violin. Marcellina took flute lessons from her father. Angela fancied the cornet. Huberta started with a cello, and settled for the trombone.
There were other features about the Wayne Rink that made it a place of enchantment and excitement for Detroiters. Polo games were played on roller skates, and Bill Donovan of the Tigers was usually the referee. Monday night was Ladies’ Night, and all the gals were admitted free.
Tall, neat and smartly uniformed instructors were on hand to teach the graces of roller skating. The ladies loved it and don’t think the socialites didn’t swarm in from Jefferson Avenue and North Woodward. Roller skating was all the rage.
Mutt and Jeff Comics Cause a War
The year could not end, of course, without a squabble or two between the News and the Journal. The Mutt and Jeff strip was at the height of its popularity, and the Journal had it. The News wanted it. One day a King Features Syndicate representative called on the News, and he was asked:
“What do we have to do to get the Mutt and Jeff strip?”
“Sign a long-term contract for the entire King Features line.”
“What do you mean by that?”
He said the Journal had insisted on a month-to-month basis, and if the News was willing to sign a long-term contract for the entire service, they could have Mutt and Jeff in Thirty days.
The News signed. The Journal was notified that in thirty days it would be without Mutt and Jeff.
Harry Hetherington, managing editor of the Journal, let out a bellow that was heard for miles and miles. It brought no relief.
The Journal stopped using the strip so it could accumulate a month’s supply to run concurrently when the News began publishing. Before that, the News put on a promotion campaign which said: “We now have Mutt and Jeff”; in rebuttal, the Journal said: “We do, too.”
It was a bitter battle because Mutt and Jeff were the thing.
The owners of the Journal were dedicated to a tight-money policy. Fred F. Ingram was a pleasant little man who built up a small cosmetics and shaving-cream business by strict thrift. He liked to call on newspaper editors, liked to see his name in print, and got it in print, a good many times, for free.
One day he cut short his visit to Hetherington. “I’ve got to see Henry Ford,” he said, “and unless I hurry, this transfer from a Fort streetcar to the Woodward line will run out, and I’ll have to pay another fare.” The fare was three cents.
The Journal owners appreciated Ingram’s frugality, and many have been envious of it. One day William B. Lowe, who was business manager and, as such, was the direct representative of the owners, was checking over a sports writer’s expense account. He spotted a charge of twenty-five cents for a chair in a Pullman car from Ann Arbor to Detroit, following a football game, and called for an explanation.
The reporter solved the mystery by testifying that by great good luck he had caught the Wolverine, a fast train, back to Detroit. “The train was crowded,” he said, “so I bought a seat in one of the Pullman coaches.”
After a long pause, the business manager accepted the explanation, but warned: “Hereafter catch a later train, or stand up. It’s only forty miles.”
The total expense account was less than three dollars. But three dollars was an important item in the Journal cashbox. So was two dollars. Two dollars was the standard weekly-salary raise for editors and reporters. The starting salary for a cub reporter was seven dollars, so you can see that Journal reporters were not too quickly spoiled by money.
It was a staff that was held together by the managing editor, Hetherington, and the city editor, Arthur Gordon. Each was fair; each was tough; each was loyal. It was a loyalty that breached many an argument, although Gordon complained bitterly on one occasion. At the time, Gordon was attending night classes at the Detroit College of Law. He was asked by the owners to draw up an agreement for submission to the News, under which the price of a newspaper would be raised from one cent to two cents.
The contract he drafted was examined by lawyers for the News, and was signed without change. Gordon’s payment was in the form of an assurance that when the paper began showing a decent profit he would be well rewarded.
Whatever else it was, or wasn’t, the Journal was an interesting place to work.