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Detroit: A Postcard History

Detroit: A Postcard History

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Detroit: A Postcard History

3/5 (1 evaluare)
202 pages
55 minutes
Oct 7, 1998


Postcard photographers traveled the length and breadth of the nation snapping photographs of busy street scenes, documenting local landmarks, and assembling crowds of neighborhood children only too happy to pose for a picture. These images, printed as postcards and sold in general stores across the country, survive as telling reminders of an important era in America s history.
Oct 7, 1998

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Legat de Detroit

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Detroit - Richard Bak



The emergence of Detroit, Michigan as a world-class metropolis between 1900 and 1930 coincided roughly with the rise and fall of the penny postcard. Both phenomenons are cursorily but affectionately explored in this, the first book composed entirely of postcard images of the city’s past.

It will surprise many people (including more than a few Detroiters) to learn that the much maligned Motor City of the last few decades was during its prime considered one of this country’s golden cities. The automobile, of course, was responsible for its turn-of-the-century transformation from an orderly, mid-sized community by the water to a sprawling, clamorous industrial boomtown. In 1910, at which point there were 23 different companies manufacturing cars in the city, automaker Hugh Chalmers remarked: You can stand in a square of Detroit and the entire automobile business of the world will pass by, and you won’t have to stand there very long, either.

Not that Detroiters did much standing around. Flush with money, confidence, optimism, and civic pride, they embarked on a building spree—hotels, schools, clubhouses, office towers, airports, factories, golf courses, tunnels, libraries, music halls, theaters, subdivisions, an international bridge, and a stadium—that was surpassed only by New York and Chicago during this period. We have the biggest of nearly everything, gushed the 1925–26 edition of the Detroit City Directory, the tallest building, the biggest electric sign, the longest bridge, the most money.

That kind of enthusiasm, when expressed by individuals, often was conveyed via privately printed postcards, which had been introduced in 1898 and by the summer of 1913 had reached their zenith of popularity. That year the U.S. Post Office estimated that in the preceding 12-month period, Americans had mailed a staggering 1 billion of them. The fad faded after the First World War, but not before hundreds of millions of copies had been commercially published of hundreds of thousands of different scenes. And these daunting figures do not include the countless numbers of photoprints. In Detroit, as elsewhere, a person could create these real photo postcards by using a special postcard camera or by stopping in at a neighborhood studio, where several copies could be made for pocket change while the customer waited. Because of their very nature, the majority of photoprints saw extremely limited circulation. Many were one of a kind. To today’s social historian, they provide a nice balance to the mass-produced views of boulevards and train stations that dominated the postcard racks inside drugstores and souvenir shops.

With perhaps a half-dozen exceptions, all of the 202 postcards reproduced on these pages date from between 1900 and 1930. While most of them are from my personal collection, I realized from the beginning of this project that I needed to go beyond my own shoe boxes of cards in order to present a well-rounded selection of views. I am grateful to private collector Dave Tinder and Dave Poremba of the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library for loaning images to this work.

For nearly 20 years I have read and written extensively about the city’s past. Along the way I have casually collected Detroit postcards, both commercial views and photoprints. I am captivated by their comeliness and the peek into yesteryear that the images and accompanying messages provide. However, I readily admit that I am neither a hardcore deltiologist nor a trained historian, but merely a journalist with a lifelong curiosity about his hometown’s past.

So, to the experts. For those interested in finding out more about postal carditis (as one national magazine called the postcard mania in 1906), I would suggest two excellent books: George Miller and Dorothy Miller, Picture Postcards in the United States (New York, 1976), and Hal Morgan and Andreas Brown, Prairie Fires and Paper Moons: The American Photographic Postcard, 1900–1920 (Boston, 1981). For those whose curiosity about a vanished Detroit has been aroused, I recommend several fine works: W. Hawkins Ferry, The Buildings of Detroit: A History (Detroit, 1980); Don Lochbiler, Detroit’s Coming of Age, 1873 to 1973 (Detroit, 1973); and Frank B. Woodford and Arthur M. Woodford, All Our Yesterdays: A Brief History of Detroit (Detroit, 1969).




THE FLIVVER KING. Contrary to popular belief, Henry Ford neither drove the first car down Detroit’s streets nor invented the moving assembly line. However, the mechanic-turned-industrialist did change the face of Detroit—and revolutionize American life in the process—by creating the Model T, a low-priced, dependable vehicle for the masses. Between 1908 and 1927 more than 15 million of the Tin Lizzies were built, making Ford the richest and most famous person in the nation.

WORLD’S COSTLIEST PHOTOGRAPH. To help celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Ford Motor Company in 1913, Henry Ford, a master of public relations, posed 12,000 autoworkers in front of his Highland Park plant. Normally, one Model T rolled off the assembly line every 40 seconds, making the picture the largest specially posed photo ever taken, reported one newspaper, and far and away the most expensive, considering the employees’ time and loss of production.

THE CROWD AT CADILLAC. Evidently drawing their inspiration from Ford, officials of the Cadillac Motor Car Company posed several thousand employees in front of the three-story factory on Cass Avenue at Amsterdam. Organized in 1902, the automobile manufacturer was named after Antoine de la

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