Becoming the Motor City: A Timeline of Detroit’s Auto Industry

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Well over a century ago, a cadre of self-trained mechanics, machinists, and other tradesmen started tinkering in the small, cramped machine shops near downtown Detroit. Despite their varied technical ideas, professional ambitions, and personal temperaments, they worked towards a common goal: to revolutionize personal transportation by capitalizing on the recently developed internal combustion engine. The intercession of Providence determined that the likes of Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, John and Horace Dodge, and others called the same city home. None of them “invented” the automobile, but their shared imagination, grit, and persistence were responsible for giving birth to an industry arguably responsible for the most profound changes in Twentieth Century American life. Their descendants maintained their legacy, and in so doing created the middle class, equipped the Arsenal of Democracy with the hardware needed for the Allied victory over the Axis, and set in motion the postwar suburban boom. Modern day Detroit is inseparable from its signature industry and still today continues to lead the world in charting the future of mobility. Detroit Automotive History: An Illustrated Timeline shares insights about how the industry and the city grew, prospered, and ultimately suffered together. Detroit author and historian Paul Vachon revisits the timeline format in this new exploration into the depths of Detroit’s automotive history. Through photos, stories, and history, he paints a vivid picture of the city’s past.