Encyclopedia Of Detroit


The J.L. Hudson store, generally known as Hudson’s, was a large retail department store chain that originated in Detroit. Joseph Lowthian Hudson, 35 years old at the time, founded the company in 1881. Then merely a clothing store for men and boys, it was first located in the old Detroit Opera House Building. The store directly competed with C.R. Mabley, where Hudson had previously worked.

In 1911, Hudson opened a larger location on Woodward Avenue, with confidence that the area would become the center of downtown Detroit. The store was housed in a 25-story structure that was the world’s tallest department store until 1961. At one point, Hudson’s claimed it was also the second largest store in the country in terms of square feet (2 million), with the largest being Macy’s Herald Square location in New York City.

The Hudson family also had a hand in the city’s early auto industry. They created Hudson Motor Car Company, which later became part of the American Motors Corporation. At its most successful sales year in 1929, the company was ranked behind only Ford and Chevrolet.

Hudson’s will always be remembered for owning the world’s largest flag, which was draped across the building’s Woodward façade on Armistice Day and other patriotic holidays. The flag was first hung on Armistice Day in 1923 and was later shown off at the World’s Fair in 1939. At 3,700 square feet, the stars were a half-foot tall, and one mile of rope was needed to hang it. The original flag was last displayed in 1949, to be replaced a year later with a new seven-story flag that required 55 men to hang it. After being hung for the final time in 1976, the flag was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

Hudson’s was also the host of Detroit’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924. At that time, Detroit’s festivities were comparable to the Macy’s Parade in New York City. The event, which marked the arrival of Santa Claus, would become one of Detroiters’ favorite local traditions.

Even for residents from farther suburbs, a visit to Hudson’s warranted a trip to Downtown Detroit. Older Detroiters fondly remember the mythical children’s toy floor. In addition to being a beloved local establishment, the sheer volume of workers and production at Hudson’s was astounding. Its famed delivery department included 300 trucks and 500 drivers. Together, its five restaurants served thousands of meals daily. By 1953, the downtown hotspot reportedly had 12,000 employees and racked up an average of 100,000 sales a day. The business boasted more than 700 fitting rooms, 51 passenger elevators and several basements.

Hudson’s gradually opened locations throughout the suburbs of Detroit. Its first expansion was to Southfield’s Northland Center, which, when it opened in March 1954, was the largest shopping mall in the nation. It housed 52 other stores and offered free parking for more than 10,000 cars.

The early sixties were exciting times for Hudson’s. They hired their first African American bus girl in 1960, a high school student named Diana Ross who would later make musical history with her voice. In the 1962, the business boasted two $1 million dollar sales days. Two years later, Hudson’s created a splendid holiday presentation of lights and decorations including a 125 foot tall Christmas tree on Woodward. For children throughout the Detroit area, holidays were marked by a visit to Hudson’s 12th floor, where the ‘real’ Santa awaited them.

Yet as the City of Detroit began to suffer from the economic downturns of the 1970s and 1980s, so did Hudson’s. In 1969, the Dayton Co. purchased Hudson’s and renamed the store the Dayton-Hudson Corporation, though the name never really stuck. Gradually, the comfort of suburban locations lured shoppers and the downtown Hudson’s began to slowly downsize. In 1983, the downtown Hudson’s store closed. The building was sold in December of 1989 and nearly one decade later, on October 24, 1998, the structure was imploded.

In 2000, Dayton-Hudson was purchased by Target, who then sold the Dayton-Hudson stores to Marshall Fields. Today these stores are controlled by Macy’s.



Hudson's Department Store etching, 1920s - 1982.144.204

Flag flown on the side of Hudson's, claimed to be the largest in the world at the time, 1934 - 1954.223.042

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