Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ward, Eber Brock

Eber Brock Ward was an early industrialist in Detroit during the 19th century. His successful endeavors enabled him to become Detroit’s first millionaire, as well as a highly influential businessman throughout the Midwest. Ward’s business interests included lumber, steel and shipbuilding.  Ward was among the first industrialists to exploit the abundant natural resources found in Michigan and use them in heavy industry. It was as a result of many of Ward’s initiatives that Detroit became a major industrial center.

Eber Brock Ward was born in Waterloo, Ontario on December 25, 1811 to American parents. His family arrived in Detroit in 1821. Soon after, Ward began working as a cabin-boy on his Uncle Sam Ward’s trading ship. Ward grew up in the shipping industry, learning from his Uncle.  He eventually became captain of his own trading ship, and then a partner in his Uncle’s shipping business at Marine City, Michigan.

In 1850, the Wards moved their operations to Detroit, and established themselves as the largest shipbuilders on the Great Lakes, carrying both freight and passengers to the growing region. Seeing the importance of iron ore discovered in the Upper Peninsula, Ward became an important financial backer in the construction of Soo Locks, which allowed easy transportation from Lake Superior to the lower lakes. Following his uncle’s death, Ward became the sole proprietor of the company, and Detroit’s first millionaire in the process.

In 1853, Ward established the Eureka Iron Works at present-day Wyandotte. Using the Detroit River and his own hold on the shipping industry, Ward transported raw ore from the Upper Peninsula to his plant. The iron produced at this plant would be used by nearly all of the industries in Detroit. The plant was the first in the United States to successfully use the Bessemer process in steel making, which allowed steel to be efficiently mass produced. The abundance of raw materials being transported by Ward’s ships allowed the Eureka plant to become one of the largest iron mills in the nation, and Ward became the richest man in the Midwest.

While he built his manufacturing empire in Detroit, Ward invested heavily in other industries.  He purchased over 70,000 acres of forest and constructed lumber mills near Ludington, quickly becoming one of the leaders in the logging industry. In 1860, Ward became President of the Pere Marquette Railroad, saving the company from bankruptcy and allowing transportation of his lumber to remain under his own control.

Ward had effectively created an all-inclusive industrial empire throughout Michigan, with raw resources, transportation and manufacturing all under his direct control. Lumber would be transported to his shipbuilding sites, which would in turn transport raw ore to his steel mill, which would complete the circle by building equipment and machines for his lumber mills, as well as rails for his railroad.

Though Ward established other mills at Chicago and Toledo, Detroit remained his center of operations. Ward’s endeavors were among the first heavy industry in Detroit, and allowed the city to grow as a manufacturing center. Ward remained active managing his many endeavors until his death in 1875. Though many of his businesses failed after his death, his importance as one of Detroit’s first industrialists remained long after his death.

Ward was married twice. He first married Maryell McQueen in 1837 and they had six children. He divorced in 1869 to marry the much younger Catherine Lyon, with whom he had two children. During his life, Ward was an active philanthropist, donating large amounts of money to various cultural and social institutions.

Written by Andrew Donovan