Industrial Detroit (1860-1900)

Please Note: The Detroit Historical Museum is closed due to flooding.
  • 1860: Detroit’s population is 45,619.
  • 1860: The only high school in Detroit begins to accept female students.
  • 1861: Michigan is one of the first states to send volunteers to Washington, D.C. at the outbreak of the Civil War.
  • 1861: Detroit replaces its volunteer fire department with paid personnel.
  • 1863: August 3. Streetcars pulled by horses are first used on Jefferson and Woodward Avenues.  A ride cost 5 cents.
  • 1863: Fannie Richards opens the first private school for African Americans in Detroit.
  • 1863: Harper Hospital is formed as a military hospital.
  • 1863: George DeBaptiste and John D. Richard organize the first Michigan Colored Troops, which consists of 1,400 men.  It is admitted into the Union Army as the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops.
  • 1864: The first Bessemer-type steel is produced at Eureka Iron Works in Wyandotte, laying the groundwork for railroad, stove, and automobile manufacturing in Detroit.
  • 1864: Richard Trevelick forms the Detroit Trades Assembly, the city's first central labor organization.
  • 1865: Detroit organizes its first police department.
  • 1865: The Detroit Public Library opens with 5,000 books.
  • 1866: James Vernor returns from the Civil War and begins producing his unique ginger ale.
  • 1867: D. M. Ferry Seed Company is founded.
  • 1868: Wayne State University, originally called Detroit Medical College, is founded.
  • 1868: Detroiter William Davis invents the railroad refrigerator car.
  • 1869: Detroit begins admitting African American children to the public schools.
  • 1870: Detroit’s population is 79,577.  Almost half the population was born in a different country.
  • 1870: University of Michigan begins to accept women. 
  • 1870: The 15th Amendment is ratified, giving African Americans the right to vote. Detroit's African Americans vote for the first time.
  • 1871: Michigan passes the first compulsory school attendance law that requires all children between 8 and 14 to attend school at least 12 weeks a year.
  • 1871: Nanette Gardner petitions Detroit's Board of Representatives for the right to vote, stating that she has no one else to look after her interests.  The board votes 12-6 in favor, and she becomes the first woman to vote in the state.
  • 1872: The Soldiers and Sailors monument is dedicated as a tribute to the courage of local troops who fought in the Civil War.
  • 1872: Elijah McCoy, an African American inventor from Detroit, patents the first practical automatic lubricating cup for steam locomotives.
  • 1873: James Scripps founds the Evening News. This non-partisan newspaper sells for 2 cents rather than 5 cents other newspapers charge. It becomes one of the most popular papers in Detroit.
  • 1873: Frances Newberry Bagley organizes the Detroit Women’s Club, the first women’s club in Detroit.
  • 1875: June 17. Frederick Sanders, the father of the ice cream soda, opens his store on Woodward Avenue.
  • 1876: The Detroit Opera House opens on Campus Martius.  The ground floor is the location of the first J.L. Hudson's store.   
  • 1877: The first telephone message to Detroit plays music from Chicago.  Later that year, the first telephone exchange opens with 124 customers. 
  • 1877: Detroit College (now the University of Detroit-Mercy) is founded by Jesuit priests.
  • 1879: April 8. Detroit purchases Belle Isle, a 985 acre island on the Detroit River, from the Campau family for $200,000.  It becomes a public park.
  • 1879: Detroit becomes the first city to assign individual telephone numbers.
  • 1880: Detroit’s population is 116,342. It is a multicultural city, with over 40 nationalities represented.
  • 1880: Detroit Council of Trades and Labor Unions is formed, which becomes the Detroit Federation of Labor in 1906. 
  • 1881: Joseph L. Hudson establishes a men’s clothing store on the first floor of the Detroit Opera House.
  • 1881: Detroit is the center of the nation's stove manufacturing industry.
  • 1881: The Detroit Baseball Company is the first professional baseball team in Detroit.  It is a member of the National League.
  • 1883: Incandescent lights are first used in Metcalf's Dry Goods store.  The first electric arc street lighting is installed on Jefferson and Woodward Avenues.
  • 1883: The Detroit Zoological Gardens opens at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull when a circus auctions off its animals.  It will later move to Royal Oak.
  • 1884:  Belle Isle Park opens to the public. It is the largest island park in the nation.
  • 1887: Detroit's professional baseball team, the Wolverines, wins the National League championship, called the "World Series."
  • 1888: September 1. The Detroit Institute of Arts opens as the Detroit Museum of Art on Jefferson Avenue.
  • 1889: Detroit's first skyscraper, the 10-story Hammond Building, is completed.  It is demolished in 1956.
  • 1890: Detroit’s population reaches 205,876. It ranks 15th in size among American cities.
  • 1890: Hazen S. Pingree, a shoe manufacturer, is elected mayor of Detroit.  He gains national recognition as a reform mayor.
  • 1892: Four Detroit streets – Jefferson, Lafayette, Cass and Second - are paved with asphalt. The rest are cobblestone, cedar block or unpaved.
  • 1893: Detroiter Mrs. Marie Owen becomes the first policewoman in the United States.
  • 1894: Mayor Pingree establishes vegetable gardens for the poor, which come to be known as Pingree's Potato Patches.
  • 1895: The Detroit Public Schools establish Kindergartens.
  • 1895: Detroit’s municipal power station begins to supply power for streetlights and public buildings.
  • 1896: March 6. Charles Brady King drives Detroit’s first gasoline powered car down Woodward Avenue.
  • 1896: June 4. Henry Ford test drives his first car, using engine parts borrowed from Charles Brady King.
  • 1896: The last horse-drawn street cars are replaced by electric trolleys.
  • 1896: September 8.  The new Central High School building at Cass and Warren opens.  Today, it is Wayne State University’s Old Main building.
  • 1897: Sebastian S. Kresge opens his 5 and 10 cent store with J.G. McCrory.  It develops into present day Kmart.
  • 1897: Mayor Pingree is elected governor of Michigan, forcing him to resign as Detroit's mayor.
  • 1898: Bob-Lo Park is established as a recreational destination.
  • 1898: Henry Ford organizes the Detroit Automobile Co. with backing from local investors.  It fails three years later after only producing 2 cars.
  • 1899: Ransom E. Olds opens Detroit's first automobile manufacturing plant on East Jefferson near Belle Isle.
  • 1899: William Metzger and Seneca Lewis organize Detroit’s first auto show.  They rent the Light Guard Armory and showcase 4 cars, 2 electric and 2 steam powered.
  • 1900: Detroit’s population is 285,704.  It is the 13th largest city in the United States.
  • 1900: Nearly 12% of Detroit’s population doesn’t speak English, the highest percentage in the nation.
  • 1900: The Detroit Tigers become members of the new American Baseball League.
  • 1900: Detroit is the world’s largest manufacturer of heating and cooking stoves.  Other big industries include ship building, cigars and tobacco, pharmaceuticals, beer, rail cars, and foundry and machine shop products.
  • 1901: July 24.  Detroit celebrates its bi-centennial with parades and a recreation of Cadillac’s arrival.
  • 1901: Henry Ford establishes his second automobile company, called the Henry Ford Co.
  • 1901: Ransom E. Olds produces the first practical American car.  It can reach speeds of 18 miles per hour and costs $650.