A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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“ Detroit millionaires in 1892 “
( Extract from the Tribune List of American Millionaires in 1892 )

“The Tribune List of Persons Reputed to be Worth a Million or More” was published by The Tribune Monthly magazine as its June 1892 edition. This list contains 4,047 names of American millionaires by state and city. It does not list fortunes or estimates except where known facts about estates were available. It indicates the lines of business in which the fortunes were made and in some cases the main enterprises in which they were invested at the time. The Tribune list of 1892 was the first complete listing of American millionaires and thus constitutes a valuable basis for the study and analysis of wealth accumulation and wealthy people in America during the Gilded Age. An incomplete list of 1892 millionaires and millionaire estates, including all Tribune 1892 nominees already in the AW database will soon join the roster of Encyclopedia of American Wealth’s historical lists. As with all our lists, the 1892 list uses the data of the American Wealth database and thereby exceeds the information content of the original historical list. This basic list will be completed gradually as the AW database grows, with specific geographic areas (cities or states) being treated periodically. The extract containing the 42 listed millionaires of Detroit in 1892 is just the first of many extracts to come, until the whole list is complete.

Detroit is so thoroughly associated with the automobile industry, the impression is easily gained that all of Detroit’s large fortunes were derived from the motor car business. Yet in 1892, four years before Charles Brady King and Henry Ford, each on their side, built their first gasoline powered carriage, there were already 42 Detroit millionaires recorded in the famous Tribune list. Obviously none had derived his wealth from the still unborn automobile industry, but some were active in the very fields that attracted the skilled mechanics so much needed to the early automotive development. The same and others would be ready investors for the nascent car industry.

Founded by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701 as Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit (ie lying on the straits), Detroit was essentially a French settlement, well beyond its conquest by the British, after the French and Indian War in 1760. British occupation was immediately challenged by the Ottawa Indians, as their chief Pontiac led a raid and subsequent siege of the Fort, which lasted 153 days and was unprecedented in British Indian warfare. The British did eventually triumph over the Ottawas and Fort Detroit, as it was henceforth called became a strategic military stronghold as well as a fur trading outpost.

In 1883, after the Americans won their Independence War, Detroit was theoretically to be surrendered to the United States, but it took another thirteen years, until the fort was officially transferred under application of the Jay Treaty. It then became the capital of Wayne County in the Northwest Territory. In 1805, Michigan Territory was established and Detroit became its capital. In that same year, a fire destroyed all but one of its houses. An entirely new city was then planned and the necessary real estate transactions conducted to allow it. Under the leadership of ‘Judge’ Augustus Brevoort Woodward, who was himself inspired by L’Enfant’s concepts for the new federal capital, a system of hexaganol street blocks, with at its center the Grand Circus, from where alternatively 200 feet and 120 feet wide avenues ran outwards, was planned.

Detroit had 400 settlers, mostly descendents of the early French families, by the time it came under US control. Consequently, [governor] Hull and Woodward’s plans for rebuilding the city were ridiculed as desperately overambitious for such a small settlement. They were nevertheless partially executed, as witnessed by Grand Circus Park and Woodward Avenue, which was widened from its original 66 feet to 120 in the 1930’s. In 1817, the Catholepistemiad, forerunner of the University of Michigan was founded and in 1824, a city government was established, its seal bearing the motto : “We hope for better days”. Under the influx of migrating farmers, mostly from New England, the population of Michigan grew at annual rates of 13% during the 1820’s and 21% during the 1830’s. The city grew at a slower rate during these years, as the immigrants were motivated essentially by land for farming and forestry.

At the outset of Civil War, Detroit had a population of 45,000 and an emerging class of merchants and entrepreneurs, who would make up the city’s first roster of millionaires. Among them, but not on the 1892 list, were David Joseph Campau, descendent of one of the French pioneers who settled in Fort Pontchartrain in the first decade of the 18th century, ‘General’ Lewis Cass, whose position of territorial governor, Secretary of State and US Senator certainly did less to make him rich that a fortunate investment in Detroit real estate, and Eber Ward Brock, an early shipping magnate and ironmonger. In 1864, Ward and some partners pioneered the making of Bessemer steel in their Wyandotte mill. In the same year, John Stoughton Newberry and the McMillans (all on the 1892 list) established the Michigan Car Company in Detroit, laying the foundation of the city’s foremost industry, prior to the automobile. It is said, that Henry Ford was employed as a mechanic by the Michigan Car Company, before starting to tinker with his freewheeled carriage.

In 1906, railway car construction was still Detroit’s largest industry, its output being still twice that of automobile manufacturing, the distant second. By that time, the Michigan Car Company had merged twice, in 1892 with the Peninsular Car Co (founded in 1879 by Frank J. Hecker, also listed by the Tribune) and again in 1899, as it became a substantial part of the American Car & Foundry Corporation. Other industries flourished in Detroit during the Gilded Age and each produced its 1892 millionaires : Christian H. Buhl in coal and iron; George Henry Hammond in slaughtering and meat packing; Daniel Scotten and John J. Bagley in tobacco and cigar making; Theodore H. Eaton, Jacob S. Farrand and Alanson Sheley in drugs and chemicals; Traugott Schmidt in tanning and leather products; E.W. Voight and Hiram Walker in brewing and whiskey distilling; Dexter Mason Ferry and C.C. Bowen in seeds.

Railroads and street railway tycoons are also part of the 1892 roster of millionaires. James Frederick Joy participated with John Murray Forbes and John W. Brooks in the reorganization (or privatization) of the Michigan Central Railroad and led the group’s westward railroad operations, including the consolidation and extension of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, for many years. W. K. Muir was an executive of the Canada Southern Railway and a promoter of Detroit’s street railways, along with his brother-in-law George Hendrie.

The most widespread activity in Michigan though and the one which created the largest number of millionaires, was lumbering and dealing in pine lands. David Whitney, the richest man of Michigan made most of his fortune in pine lands, before investing a large part in Detroit real estate. Other Detroit lumber millionaires included : William C. Yawkey, whose grandson Thomas Austin Yawkey would move to Boston and own the Red Socks; Russell Alexander Alger, who would succeed James McMillan in the U.S. Senate, and his partner Martin S. Smith; Thomas Witherell Palmer, who was in business with his father-in-law Charles P. Merrill of Saginaw and his wife Lizzie, Merrill’s daughter; Simon J. Murphy, whose heirs controlled the Pacific Lumber Company for decades; Francis Frederick Palms, who inherited a lumber fortune from his father, which he shared with his half-sister Clotilde (Palms) Book, whose mother was a Campau; and David Ward, a cousin of Eber Brock Ward.
Lumber fortunes further made up most of Michigan’s forty eight 1892 millionaires, not living in Detroit .

Of the old French families, just William B. Moran (a descendent of the Morands) was a millionaire in 1892. His holdings were essentially inherited Detroit real estate. Other fortunes essentially derived from Detroit city real estate were the Brushes’ (represented by Alfred Erskine Brush and his niece Lillie Thompson), Bela Hubbard’s and George Van Ness Lothrop’s, but most Detroit 1892 millionaires made part of their fortune in city real estate. They were also directors of the city’s foremost banks, but some fortunes were essentially made in banking : William A. Butler’s, Edward Kanter’s and William B. Wesson’s.

Some descendents of the 1892 would invest into the nascent automobile industry and thereby enlarge their inherited wealth. S. J. Murphy’s son William would thus be the main backer of Cadillac and James F. Joy’s son Henry, a large shareholder of Packard. By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the families of these Gilded Age millionaires made up Detroit’s fashionable society, although strictly from a residence point of view, they were Detroiters no longer, having for the most established their permanent dwelling in Grosse Pointe. There, on the land where the early French settlers had established their farms, they would soon be followed by two sets of automobile millionaires, the founders (to which we can count the Edsel Fords and the Dodge widows) and the managers (A.P. Sloan, C.F. Kettering and the like).

To know more more about Detroit’s early non-automotive fortunes or other facts about the wealthy American families of the past, browse through “ Encyclopedia of American Wealth “, notably :

- AW Historical List " Detroit millionaires in 1892 "
- List of Michigan's forty eight 1892 millionaires, not living in Detroit
- Updated AW wealth classification lists for individuals 
1875, 1900 and 1925
- Profiles of wealth individuals and families at  “Encyclopedia of American Wealth


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