The People of Detroit
In 1915, the Detroit Convention and Tourists' Bureau put out a lovely brochure touting the many highlights of the city. At the time, Detroit was the seventh-largest city in the country. The population was estimated at 645,000, up from 465,000 in 1910. (A 39% increase in 5 years!) As a point of comparison, the 2010 census puts Detroit at 713,000 today--a 25% decrease from 2000 and the lowest number of any official census since 1910.
In 1915 Detroit:
- There were more parks per capita than any other major city in the U.S.
- Per capita debt was the lowest of the 22 leading U.S. cities.
- The cost of living was the lowest of the 28-largest U.S. cities.
- 41% of the homes in the city were owned by their residents. (An extraordinarily high number for the day)
- Over 100,000 people were employed in the automobile industry.
- There were 447 miles of paved roads.
- About 5,000,000 tourists per year came to town, many of them “auto tourists.”
- The steamers on the Detroit River carried more than 11,000,000 passengers per year. You could ride one all day, listening to the orchestra, for ten cents.
- Navin Field, home of the Tigers, had a seating capacity of 25,000 and was the only centrally-located park in the big leagues.
- There were 110 public schools in the city with an annual budget of $1,600,000.
- There were more than 150 “moving picture houses” and 32 theatres for vaudeville, burlesque, and traditional theatre.
The southern migration had begun with Ford’s “Five-dollar day” in 1914. (Up to this point, most unskilled laborers made a little over a dollar a day.) The five-dollar day sparked the growth of the middle-class, creating for the first time a large group of people who could afford to buy cars and eventually move out of the city centers where they worked. In that way, Ford first was responsible for a large part of Detroit’s growth and then for the decline of the city as those who could afford to leave did.