Good Morning. My name is Bob Moreo, and my presentation today is about the
economic factors that led to the deindustrialization of Detroit in the period between
the end of World War II and the 12th Street riot that took place in the early morning
hours of July 23rd, 1967.
At the end of World War II, employment and population were still largely
concentrated in the central City of Detroit, as seen in the top-left image, but the City
was filling out as the population increased. The bottom-left image shows that the
inner city was losing residents between 1920 and 1940 as the outer-lying areas
Established industrial areas along the railroad corridors were running out of room to
expand. The upper image shows the industrialized areas and rail lines in conjunction
with the proposed freeway system in 1944. The lower image shows the location of
factories and plants with over 100 employees.
This is the Dodge Main plant, on the Hamtramck / Detroit border, in the 1940s. It was
a 67-acre site which included power generation, forging, stamping, assembly and
paint facilities. Note the typical multi-story construction of the buildings, as well as
the density of the surrounding neighborhoods.
The most important force to restructure the postwar economy in Detroit was the
advent of industrial automation. Promising both to increase output and reduce labor
costs, the auto companies began automating existing facilities in the 1940s. As an
example, employment at Ford’s Rouge Complex declined from 85,000 people in 1945
to only 30,000 in 1960.
Prior to World War II, most industry was located along railroads or bodies of water, in
order to transport raw materials and finished goods. The Davison Expressway and
Detroit Industrial Expressway were constructed in 1942 to better allow employees to
work in the wartime factories. The Lodge Freeway would be constructed between
1953 and 1964.
(read fast!) The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized the construction of the
Interstate Highway System. The Detroit Industrial Expressway became I-94, and
extended to Harper Woods by 1959. In 1964 the Chrysler portion of I-75 tore
through the East Side, and the Southfield Freeway divided the West Side. Planned
connections to mass transit would never materialize, as streetcar service ended in
In addition to the new expressways under construction, the Federal Housing Act of
1949 laid the financial groundwork for a residential exodus to Detroit’s suburbs. The
Act authorized slum clearance programs, and provided for FHA mortgage insurance.
Both private and government lending standards favored new construction and racially
When automotive production resumed after World War II, Packard struggled to
regain the luxury reputation it had before the War. Slow to retool, it soon lagged far
behind the powerful Big Three. As fellow independents Nash and Hudson merged to
form American Motors, Packard bought out Studebaker. The merger failed, and the
famed Packard Plant closed in 1956.
While Packard was failing, Ford spent $2.5 billion expanding production across the
country. Production was up 34% from pre-war figures, and would increase again
nearly 70% by 1967. It had become necessary for automakers to produce vehicles
closer to where they would be sold. Additionally, greater dispersion of workers
lessened the ability of the UAW to organize.
Several suburban Detroit Ford facilities opened during this time period. Some of this
production was transferred from the Rouge Complex, which employed a large
number of Black workers who couldn’t buy homes in these suburbs, and had great
difficulty getting these jobs. The total acreage of these new plants is nearly twice
that of the Rouge Complex itself. In 1967, Ford captured 24% of the automotive
By virtue of its various acquisitions, General Motors was already a widely-dispersed
organization at the time of World War II. With nearly half of all autos made in the
country coming from GM, they had the resources to build several new plants around
the country and in Canada.
With little actual production in the City of Detroit – Clark Street Cadillac being the
most significant – General Motors developed new postwar factories farther north
around its Flint operations, and unveiled the Eero Saarinen designed Tech Center in
While Chrysler’s available finances for expansion were less than their rivals’, the
company still spent $700 million on new plants during this time frame. New facilities
were constructed in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Delaware and Ontario, Canada.
Chrysler would hold 15% of the US automotive market.
Chrysler was the most invested in the City of Detroit of the Big Three. In the 1950s &
60s, in addition to new facilities in Warren, Trenton and Sterling Heights, Chrysler
invested in four factories within Detroit city limits. Dodge Main remained open until
1979. And while the automakers dominated the local economy, other industries
suffered postwar setbacks…
In the early 1950s, Detroit’s Hudson’s store was the 2nd largest in the country –
behind only Macy’s in New York City. It employed over 12,000 people at its peak.
Due to increasing unemployment, sales declined after 1953. Theft was a major
problem. With the company’s investments in suburban malls, the downtown store
continued to decline.
J.L Hudson Company opened Northland Center in Southfield in 1954. Seven more
shopping centers, or “malls”, would be open in Suburban Detroit by 1967: Eastland in
Harper Woods, Wonderland in Livonia, Pontiac Mall in Waterford, Macomb Mall in
Roseville, Universal Mall in Warren, Livonia Mall, and Westland Center.
Another major industry on the decline was stovemaking. Founded in 1864, the
Detroit – Michigan Stove Company was bought out in 1955. The company once
occupied 23 buildings, but they were shut down in 1957. At the peak of production
in 1922, there were five major stove companies in Detroit, producing over 400,000
stoves that year.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, there were no fewer than 10 significant
breweries operating in Detroit. Through a series of closings and acquisitions, only
Stroh’s and Altes remained in Detroit in 1967. Altes would close up and move to
Baltimore in the ‘70s.
Many who are unfamiliar with the history of Detroit believe that the violence of 1967
began the downward spiral of population and job loss that has left Detroit in the
condition it is in today. In closing, I hope I have shown that by 1967 there had been a
number of economic factors throughout the previous twenty years that had caused
both jobs and people to leave the City.