Population and Economic Growth
In 1901 the editor of the Ann Arbor Argus Democrat concluded that "the century to come is undoubtedly destined to be the richest and best that man has experienced." Ann Arbor citizens faced the twentieth century with calm optimism which would stand them in good stead. During the first decade of the twentieth century local residents witnessed portents of dramatic change to come. But during the second decade the pace of change accelerated, propelling Ann Arborites into a new world.
At the turn of the century, Ann Arbor was a small city with 14,500 permanent residents. Of the white population in 1900, half was either foreign born or had parents who were foreign born. The foreign born came overwhelmingly from Germany, and to a lesser extent from Canada, England, and Ireland. Ethnic ties were strong, particularly among the large German population. Churches and schools helped maintain ethnic identities, not only for the Germans, but also for the Catholic Irish residents as well as the 359 members of Ann Arbor's African-American community.
Between 1900 and 1910, the town's population remained stable, increasing by only 300 persons. Ten years later, however, the size of the community had grown to 19,516 souls. Immigrants from Greece, Italy, Russia, and Poland settled in town. In 1920 about 13 per cent of Ann Arbor's population was foreign born, compared to 20 per cent for the state. But Ann Arbor attracted many more African Americans than the state as a whole. In 1920, there were 580 African-American residents, about 3.0 per cent of the city population, while statewide, African Americans made up only 1.6 per cent of the population.
Economic and industrial developments underlying these population changes followed a similar pattern: slow growth in the first decade of the century followed by a boom after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In 1899, the value of products manufactured in Ann Arbor was $1,377,000. By 1914, it had climbed to $2,603,000. Wartime demands sent the figure up to $9,794,000 in 1919. The average number of wage earners in manufacturing climbed from 623 in 1899 to 1,612 in 1919. Ann Arbor led all Michigan cities of its size in the growth of industries between 1914 and 1919.
In 1900 Ann Arbor's industrial strength lay in light manufacturing, milling, furniture making, piano building, brewing, gas fixtures, and rug making. Ann Arbor's largest manufacturing interest in 1900 was milling. The Michigan Milling Company was a conglomerate composed of the Argo Flour Mill, the Ann Arbor City Mills, Delhi Mills, the Ann Arbor Central Mills, and the Osborne Mill. The company also owned power sites and cooperage plants. By 1913 its estimated output was one million dollars a year.
Long essential to the milling industry, the importance of the Huron River was enhanced by its development as a source of electric power. In 1905 the Detroit Edison Company and its subsidiary, Eastern Michigan Edison Company, bought power sites along the river and began to install generators in the Argo, Superior, Barton, and Geddes dams. Readily available electricity stimulated industrial growth. Between 1910 and 1920 heavy industry came to Ann Arbor with the establishment of Economy Baler, Hoover Steel Ball, Machine Specialty, Parker Manufacturing, American Broach and Machine, and the Forge Products companies. Hoover Steel Ball Company, one of the most important industries to come to town, was organized in 1913. It profited by the outbreak of war and the British blockade which eliminated German steel ball bearings from the American market. By 1917 the plant used 500 tons of steel a month and produced 25 to 30 million ball bearings a day.
Automotive production, however, never succeeded in Ann Arbor. The ill-fated Huron River Manufacturing Company, later the Star Motor Company, produced a light delivery wagon-passenger car combination. It did not survive the fierce competition of the burgeoning auto industry. The high cost of living in Ann Arbor meant higher wages and the distance from Detroit increased the cost of materials to a point where profit disappeared.
Contributing materially to Ann Arbor's expansion was The University of Michigan, which had long provided a substantial economic base for the community. Enrollment surged from 3,441 in 1899-1900 to 5,381 in 1909-10 and 9,041 in 1919-20. Student spending stimulated commerce and the University building program employed local contractors. As faculty and students sought housing, residential development boomed and the landladies prospered. Ann Arbor, furnishing the labor and materials for University expansion, fueled its own growth.
In the person of President James B. Angell, the nineteenth century relinquished its hold on Ann Arbor. Respected and beloved, he retired in 1909 after a presidency of thirty-eight years. His funeral cortege in 1916 passed thousands of saddened students and townspeople, leaving them all to the fortunes of the "golden years of growth."
Under Angell's successor, Harry B. Hutchins, new buildings radically altered the nineteenth-century facade as the University pushed outward from its original forty-acre plot. The West Medical Building, the West Engineering Building, the Dental Building, Alumni Memorial Hall, the Chemistry Building, Hill Auditorium, the Power Plant, Martha Cook Building, Helen Newberry Hall, the University Library, and the Michigan Union were completed between 1901 and 1920. Click here for an historical tour of the University of Michigan campus in 1907.