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The Motor City: 1917

Detroit circa 1917. "Looking up Woodward Avenue." A bustling vista last glimpsed here. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

Detroit circa 1917. "Looking up Woodward Avenue." A bustling vista last glimpsed here. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

$5 day

In response to OTY's comment: I personally think the hustle and bustle has everything to do with Henry Ford's doubling of wages to $5 per day in 1914. This move ignited the modern auto industry and what we call the middle class. Workers making a decent wage, being able to buy the products Ford was selling and having some disposable income. That's what makes a booming economy. Meanwhile on Wall Street, and every other boardroom in town, they are telling each other that those damn Ford employees "have it too good." Some things never change.

[You can say that again. - Dave]

Motor City 1 and 2

I used Photoshop to scale the two images, and was able to get an extremely tight fit on all permanent structures. Then I had a blast turning on and off the top layer to see the differences.

It is amazing the number of changes that took place between the time these two photos were taken. For example, someone had time to raise the large canopy on the Temple building.

Dave - If you would like I can send you these images so others can play.

The time between photographs

would have to be longer than a few moments, as the shadows on the ground change.

Matter of moments

The heavy equipment can also be seen just entering the frame on the right hand side of the other photo linked. Judging by the change in shadows, the photos are probably within 30 minutes of each other. Been trying to find a clock to be sure. Added: The heavy equipment does not move so much as the framing slightly changes.

Round and Round.

The piece of heavy machinery with the trolley pole to the right in the photo looks like a cement mixer, the concrete being used for a roadbed beneath the track construction to the left.

Another captivating photo from Shorpy!

How did they direct traffic?

I can see the policeman under the umbrellas. You can clearly see a stop and go signal. How did they coordinate the movement of traffic on such a large and busy intersection. Did the policeman coordinate with hand signals or did they have some sort of signal device?

Update: according to an article “A Brief History of Traffic Signals—UC Berkeley , one of the traffic officers would blow a whistle when it was time to change the signals

Clue in the clouds

Agree that this picture was taken a matter of minutes from the time of the first pic. The clouds have moved position, but you can tell they are the same formations.

What this country needs

That's a pretty expensive sign just to sell a 10-cent cigar!

Playing all next week at the Opera House

"Somewhere In Georgia" starring—wait for it—Ty Cobb!

Picture of prosperity

With the ability to magnify the many details and huge area shown in this photo, one could study the goings-on for hours. This is what a booming economy looks like and depicts the energy ignited by opportunity for everyone. Of course there was still another year of WWI going on in Europe and the Middle East but entrepreneurial Americans were engaged in productive labor and optimistic about the future. This is a stellar photo, thank you Shorpy.

Heavy Equipment

The heavy equipment is street railway construction equipment. You can see the trolley pole and base on the big machine with the cylindrical center, and you can also see the top part of the trolley pole on the piece of equipment hiding behind the memorial. I suspect that the big machine is a rail-mounted roller.

All of my books on Detroit are safely packed away a thousand miles from where I am, so all I can do is guess at what project they are working on. Could this be a little later than 1917, and show one of the first "MO" (Municipal operation) lines built to compete with Detroit United?

[The movie marquees, license plates, WW1 recruitment banner and construction sign for the Real Estate Exchange Building place this scene in 1917. - Dave]


In a previous comment about the earlier version of this scene,I said that it was the best urban shot yet. I have to say this one is even better.


The machine on the right has a trolley pole on it and it's sitting on trolley tracks that are being worked on (not a trench). I'm going to send this photo to some trolley friends and see if they can identify it.

The consensus is the machinery is a rail-mounted concrete mixer. Since the track is being worked on, and the trolley company was obliged to repave the torn-up street, this seems the likely explanation for the bulky equipment. Detroit did not become the municipal operator of the streetcar lines until 1922. 1917 was during the period of Detroit United Railways operation (1900/01-1922).

Mere Minutes

This photo and the other one linked here must have been taken within mere moments of each other - the parked cars (such as the one for hire in the lower left corner and the white one on the right edge) are in the same positions in both photos. I've looked to see if I can find any common people between the two, but no luck yet.

Ma & Pa Kettle Hit The Motor City

That horse and wagon with the huge umbrella over the riders reminds me of the old Ma & Pa Kettle movies. Based on the barrels on the wagon, I'd guess that Pa had been out making some white lightning with Geoduck and Crowbar. As Pa used to say, "It's fresh out of the still this morning; none of that old stuff for me!"

Great pic

This is what I like about the pics on this site - A slice of time pic is what I call this.

There is a lot of rich details in this pic!

Great pic here.

Cable laying?

There's some kind of heavy machine at far right, just beyond the group of cars. This machine has a belt driven circular device, which may be a drum of cable. Given the trench and roadworks barriers that run across the centre of the photo, could this be a cable laying machine?

What I Want to Do on my Summer Vacation

For summer vacation I want a time machine trip to inside this photo. I would sit down on the edge of the fountain, near that tent and just watch. I'd be able to figure out what that machine was on the far right. It is doing something in a trench.

I'd smell the horses and hear the voices. And I'd hear all those early car engines and smell their exhaust (whether I wanted to or not).
But mostly I'd just sit and try and take this all in.

This really needs to be projected as big as a movie screen. There is that much going on.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

That's the monument on the right. Built to honour the Civil War veterans. It was repositioned in 2003, 125 feet south of its original position.

The fountain to the left which beside the tent is gone. The tent is likely probably for a recruitment drive -- there are a number of uniformed men in various places in this photo taken minutes before or after, including one about to cross the street to the left of the photo.


I noticed that there is a young lad who appears to be asking directions from the traffic policeman over in front of the parked cars near the streetcar construction (to the right of the photo). In the other photo (linked above), this officer is standing observing traffic.

Time: This photo is taken at least a few minutes after the previous photo. The shadows are slightly longer. And the trunk of the tree in the greenspace to the left of the photo is now in shade. Whereas, the previous photo shows the base of the tree in full sunlight.

It must be quite a few minutes later, as the "Ma and Pa Kettle" truck, a beer delivery cart, is nowhere to be seen in the previous photo.


Unlike the earlier photo, this one does have horses.


I absolutely love the bustling city photo's and this one tops them all! Thanks so much for posting.

What the?

Road construction equipment? Cable layer? Portable dynamo?

Click to enlarge.

Kelly Springfield Tires.

I work in a plant that still makes that brand!! Goodyear has owned it since the 1930's but the Kelly Springfield brand is still on many of the tires we make.

Busy, busy, busy

Quite possibly the busiest city photo ever posted on Shorpy. Hours of fun to be had on this one.

The Best!

Out of all the city photos posted on Shorpy, this is going to the head of the list! Hard to believe all the traffic, trolleys, cars and people out and about. Life must have been good in Detroit back then.

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