See the revival of the Packard Plant

Packard Motor Car Plant
1580 E. Grand Blvd at Concord Ave. Detroit

This is the nation’s foremost and most famous industrial ruin.  Indeed, it is probably the biggest industrial ruin in the United States and, perhaps, in the world.

James Ward and William Doud Packard operated a firm in Warren, Ohio making electrical equipment in the 1890s.  Similar to many other manufacturers and inventors, they were captivated by the possibility of designing and building a motor vehicle. 

Investors were seeking their fortunes in the vehicle industry but they had a difficult time deciding which of the many new firms would be successful.  Three very well capitalized Detroit investors, Henry Bourne Joy, Truman Handy Newberry and Russell A. Alger, sought to add to their fortunate by building cars.  They recognized the high quality of the cars produced by the Packard brothers so their encouraged them to move to Detroit. 

Detroit was becoming something of a center for vehicle production, but more importantly, these individuals had the capital to fund a large company.  They invested in the firm in 1902.  The name of the firm was changed to the Packard Motor Car Company and, by 1903, a plant was operating on the East Grand site now occupied by the ruin you see pictured above.

The factory plays a significant role in the history of the modern vehicle industry.  In 1905, Albert Kahn constructed the first modern auto plant here, one that used reinforced concrete rather than the heavy pine floors used in earlier building.  Previous auto factories had a tendency to burn down as the Oldsmobile and Cadillac plants had in Detroit in the early 1900s.  With structurally reinforced concrete, the buildings were much larger and much less at risk of combustion. 

The 1920s were the years when the Packard Company’s reputation for engineering soared.  It became known as the highest quality vehicle produced in the United States and one of the best in the world.  The plant on East Grand expanded greatly.  Eventually, there were 47 different building spread across 40 acres of Detroit providing about three and only-half million square feet of space for manufacturing and offices. 

The years after World War II were not kind one for the five smaller United States producers that had survived the Depression: Hudson, Nash, Packard, Studebaker and Willys.  The Big Three found it much easier to access the huge amounts of capital needed, both to design innovative cars and for building new production plants.  Older multi-story facilities such as this one at Packard were much more costly to operate and less efficient than the huge low-rise greenfield plants that were constructed in the suburbs after the defeat of the Germans and Japanese. 

Packard continued to outsell Cadillac as the nation’s leading luxury car until about 1949.  After that, it was all downhill for Packard.  Realizing they were coming to the end of their solvency, Packard and Studebaker merged.  In 1956, the last Packards were assembled in Detroit. 

Within a decade, Packard went from being the top-selling luxury vehicle to being out of business. 

 

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