Packard Packs Up

September 27, 2016

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By Matt Wolfe

September, 1903, The Packard Motor Car Company Board of Directors approves a plan to relocate the company from Warren, Ohio, to Detroit, Michigan.

Though the Packard Motor Company is often remembered today for its now derelict factory in Detroit, it was not originally a Michigan-based automaker. Brothers and Hall of Fame Inductees James Ward and William Doud Packard originally founded the company in 1899 in Warren, Ohio. The company quickly gained a reputation for building some of the best vehicles in the world and also introduced innovations like a flexible shaft drive that could be used in place of a chain drive.

The quality of Packard’s vehicles soon caught the attention of an investor named Henry B. Joy. A wealthy native Detroiter, Joy first saw a Packard automobile during a trip to New York City in 1902. So impressed at the vehicle’s construction was Joy that he purchased the only Packard for sale in the City. He liked his Packard so much that he persuaded nine other Detroiters to invest in the company and take majority ownership. When the Warren, Ohio City Council prevented Packard from expanding, Joy persuaded company president James Ward Packard to move the company to Detroit. Joy hired a young architect named Albert Kahn to design a new factory to be located on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. The result was the world’s first reinforced concrete factory.

The building was the most modern of its day and served as the model for factories that followed, including Ford’s famous Highland Park plant. James Ward Packard stayed behind in Ohio to run the Packard Electric business, effectively turning the reigns over to Joy, who became Packard president in 1909. Joy was a flamboyant, charismatic executive who, in moments of impatience, would frequently say, “Let’s do something, even if it’s wrong!” Under Joy’s leadership, Packard continued to grow its reputation for building luxury automobiles. Joy also carried on Packard’s spirit of innovation through the creation of a V-12 engine and aviation pursuits which resulted in the renowned Liberty engine. Joy served as chairman of Packard until 1926. His contemporaries in the auto industry, partners and competitors, considered him to be one of the most brilliant and perceptive minds in the industry. Joy remained active in the industry until his death in 1936.

Epilog: though Packard has been gone for over 50 years, the concrete factory that bears its name is still standing. Though the structure fell into disrepair in the ensuing decades following Packard’s demise, there is a renewed effort to restore and repurpose the Albert Kahn-designed building. See the latest update on the Packard plant’s revival here courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

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