COMPANIES vs. MAYOR
THE DETROIT THAT ENTERED THE 1890s:
According to U. S. Census figures taken in 1890, the population of the City of Detroit had risen to 205,876—increasing
the city's ranking to the nation's 14th largest city. Hazen S. Pingree, who would later become one of the most admired
mayors in Detroit's history, was just beginning his first of four terms as mayor, while Benjamin Harrison was
beginning his term as the 23rd President of the United States.
By 1890, much of the city's northern and eastern borders resided just around the vicinity of the slowly evolving Grand
Boulevard, the first portion of which was dedicated in 1891. When initial plans began on the looping Boulevard in
1879, the intentions were for it to encircle the outer limits of the city. But annexation by Detroit in 1885 brought the
entire project within the city limits. Meanwhile, the city's western borders had already been extended to Livernois
Avenue, McGraw, Scotten and Lothrop. In 1891, two expansions occurred; one to the north would extend the city to the
southern borders of the villages of Highland Park and Hamtramck, while a second would extend the city further
eastward along the vicinity of Bewick Avenue. As a result of these annexations the city's land size had now increased
to 28.35 square miles.
By the arrival of the 1890s, the city of Detroit was emerging as an important and diverse industrial and manufacturing
center. A wide spectrum of goods, seldom remembered today as products made in Detroit, would help play a role in
placing Detroit on the industrial map, decades before the arrival of the automobile industry. At the time, a number of
industries flourished within Detroit, manufacturing such consumer goods as shoes, bicycles, paint and varnish, beer,
packaged seeds for flowers and vegetables, and pharmaceutical products. Leading bulk-product industries included
lumber, iron and steel, salt, and flour-milling. The city was also home to the major manufacturers of railroad cars,
ships, carriages and cooking stoves—with Detroit the recognized center of the stove-making industry. Surprisingly, by
the 1890s, the largest industry in the city was the tobacco products industry, which was a leading component of the
Detroit economy during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, the arrival of the 1890s would also bring about a number of significant changes to the Detroit public transit
arena. The preceding years experienced a busy period of consolidations and take-overs among the various
companies, with the largest and oldest company — Detroit City Railway — absorbing a number of the smaller
operations. As the city entered the new decade only three city-based street railway companies were left operating; the
Detroit City Railway, the Fort Wayne and Elmwood Railway, and the Grand River Street Railway.
The new decade would also bring about a realization among Detroiters of the numerous advantages streetcars
propelled by electric power had over horse power. Many, including the mayor, felt it a regrettable situation that Detroit
continued to jog along with old horse-drawn rail cars, while a number of large cities, including New York and
Cleveland, had already adopted modern electric streetcars. Although an attempt at electric powered cars had already
been tried within the city, and withdrawn, a few communities just outside of the city limits were already using electric
powered streetcars, including the city of Port Huron; the villages of Highland Park and Grosse Pointe; and Windsor,
Ontario, Canada, across the river.
Meanwhile, an emerging political figure would arrive on the scene who would impact public transit in Detroit for
decades to come. In the fall of 1889, Hazen S. Pingree was elected mayor of Detroit. Pingree, a successful shoe
manufacturer who owned the Pingree & Smith Shoe Co., ran on a platform of exposing and ending corruption in city
government. Although he would be remembered as a champion of the people, he would prove to be a major thorn in
the side for the city's streetcar owners.
On December 1, 1890, Detroit City Railway Co. owner George Hendrie quietly formed a new corporation to obtain
control of his City Railway Co. This new corporation, known as the Detroit Street Railway Company, was formed so
that the company could extend its franchise another 30-years to justify the investment of the huge sums of money
needed to convert over to electric power. But no sooner after the corporation was founded labor problems arose.
In April of 1891, local transit workers struck the Detroit Street Railway and the smaller independent Grand River
Railway companies, resulting in a bloody and violent three-day riot. A move by the transit workers to fight for a ten-
hour work day, as opposed to a 12-hour day, sparked the move to unionize among a number of the workers between
the two companies. Shortly afterward, a number of veteran employees were discharged—it was assumed—for
affiliating themselves with a new street railway employee's union that was being organized in the city. This in turn
touched off a strike on April 21, which erupted into a riot after sympathizers joined in support of the striking streetcar
workers. Non-striking employees, who pulled-out their cars, were attacked by mobs and a number of streetcars were
overturned and burned.
Finally, after Mayor Hazen Pingree had intervened, an arbitration committee was formed to resolve the issue. On May
12, 1891, an agreement was reached and the new union would be recognized by the city's street railway companies.
After an agreement to recognize the union; a wage increase, a 10-hour work day, and the granting of one guaranteed
day off duty each fortnight (every fourteen days) soon followed. The following year the new union would send
delegates to the founding convention of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America—
founded on September 15, 1892. The new local would return to Detroit as AASREA Local #3, today known as
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local #26.
THE THIRTY-YEAR WAR BEGINS:
Meanwhile, more problems were ahead for George Hendrie and his newly founded Detroit Street Railway Co. Even
though the three remaining streetcar companies appeared eager to electrify their lines, they also sought some
assurance from the city that their use of city streets would be granted for a sufficient number of years so that they could
secure an adequate return on the heavy investment costs. Trouble began, June 23, 1891, when the company's
request to seek a new 30-year franchise—which, unlike other cities, included no financial benefit to the City of Detroit
other than the usual 1½-per cent tax on receipts—was approved by the Common Council. Their decision immediately
infuriated the citizens,many of whom signed petitions demanding that action be taken to overturn the new council
On July 9, 1891—during a special meeting of the council—Mayor Pingree vetoed the council's decision, asserting that
to grant a 30-year franchise to this new corporation without allowing the City the opportunity to sell the franchise rights
to the highest bidder was unacceptable. The Mayor took the position that it was either profit to the city from the
franchises or municipal ownership. Pingree, who was quickly becoming an advanced social reformist, viewed the
private ownership of "natural" monopolies without some compensation to the people as the giving away of public
property. Pingree began to fight privately owned utility monopolies and challenged the electric and gas monopolies
by forming municipally-owned competitors. The veto by Pingree of the 30-year franchise—which also included a cable
car line up Woodward—and the council's unanimous sustaining of that veto, marked the first of many battles that
would launch the long and bitter thirty year war between the streetcar owners and city hall.
Pingree was also of the opinion that the original 30-year franchise granted the company back in 1863—which would
not have expired until May 9, 1893—took precedence over the extended franchise granted the company in 1879. Back
on November 14, 1879, in addition to being granted the franchise rights of the Congress and Baker and Cass Avenue
companies (after both franchises were repealed by the city), the Detroit City Railway was also granted a new 30-year
extension by the Common Council fourteen years before the expiration of the original agreement, advancing the date
to 1909 instead of 1893. Mayor Pingree considered the 1879 franchise agreement granted during the term of the
previous one to be invalid. If the Mayor's position was correct, the City would have the opportunity in two years to
renegotiate a new franchise agreement more to Pingree's liking. One the Mayor felt would be to the benefit of the
After realizing it was becoming a futile effort to secure a new franchise extension under the Mayor Pingree
administration, George Hendrie—citing failing health—decided to sell his street railway company to a group of wealthy
investors based out of New York State. On September 16, 1891, the Detroit Street Railway Company was purchased
by the newly incorporated Detroit Citizens' Street Railway Company for $3 million. Shortly thereafter, October 1, 1891,
the new company also purchased (for $1 million) the smaller independent Grand River Railway Company, which also
operated branch lines along Myrtle, Third (south of Grand River) and Crawford (Hamilton) streets. This now left only
two streetcar companies operating within the city. The new company, led by Thomas M. Waller of Bridgeport, Conn.,
announced that the company would improve the schedules, redesign the cars, stress courtesy from its employees,
and immediately take steps to electrify its lines. Waller also emphasized that the local officers and the majority of the
directors would be chosen from among Detroit stockholders, including local business leaders—many of whom were
close friends of the Mayor. All of which done in an attempt to win the favoritism of the citizens of Detroit.
Meanwhile, Mayor Pingree was not moved, and still held to his position that the 1879 extension of the original
company's franchise was illegal. In December of 1891, a committee of fifty prominent citizens urged the Mayor to seek
legal counsel to assist the City in taking the matter before the courts. Even though the U. S. District Court would
initially rule in favor of the city, the Citizens' Company decided to appeal, and the issue would remain in the courts for
nearly three years.
While awaiting a hopeful favorable outcome in the courts, the Detroit Citizens Street Railway decided to move ahead
with plans to electrify 50% of its lines. Although never officially approved by the city, the company issued a notification
in April of 1892 of its plans to begin electrifying its Jefferson Avenue line. Work began in June; and on August 22,
1892, at 7:42 a.m., the first of several trial trips were made along E. Jefferson, from Woodward to Baldwin Avenue.
While the men stopped and waved their hats; families left their breakfast tables waving napkins and shouted praises
while the cars swiftly glided past. The following morning—Tuesday, August 23, 1892—electric service officially began
on Jefferson Avenue with a fleet of twelve cars being used to maintain service.
On December 15, 1892, electric operation began on the Woodward Avenue line, soon followed by the Mack Avenue
line beginning December 17, 1892. After the conversion of the three lines were completed, any further electrification
by the Citizens' Company would await the final outcome of the franchise litigation in the courts. However, the company
did announce on February 15, 1893, that its electric cars would begin 24-hour service on its Jefferson and Woodward
In the mean time, Detroit's smaller independent Fort Wayne and Elmwood Railway Co. was reorganized as the Fort
Wayne and Belle Isle Railway on July 1, 1892. By October, electrification began on the company's lone Fort Street
line. Full electric operation began around February 23, 1893, resulting in the Fort Wayne and Belle Isle becoming the
first streetcar company based in Detroit to operate under 100% electric operation.
THE WAR WITH CITY HALL CONTINUES:
While the franchise extension dispute continued on in the courts, several attempts were made by both sides to settle
the city's streetcar problems out-of-court. In July 1893, a special council committee, led by Alderman James Vernor
(of Vernor's Ginger Ale fame, and an advocate for private ownership of the transportation system), attempted to work
out a tentative franchise with the company due to expire in 1921. However, this tentative plan would only lead to more
offers and counter-offers that would continue back and forth for nearly a year, but no agreement between the Mayor
and the Citizens' company could be reached. In June of 1894, a group of over 300 prominent Detroiters, led by J. L.
Hudson, petitioned the Mayor, demanding that a settlement be reached. Finally, on June 28, 1894, the common
council adopted a new franchise ordnance, but because it did not adhere to the lower fare structure insisted on by the
Mayor, he vetoed the ordinance. The company's attempt to extend its franchise had been defeated.
After being unable to secure a 30-year franchise, the stockholders in the company decided to sell their interests, and
on September 1, 1894, ownership of the Detroit Citizens' Street Railway passed into the hands of R. T. Wilson &
Co., wealthy Wall Street bankers from New York City. Partnered along-side Wilson was Thomas L. Johnson, a former
U. S. Representative from Cleveland, who later became a principal owner and President of the company. Tom
Johnson had gained his wealth and fame through his patented fare-box invention and his Johnson Farebox Co. He
also invested in streetcar companies in Indianapolis and Cleveland. The company also hired Jere C. Hutchins, a
man experienced in civil and railroad engineering, who was appointed Vice-President.
Finally, in October 1894, the U. S. Court of Appeals rendered its decision. The court reversed the lower circuit court
and ruled against the city. In summary, the court agreed that the city had a right to grant use of its streets to a
corporation for an alloted time of its choosing, but it was the City that agreed to extend that franchise; so the 1879
franchise stands. Determined that more appeals be made related to the matter, the Mayor attempted a hearing before
the State Supreme Court. On January 22, 1895, the court refused to hear the case and Pingree had lost the battle.
But in all actuality, there were no real winners here. Even though the city failed in its attempt to render the franchise
null and void, the company, with only fifteen years remaining in the 1879 agreement, was unsuccessful in acquiring
further extensions. No doubt, the issue would have to be addressed again in 1909.
With the court case now resolved, Vice-President Jere Hutchins promptly began work to electrify the remainder of the
lines, with the last line—Chene Street—converted from horsecar to electric operation, November 9, 1895. With longer
routes now possible, several lines were combined to form long crosstown routes, including the merging of the
Jefferson line with Grand River, and Michigan with the Gratiot line. A number of lines were rerouted, some were
even renamed, and the Woodward line was extended to Palmer Park, which at that time was located in Greenfield
The city's first electric cars were of the single-truck type with hand brakes. They were heated with coal stoves and
were twice as fast as the horsecars. Even though they would often frighten horses and livestock, the citizens loved
them and climbed aboard the new electric trolleys in droves. The only viable competition at that time was the bicycle.
Meanwhile, friction between the city and the street railway companies would continue. Since first entering office in
1890, Mayor Pingree challenged the streetcar companies to lower their fares. The issue would come to a head in
January 1894, while the Citizens' company and the Mayor were battling over a new franchise extension. The fare
being charged at that time was five cents, but during the morning and evening rush hour, the Workingman's Ticket
(sold at eight tickets for 25 cents) was accepted. But Pingree felt that the five-cent fare being charged during the non-
rush hours was too high, and wanted the fare lowered to three cents the entire day with free universal transfers.
When company officials refused, the Mayor then changed his focus in another direction. Pingree decided to round up
a group of outside investors to build and operate a competing system that could offer a three-cent fare. Pingree was
able to interest the Pack-Everett syndicate, a group of investors who owned street railways in Toronto, Montreal, and
other Canadian cities, to petition for a franchise in Detroit. With Mayor Pingree's intervention, a 30-year franchise
proposal was drawn-up and submitted to the Common Council where it was approved on December 4, 1894, and
immediately signed by the Mayor. The new company was incorporated as the Detroit Railway Company on
December 10, 1894.
The new franchise, due to expire in 1924, granted the company rights to build new lines on Warren, Forest,
Fourteenth, Harper, Hastings, Sherman, and other streets. It also stipulated that the fare would be eight tickets for 25
cents between 5:45 a.m. and 8 p.m., six tickets for 25 cents the remainder of the day or a five-cent cash fare with free
transfers all day. To accommodate the lower fares the city was required to pave between the tracks. The franchise
agreement also included the option for the city to purchase the lines at the expiration of the franchise. On December
14, 1894, Mayor Pingree would turn that ceremonial first shovel of dirt, and construction on the lines would proceed
quickly. By July 1, 1895, the first trial trips were being made along Warren and Forest Avenues.
On Monday, July 8, 1895, regular service began on the company's first line—Crosstown & Belle Isle—which operated
mostly on Warren, Forest and Mt. Elliott avenues, from McGraw (the western city limits) to Belle Isle on the east-side.
The ceremonial first car ran that morning with Mayor Pingree as acting motorman. During October and November a
number of these "3-cent lines" were placed into service, including Catherine and Sherman, Fourteenth and
Oakland, Belt Line-Up Fourteenth, Belt Line-Up Hastings, and a downtown Ferry Loop route servicing the ferry docks
along the river. The rights were also grated to the company to operate into Capitol Park downtown. These so-called
"Pingree 3-cent lines" were popular with Detroiters, and would continue to operate at the 3-cent fare well into 1919.
Meanwhile, by January 1896, a rather strange cooperation seemed to be developing between the Citizens Company
and the Detroit Railway, with the former allowing the later to operate its cars on a number of its tracks—many of which
were located downtown. Rumors were rampant; as many feared this growing cooperation being the prelude to
consolidation. These rumors seemed to gain more credibility on July 29, 1896, when the Detroit Railway Co. was
sold to the Detroit Electric Railway Company, only one year after beginning operations. What was disturbing to many
was the fact that many of the stockholders in this new company were also owners and investors in the Citizens'
Company—the company Pingree was trying to defeat. By September, consolidation seemed more evident after the
Detroit Electric Railway closed its power house, and later a repair shop, with all power and most repairs now being
provided by the Citizens' Company.
What was unknown at the time was that Tom Johnson (President of the Citizens') was secretly negotiating a deal to
also acquire the Fort Wayne Company, which the city had just granted a franchise extension through 1924, upon an
agreement to lower its fares. The Mayor's alternative plan to defeat the Citizens' Company was beginning to unravel.
On January 4, 1897, the controlling interests in both the Detroit Electric Railway and the Fort Wayne and Belle Isle
Railway (renamed, Detroit, Fort Wayne and Belle Ilse on April 1, 1898) were purchased by the Citizens' Company. The
management of the Citizens' now had full control over both systems, with both franchises expiring in 1924. In 1897,
all of the companies were placed under a holding company, known as the Citizens' Traction Company. Tom L.
Johnson had cleverly moved himself into the position to control all three of the street railway companies in the city of
The chain of events that led to the eventual take-over of the Detroit Railway Co. of course infuriated Mayor Pingree, and
as a result, the Mayor began focusing, yet again, on another alternative plan—one which would authorize Detroit to
own and operate all of the city's street railways, and offer the three-cent fare city-wide.
CITY OWNERSHIP ALMOST BECOMES A REALITY:
After repeated failures to secure a franchise considered beneficial to the city, both the city administration, and the
people of Detroit, began leaning more and more toward municipal ownership of the city's streetcar system. Although
Hazen S. Pingree would become Governor of the State of Michigan in 1897, his campaign for city ownership and
control of public transit would continue. Ironically, Pingree would gain a strange bedfellow to assist him with this task;
Tom L. Johnson, Although Johnson and Pingree had been adversaries over lower fares, they also developed a
friendship. Duty bound at that time to support his company, Johnson had now changed his political believes; and
Pingree's persistence on a three-cent fare had impressed him. He now viewed municipal ownership as a great
social reform and cooperated with Governor Pingree to arrange a plan to sell the entire street railway system to the city.
On February 20, 1899, State Representative Malcolm J. McLeod, a former streetcar conductor and union
representative from Detroit, introduced a bill granting Detroit the right to acquire its streetcar lines. The State
Legislature passed the bill on March 24, 1899, and was signed by Governor Pingree the next day. This new
legislation, known as The McLeod Bill, would authorize the City of Detroit to construct, acquire, maintain and operate a
street railway system under the control and authority of a three-person Street Railway Commission. Commissioners
were appointed by the Common Council on April 1, 1899, with Governor Pingree appointed as chairman.
Within three short days negotiations would begin between the Detroit Street Railway Commission and the Citizens'
Company, which had financial control over the remaining companies. Plans were being drawn-up to sell the rail lines
and underlying properties to the city. Meanwhile, a group of prominent businessmen, including J. L. Hudson, were
opposed to the sale and challenged the constitutionality of the Commission. They cited the loss of the taxes being
paid to the city by the railway companies as one of their reasons for objection. In April 1899, they sought a court
injunction to stop it.
By early June 1899, it appeared that municipal ownership had become a done deal, with a sale price of $16,800,000
in bonds being agreed upon. The new city-owned system was to be known as the Detroit Municipal Railway.
However, on July 5, 1899, Governor Pingree's dream of a municipally owned and operated street railway operation in
Detroit came to a halt when the Michigan State Supreme Court declared the McLeod Law unconstitutional on six
counts, one of which centered on the legality of the Commission to be empowered with its authority.
THE CITY LINES CONSOLIDATE:
With the municipal ownership of the streetcar system now an apparent dead issue, the owners of the city's street
railway companies, along with the owners of the outlying suburban system (where lines were consolidated in 1892),
announced that all of the street railway companies in the Detroit area had been sold and all the lines were to be
consolidated into one new system.
On December 31, 1900, the Detroit Citizens' Street Railway; the Detroit, Fort Wayne and Belle Isle Railway; the
Detroit Electric Railway; and the Detroit Suburban Railway were all sold and consolidated into one company. The
city's street railway system would now be known as the Detroit United Railway (DUR), and for the first time since 1865
all of the city's streetcar lines were now owned by one company.
Even though ten years of attempts by Hazen Pingree, both as mayor and as governor, failed to result in Detroit owning
and operating its own street railway system, the issue would continue on for decades, with nearly every candidate for
mayor or alderman running for office on either a three-cent fare, or on an out-and-out municipal ownership platform.
Although Pingree never lived to see his dream fulfilled, the well-respected mayor had already planted the seed in the
mind of Detroiters that the municipal ownership of the city's transit operation was the best policy for its citizens. But it
would take another twenty years for the Pingree dream to become a reality.
© 2006 – www.DetroitTransitHistory.info (PV 03-05-11)
The above article was compiled from information acquired from Detroit's Street Railways Vol.I (1863-1922) by Schramm/Henninig (Bulletin
117 CERA); A History of The Detroit Street Railways by Graeme O'Geran; The Sunday News-Tribune (1895); the Detroit Free Press
publication: The Detroit Almanac 300 years of life in the Motor City; and other numerous publications and online sources.
THE PRE–D.S.R. YEARS — Part II
See Part 3, as the 30-Year War with City Hall continues during the DUR Years.
MAYOR HAZEN STUART PINGREE
(Four-term Republican Mayor of Detroit — 1890–1897)
It was under Hazen Pingree that the "Thirty-Year War"
between the City and the streetcar companies began.