In the US motoring centenary, speed freaks are heading for Michigan

America's motor industry is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, but credit for creating the biggest of the automotive world's giants does not go to the likes of Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet or Walter Chrysler. Instead, the spotlight is focused on two brothers whose name is unlikely to ring a bell. Charles and Frank Duryea were not the first Americans to build a horseless carriage, but in 1896 their Duryea Motor Wagon Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, assembled 13 identical cars. This was the USA's first instance of serial production.

One of those tiller-steered contraptions greets visitors to the mind- boggling Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where cars representing dozens of manufacturers vie for attention with everything from musical instruments to a colossal railway locomotive.

Credit for making Uncle Sam a serious contender goes to such far-sighted engineers as Ransom Eli Olds, who started his business in 1897 and became the American motor industry's first millionaire. But the man who really put the world on wheels was Henry Ford, a farmer's son who pioneered the moving production line. It succeeded to such an extent that 15,007,033 Model T Fords were built between 1908 and 1927. There were months when production topped 200,000 - a figure to compare with the 12,000 per month averaged by Britain's long-running Mini. Such economies of scale enabled the Ford's Tin Lizzie's price to be cut by almost 75 per cent. Meanwhile, Ford was paying his workers $5 a day - double the industry's average.

Factors that included excellent communications soon made Detroit the car world's capital. Today, hosting the annual North American International Auto Show epitomises the big effort that Motor City is making to improve its drab, down-market image. Among other symbols is the riverside Renaissance Centre complex whose Westin Hotel is the world's highest. Views from its revolving restaurant include such spectacular links with the golden age as the art deco Fisher and General Motors' buildings. They stand close to Woodward Avenue, where Charles Brady King became the city's first motorist on 6th March 1896. Henry Ford and his first car puttered along nearby Bagley Avenue a few weeks later - eight years before he founded the Ford Motor Company.

I recently spent a busy week in Michigan, where tributes to the centennial include the Detroit Historical Museum's fascinating Motor City exhibit. Visitors are welcomed by a replica of Charles Brady King's 1896 car, which Mr King built to mark the 50th anniversary of his epochal drive. Reminders of such backroom boys as Charles Kettering (the grandfather of today's starter motor) rub shoulders with, for example, a board game called Assembly Line that challenges players to "Assemble Cars Like The Motor Czars".

Meanwhile, speed freaks should visit the Motorsport Hall Of Fame in Novi, the small town that gave its name to racers that contested such American classics as the Indianapolis 500. Top marks for terror go to the jet-propelled Green Monster in which Art Arfons achieved the fastest speed ever recorded by a vehicle with an open cockpit.

At the other end of the performance scale, 1903's advert for the Oldsmobile concentrated on the difference between modern and traditional power: "Mechanical skill and mathematical exactness eliminate the danger of the horse's uncertain temper, sudden fright and unruly disposition," the blurb proclaimed.

That little gem was spotted at the R E Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, 85 miles from Detroit. The cars on display range from an 1897 Oldsmobile to the latest Aurora. Between those landmarks, the 1937 model is a reminder that Oldsmobile was the first to offer automatic transmission in a mass-produced car. The option cost the equivalent of about pounds 50. One of the post-war era's most notable Oldsmobiles was the awesome Toronado. Launched in 1966, it attempted to reconcile front-wheel drive with a 7.0- litre, 385bhp engine.

A few blocks to the west, Lansing's highly commended Michigan Historical Museum reveals other aspects of the state's key role in the motor industry's development.

My centennial tour's highlight was a visit to Auburn, Indiana, three hours from Detroit by road, where an art deco building houses the Auburn- Cord-Duesenberg Museum. The three inter-related marques produced some of pre-war America's most stylish cars. I have vowed to buy a Model J Duesenberg (fewer than 300 were made) when the National Lottery does its stuff.

For information about car museums and special centennial events, contact the Michigan Information centre, 110 St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4DY (0171 240 1422).

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas