As the automotive capital of the world and home to General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler, Detroit is a city built by cars. From the stunning mansions built by auto barons to sprawling automotive facilities, the automobile has left its mark the city and its people. Detroiters love their cars. Events such as the North American International Auto Show, the Grand Prix, and the Woodward Dream Cruise attract record crowds. Still more head to the racing excitement of Michigan International Speedway for Indy car action.
Detroit's booming new industry created new jobs which drew people from throughout Europe and African Americans from the South for work. Between 1900 and 1930, the city's population grew from 265,000 to more than 1.5 million. Led by the auto barons, Detroit's cultural scene also blossomed. The downtown flourished with new buildings, museums and theaters built by the world's top architects. One of the most enjoyable ways to experience Detroit's automotive heritage is by exploring the wealth it created. And in Detroit, there's no shortage of wealth to explore.
A visit to the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex reveals where it all began. The birthplace of the automobile assembly line, the Heritage Complex is the only example of an early Detroit auto factory open to visitors. Guests also learn about the lives of the typical autoworkers in 1908, including their 10-hour workdays and 6-day workweeks.
Next, experience the luxury of the auto elite with a tour of Fair Lane, Henry and Clara Ford's beautiful country home estate. Named one of "America's 10 grandest mansions" by Budget Travel Magazine, this 31,000-square-foot, six-level, 56-room home is where the Fords entertained some of the world's most influential people.
Afterward, visit the Edsel and Eleanor Mansion in scenic Grosse Pointe Shores. At the home of Henry Ford's only child, Edsel, visitors see original antique furnishings, an impressive collection of fine and decorative art, and much more in the breathtaking 60-room Cotswold mansion. Visitors may also stroll the 87 acres of lakefront gardens and grounds.
The Ford family was not the only auto player in town. Lawrence Fisher was one of the founders of Fisher Body Company and President of Cadillac Motors. The Fisher Mansion estate was considered one of the most lavish residences of its time with its gold and silver leafing accenting the ceilings and moldings. The black walnut and rosewood parquet floors are an impressive sight as well.
Spectacular Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester was the home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, and her second husband, lumber baron Alfred G. Wilson. Completed in 1929, Meadow Brook Hall is considered an American castle and is among the finest homes in the country. The 88,000-square-foot Tudor revival-style mansion is filled with authentic furnishings, priceless art and striking antiques. The estate's 16 gardens and 42 urns surrounding the hall are a testament to the talented design work of English landscape artist Arthur Davidson.
Detroit's endless auto heritage stories can also be found in the city's area museums. The Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown recreates the cobblestone streets of Old Detroit, along with its neighborhoods which were shaped by the auto industry. The museum's Transportation History Collection focuses solely on the products of Detroit-based companies, as well as the tastes and forces that shaped the American transportation market. Currently, the museum is building their collection of the 100 most significant Detroit cars, some of which are on view.
Across the street is the Detroit Institute of Arts, which was once saved from closing by Edsel and Eleanor Ford, who also helped establish its remarkable collection. Edsel Ford, president of the Detroit Arts Commission, commissioned the famous Diego Rivera "Detroit Industry" mural contained within the museum. The Firestone and Dodge families were also major patrons of the museum. He was also an early collector of African art and his contributions were a part of the core of the original DIA African art collection.
The Automotive Hall of Fame preserves the history of mobility by celebrating the creativity, toil and genius of its makers. Visitors follow the "Driving Spirit" as he leads them through time to observe the many people who have left their mark in the auto industry.
The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills sits beneath the shadow of the Daimler Chrysler World Headquarters. The museum houses more than 65 vehicles showcasing the company's American heritage interspersed with displays and historical exhibits.
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