In the first decade of the 20th Century, prosperous Detroit residents recognized that there might be a coming automobile boom, but not very much was clear about the nature of this new business or how to invest it in. Would vehicles be powered by gasoline, electricity, steam or some combination of those sources? Would there only be a market for large expensive vehicles, or was there a great market for small cars? James Scripps Booth, an heir of the Booth family that earned their wealth from their ownership of the Detroit Evening News, apparently wanted to profit from the booming vehicle business, In 1912, he built what we would now call a concept vehicle. This was a strange new innovation named the Bi-AutoGo. It was a mix of a motorcar and a motorcycle. The picture below shows this machine.
this was a twenty-foot long, high powered motorcycle with room for a driver
and two passengers. At low speeds, training wheels were used for
stability but at higher speeds, the driver, apparently, could shift to two
wheels. It was powered by the first V-8 engine produced in Detroit, a water
cooled engine with a 332 cubic inch displacement. It had an aluminum body,
invisible door hinges and was the first vehicle with a horn button on the steering
wheel. This Bi-AutoGo is now in the collection of the Owls Head Transportation
Museum in Owls Head, Maine.
After building this unique concept vehicle, James Scripps Booth and his uncle, William E. Booth, formed the Scripps-Booth firm to build cars. Note the hyphen in the name. They first produced a cycle car called the Rocket. Cycle cars were very inexpensive and extremely light vehicles designed to be something of a cross between a real car and a motor-powered four-wheel bicycle. They sought to tap a presumed large market for extremely low-cost vehicles. Quite a number of firms attempted to produce them, but they never sold in quantity, perhaps because of the low and decreasing cost of Henry Ford’s Model T. Scripps-Booth apparently started producing some of his Rocket cycle cars at a new plant at 5718 Lincoln at the Michigan Central tracks in 1914 but, after making about 400 of them, quit. A 1914 Scripps-Booth cycle car is now in the collection of the Detroit Historical Museum. A picture of it and a description is available at: http://www.detroithistorical.org/collections/vewebsite5/exhibit2/e20018b-1.htm. That museum also has a 1915 Scripps-Booth cycle car that may be seen at: http://www.detroithistorical.org/collections/vewebsite5/exhibit2/e20039a.htm.
Perhaps giving up on the cycle car, the Scripps-Booth Company began to manufacture a luxurious but light car. By 1915, they were selling them in considerable numbers. They were recognized for their quality, even if their cost was quite high. The King of Spain, the Queen of Holland and Winston Churchill apparently purchased Scripps-Booth cars. The Scripps-Booth firm then designed a roadster powered by a powerful V-8 engine to compete with Stutz. These were manufactured from 1915 to 1919.
About 1915 or 1916, the company sold its stock to the public, so James Scripps Booth lost his control of the firm, even though he continued to influence its products. By 1917, Chevrolet owned and ran the Scripps-Booth firm. Will Durant, who previously created, but then lost control of General Motors, took over Chevrolet with its Scripps-Booth subsidiary, one that continued to produce cars in considerable numbers in Detroit. In 1918, Scripps-Booth was added to the line up of GM and GM engines were used. By 1921, Will Durant had been ousted from GM management. Given the considerable success and popularity of the Scripps-Booth make, observers expected GM to continue production, but within two years Scripps-Booth ceased manufacturing cars. After Alfred Sloan took over GM, he wanted little to do with firms run by individuals who had close ties to Will Durant. Another explanation for GM’s terminating the Scripps-Booth line is that General Motors owned a fraction of, but not the entire Scripps-Booth firm.
Beverly Kimes and Henry Clark, in their Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942, report that the Scripps-Booth firm manufactured 34,300 cars between 1913 and 1923, with a peak output of 8,100 in 1919. I have read, but cannot be certain, that the plant you see in the picture at 6900 Beaufait was a major manufacturing location for Scripps-Booth in the late teens. Apparently, a few cars were hand assembled at a plant at 5718 Lincoln. The sale of many cars in 1914 led Scripps-Booth to acquire the plant at Beaufait and Waterloo where Abbott-Detroit cars had been manufactured. At a subsequent date, Scripps-Booth apparently took over the building you see, but I am not sure how long they operated from this location.
There is a free annual on-line newsletter for people who collects Scripps Booth cars or are interested in the history of the firm: Scripps-Booth Register. This is available at http://home.earthlink.net/~scrippsbooth/sb.html or by sending a message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Booth, Mr. James Scripps Booth’s grandson, provided extensive information to me about the firm.
Mr. Grant Hamilton of Hamilton Steel provided information about this history of this building. It was constructed in 1902, perhaps for an auto manufacturer, but I don’t know which one. By the mid-teens, it was apparently used to assemble Scripps-Booth cars. Subsequently, the Saxon Motor Car Company acquired the building. They had been operating out of the former Abbott-Detroit manufacturing plant at Beaufait and Waterloo, but this structure, I believe, burned in 1918. Perhaps they moved some of their assembly work to the building pictured above. They did not occupy the building for a long time since Saxon terminated their Detroit production in 1921. The building was expanded in 1946, 1967 and 1973. By 1950, the building was used by Production Steel. From 1967 to 1982, it was the location of Safran Printing. This firm became Rotary Multiforms after and employee buy-out and used the building until 1998. In 1999, Hamilton Steel Products purchased the building.
Architect: Unknown to me
Date of construction: 1902
Type: This structure is similar to the early buildings, really the pre-Albert Kahn buildings, designed for the production of automobiles.
It is quite similar in style to the building at Beaufait and Mack where the first Hudsons were assembled.
Use in 2006: Hamilton Steel Products
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; February 3, 2006
Description updated: February, 2008
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