Bike shop owner started the 1st Detroit Auto Show

Photo: Detroit News

The North American International Auto Show is in Detroit right now.

And just as many things in Detroit’s transportation history have an early connection to bicycling, so too does the auto show.

According to the Detroit News, the “credit for the beginning of the Detroit auto shows belongs to the energy and enthusiasm of one man — William E. Metzger, who dealt in bicycles before becoming an important figure in the development of the auto industry.”

Metzger had been interested in cycling since the late 1880s. He raced and completed a number of centuries, which was quite challenging given that era’s roads and equipment.

His favorite bike was a star highwheeler. He was the first president of the Detroit Wheelmen cycling club.

After a stint working at Hudson’s, he opened the Huber & Metzger bike shop in 1891. It was located at 13 Grand River between Woodward and Griswold. It eventually became one of the largest bike shops in the U.S..

That bike shop is now on display on the lower level of the Detroit Historical Museum.

He sold his share of this bike shop in 1895 and opened America’s first automobile retail showroom a couple years later. This former bike shop owner (CORRECTED 12/11/2010) He became Detroit’s first auto dealer, and perhaps the first independent auto dealer in the U.S.. He sold electric cars and as well as the first Oldsmobile. He still sold bicycles as late as the 1920s.

But it was in 1899 when he started the first auto show in Detroit (only the second of its kind.) The next year he helped stage the first New York Auto Show.

Metzger was also very active in the Good Roads Movement. And when Horatio “Good Roads” Earle called the first International Good Roads Congress in 1900, he asked his friend William Metzger if he could get a car there for a demo. (The car died halfway around the race track.)

In 1901 he renewed his membership in the League of American Wheelmen and became a lifetime member. Apparently he didn’t completely trade his bicycles for cars.

He went on to greater success helping found the Cadillac Motor Car Company, the Everitt-Metzger-Flanders (E-M-F) Company (which produced 26,000 cars in 1911 — second only to Ford), and the Metzger Motor Company.

Much later his interest switched to airplanes and he started the first airplane show in Detroit. He was friends with some other former bike shops owners: the Wright Brothers.

The Wright Brothers bike shop was preserved by Henry Ford and can be viewed at Greenfield Village.

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