Posts Tagged ‘Uniroyal site’

Bicycle tire history along the Detroit RiverWalk

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Morgan and Wright tire advertisement from 1911One of the last major missing pieces of the Detroit RiverWalk along the East Riverfront is the Uniroyal site.

While Senator Carl Levin has secured funding for building this RiverWalk section and MDOT has agreed to manage the project, the site contamination remains a hindrance.

It’s called the Uniroyal site because it was home to tire manufacturing from as early as 1906 through 1980 — hence some of the contamination.

The tire history began when Morgan and Wright, the world’s largest bicycle tire manufacturer relocated from Chicago to Detroit.

According to this Detroit News history article:

Construction on the first buildings in the riverfront complex began in August 1905. Completed in October 1906, the plant housed the Morgan & Wright Bicycle Tire Co., once the world’s largest maker of bicycle tires. Morgan & Wright had migrated from Chicago to link up with Detroit’s developing auto industry. In its early years, the tire plant housed several of the annual Detroit Auto Shows. Initially the 750 people who worked there produced 350 tires daily. In 1906, company President Samuel P. Colt commented on the auto-rubber connection: “Judging from the past, the growth of the automobile tire business will be of momentous importance in the future. Ten years ago, rubber tires were not important. Now they consume one-half of the raw unprocessed rubber product.”

It’s apparent in the 1911 Morgan and Wright advertisement that early car tires owed much of their design to bicycle tires. Detroiter Horatio “Good Roads” Earle asked in this autobiography, “Whoever heard of ball bearings and pneumatic tires until they were used in bicycles?”

In addition, this web site has an interesting collection of Morgan and Wright history and photos.

Morgan & Wright was founded in 1891 by Fred Morgan and Rufus Wright, while the pneumatic safety bicycle was still fairly young, and the bicycle boom was just coming into flower. besides tires, they also produced other tire-related items (pumps, patch kits, tire repair accessories…) and other bicycle products (pedal rubbers, rubber toe clips, chain lubricant), and distributed a variety of other bicycle-related sundries through their catalogue. With the advent of the 20th century, the company gradually turned to the early automobile rubber market, moved to Detroit around 1906, and was bought by the U.S. Rubber Company around 1911 (a 1912 supply catalog I have refers to M & W tires now being marked as U.S. tire), and later became Uniroyal.

The Uniroyal site was also the site for stove and auto manufacturers. This industry was served by the Michigan Terminal, a now abandoned rail line that roughly parallels Beaufait. It’s the reason for the slight hump in Jefferson just west of the Lofts at Rivertown.

The Gleaners Food Bank is also located along this abandoned rail line. There is very preliminary talk of developing a rail-to-trail greenway from the food bank to the RiverWalk.

It’s interesting that after more than 100 years, this area will once again be a benefit to bicyclists.