Sunday, April 17, 2011

Detroit - Fisher Building

We were taken on a quick tour of Detroit today.  The first stop was the Fisher Building.

From the National Park Service:

In the late 1920s, the Fishers hired master architect Albert Kahn to design a building as both a philanthropic and commercial investment. The Fisher brothers wanted to spare no expense, and Kahn designed a $9 million Art Deco masterpiece that lavished 1/4 of its expense on art work and luxury materials. Reflecting the wealth of its owners, the completed Fisher Building accommodated the needs of the automobile owner by "enabling its patrons to leave their cars, attend to all shopping needs . . . visit their doctor, dentist, banker or broker, attend the Fisher Theater, and return to their cars without having to leave the building."

Wikipedia on the Fisher Building:

 The Fisher Building (1928) is an ornate Art Deco skyscraper located on the corner of West Grand Boulevard and Second Avenue in the heart of the New Center area of Detroit, Michigan. It was constructed of limestone, granite, and marble, and was financed by the Fisher family with proceeds from the sale of Fisher Body to General Motors. It was designed to house office and retail space.

Wikipedia on Fisher Body:

1960s Logo (from Wikipedia)
Fisher Body is an automobile coachbuilder founded by the Fisher brothers in 1908 in Detroit, Michigan, which is now an operating division of General Motors Company. The name was well known to the public, as General Motors vehicles displayed a "Body by Fisher" emblem on their door sill plates until the mid-1980s.                    

Detroit1701 offers this history:

In the later decades of the Nineteenth Century, Lawrence P. Fisher built carriages to be drawn by horses in his shop in Norwalk, Ohio.  He fathered eleven children, including seven sons who would become extraordinarily rich by building bodies for the new automobile industry.  Lawrence Fisher’s brother, Albert,  had established the Standard Wagon Works firm in Detroit in the 1880s to build horse drawn wagons and carriages.

  In the early 1900s, two of Lawrence Fisher’s sons—Frederick and Charles—moved from Norwalk to Detroit to work at the C. R. Wilson Company, another Detroit carriage manufacturer.

Detroit’s early automobile entrepreneurs found it extremely difficult to raise capital.  Since they were short of funds, many of them basically assembled cars from parts made by independent suppliers—machine shops, carriage builders and the like.  Until about 1914, Henry Ford’s automobiles were basically assembled from parts made by the Dodge Brothers and other Detroit suppliers.  Henry Leland, who built engines for R.E. Olds’ Oldsmobiles and helped create the Cadillac Motor Car firm, may have been among the first to approach the Fisher Brothers about manufacturing bodies for cars.
Elevator Door
Frederick and Charles Fisher, along with their uncle Albert Fisher, formed the Fisher Body Company in Detroit on July 22, 1908.  Their firm was a quick success.  Five other Fisher brothers—Alfred, Edward, Howard, Lawrence and William—moved from Norwalk to work in the development of the firm.  All, or virtually, all early automobiles in the United States were open cars that provided some type of canvass that might be raised in inclement weather.  It was typically a good deal of work to put up that canvass with the isinglass windows.  If you have driven a soft top Jeep, you will be very familiar with this challenge.  The Fisher Brothers pioneered the development of an all-steel enclosed body and, I believe, Cadillac was the first vehicle firms to sell such cars.  This was a major step in making cars desirable since they could be driven in any weather, so long as the roads were passable.  The solid steel body and the electric starter encouraged women to drive and buy cars.


  1. The Fisher Building is my favorite in Detroit. Glad you got to see it.

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