The War Hits Home

The Second World War ended Ann Arbor's existence as a quiet college town. By 1940 Ann Arbor had a population of 30,000 and contained a University of 12,000 students, the great majority of whom were enrolled in the traditional humanities and arts. Even so, potential for change in the University's orientation from an undergraduate institution to a training center for twentieth-century experts in the hard sciences was being tentatively explored. The war would make demands on the city's industries that would eventually make Ann Arbor a center of space-age technology.

Initially, a few vestiges of the old remained. There were no traffic fatalities in the city during 1939 and the municipal parking lots provided the following year were among the first in Michigan outside Detroit. In addition to a small, but vigorous, parochial school system, Tappan and Slauson Junior High Schools graduated between eighty and ninety students each into the city's one high school at State and Huron streets adjacent to the University campus.

Ann Arbor was still a place where these youngsters might, during the summer months, string up an old tire over the Huron River. Yet that same beguiling sunshine contained a quiet terror. The winter March of Dimes campaign provided care for those sure to contract infantile paralysis when the warm weather came. Every summer between 1940 and 1955, the Ann Arbor News daily carried a doleful litany of those stricken.

Movie theaters in the campus area provided entertainment for the college students as well as the younger Ann Arbor residents. But there was little to alarm the conscientious parent in "Sewanee River" with Don Ameche and Al Jolson, or "Typhoon" ("a tornado of tropic romance") with Dorothy Lamour. A major social event of the year was the annual flower show held in Yost Field House every June. Great rows of windows let filtered sunshine in on a thousand varieties of garden and tropical flowers.

This summer, however, was different. By May, news of the German offensive into Belgium occupied an unusually prominent place on page one. Everyone knew what University President Alexander G. Ruthven meant when in accepting the gift of a solar telescope to the University he deplored the use of science to support warfare. The undertow began even before the United States entered the war in December 1941. Local doctors were called into the Red Cross. Rumors of fifth column activity right here in Ann Arbor appeared. Soon after Pearl Harbor casualty lists and Ration Guides were a permanent feature of the newspaper.

The war blunted the edges of life in Ann Arbor. Bright moments were all too few. Some of the best, however, were provided by Tom Harmon. "Old 98" gave everyone Tom Harmon something to cheer about on Saturday afternoon. But during the week spectators became producers for the war effort. King-Seeley, Economy Baler, Precision Parts, Fram Corporation, and Argus turned out the city's contribution. Everyone did what he could. The local Boy Scouts ran a paper collection drive. Each scout or cub who personally collected over 1,000 pounds received a ribbon decoration with an attached Eisenhower medal, inscribed "for extraordinary patriotic achievement." Despite massive citizen participation in the war effort, need for labor remained high. By 1945 the classified section of the News carried an unprecedented four and one-half columns of help wanted ads. Curiously enough, the wonder drug penicillin became available locally in 1945, while at the same time tobacco users had to wait an hour in line at Cunningham Drugs to buy a pack of cigarettes.

The war slowed and obscured Ann Arbor's growth. But change did take place. Three events foreshadowed the immediate future. On March 9, 1945, the ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the newly completed multi-lane industrial highway from Michigan and Wyoming avenues in Detroit to the Willow Run bomber plant. Charles Ziegler, state highway commissioner, predicted that someday high-speed expressways would link the heart of Detroit with both the Thumb area and cities west of Wayne County. A month later, a city committee, anticipating the charter revision of 1956 which gave Ann Arbor a professional city manager, recommended that a finance director be appointed to attend full-time to the city's burgeoning accounting and budget needs. On August 21 Mayor William E. Brown authorized the use of parking meters in city parking lots.

In the halcyon days of mid-August 1945, these considerations were momentarily forgotton. The war was over; crowds danced in the streets. The Ann Arbor News headline for August 13 said it all: "Printing of Ration Books Halted." The war was already becoming legend. The State Theater offered John Wayne in "Back to Bataan."

That fall everyone's attention turned to the anticipated expansion of the city's population. The mayor predicted a housing shortage unless the city limits were increased, and to make annexations easier supported an amendment to the water and sewage ordinances. A year later he became a successful prophet. The University of Michigan in 1945 had 11,800 students; the number enrolled the following academic year was 19,000.

Post-war Boom and Prosperity

The late 1940's and early 1950's brought a postwar boom and inflation to Ann Arbor. In fiscal 1949-50, the city had nearly $2 million in city improvement projects under contract, more than triple the amount of the previous year. On the University campus an eight-story dormitory--"South Quad"--was going up. It was to be the tallest "skyscraper" in the University area. In the spring of 1950 a record city budget was passed even though under its provisions all departments received less than they asked for.

Prosperity was a mixed blessing. As the city grew in size, it also grew more diverse. Diversity brought differences of opinion on the policies the city ought to adopt to insure the best possible life for its residents. Fast disappearing was the tradition of long, unbroken terms for city councilmen and members of the school board.

The most serious dispute at this time occurred between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor over the location of the proposed new courthouse. The bond issue to finance and build it in Ann Arbor was defeated through the determined efforts of an Ypsilanti group which, understandably enough, wanted the courthouse located nearer their city. As a result construction was delayed until 1954 when the building was finally placed at Huron and Main streets in Ann Arbor.

Before television began keeping people in their living rooms, a few old-fashioned pleasures flourished a bit longer. Big time "fast-pitch" softball hit town and Veterans Park often saw crowds of 5,000 for twilight and weekend games. In 1950 Ann Arbor entrant Gerald Long placed sixth nationally in the Soap Box Derby, the best ever for the city. The Farmers' Market, long since moved from its original location when the old courthouse curb could no longer contain all the farmers and their wares, flourished and reminded everyone of the city's original intimate association with the land. And circuses still came to town, and local boys still helped to set them up.

At mid-century the University, long a nationally known institution, had increased its training facilities in engineering and the hard sciences. Its personnel brought attention to bear on national issues. During the Senator Joseph McCarthy investigation, History Professor Preston Slosson confronted Herbert J. Philipps, a communist who had been dismissed from his position as professor of philosophy at the University of Washington. They debated the merits of capitalism versus communism in a South State Street cafeteria. Two thousand people showed up for the 200 available seats.

More important, for the first time in its 130-year history Ann Arbor began to acquire a significant industrial base by the late 1950's. Much of the development was related to the great expansion of engineering and technological activities of the University, begun during the war and continued in the Cold War era. Research-oriented industry began to move into the city. In 1958 Parke Davis built a huge laboratory on the north edge of town and was soon followed by the Bendix Corporation, Conductron, Federal-Mogul, and Climax Molybdenum, among others. A research park on the south side of the city was inaugurated in 1963. In a catch phrase coined by the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, the city was well on its way to becoming the "Research Center of the Midwest."

The decade of the 1950's saw the development of a vigorous two-party political system in Ann Arbor. Since the war the electorate had usually voted in excess of sixty per cent Republican. In 1953 the Republicans took all fifteen of the city's precincts. Two years later the Democrats took five of the fifteen and captured forty-six per cent of the total vote. Then in 1957 for the first time in twenty-six years, the Democrats took the mayoralty and cut the Republican council majority from 8-3 to 6-5. The 1959 city election saw the Republican recapture the mayor's post and regain their 8-3 council superiority. This seesaw pattern continued with the Democrats slowly acquiring a higher and higher percentage of the vote. In 1969 they captured the mayor's position and a council majority and in 1971 re-elected the mayor. The advent of student voting and the establishment in 1970 of a radical third party, the Human Rights Party, modified this pattern and left the city with a plurality government.

The '50's were most notable, however, for stilling the summer threnody sustained in newspaper reports of successive victims of infantile paralysis. On Monday, April 12, 1955, at 10:20 a.m., everything in Ann Arbor came to a standstill. Sixth graders at Angell Elementary School, knowing only that something big was happening, sat in uncomprehending silence as a medical report was piped over the PA into their room. Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, had directed the field testing Dr. Jonas Salk program for the Salk polio vaccine. As the world listened, he gave an immensely detailed account of its results. His message was clear: the vaccine was eighty to ninety per cent effective in preventing the disease. The news made headlines and pictures on front pages all over the world.

The basic research had been carried out by Dr. Jonas Salk at Pittsburgh. Salk had been a student of Francis at The University of Michigan several years before. The National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis had supported the work for several years beginning in the late 1940's. All their efforts culminated in the year-long field testing program. Between April 26 and June 15, 1952, over 1,080,000 children received shots, one-third of them injected with a placebo. Throughout the summer records were kept on the characteristics of those stricken and the results tabulated and made public for the first time only as Dr. Francis spoke.

Prior to that year polio had struck up to 40,000 people each year, most of them children. Within the next seven years the disease was all but eradicated. In 1954 there were 24.8 cases per 100,000 population. By 1961 the incidence was down to 0.7 cases per 100,000.

From Protest to Outer Space

The 1960's in Ann Arbor opened on a bizarre note. In September 1959 Chhen Guan Lim, a University engineering student from Singapore, was discovered hiding in the loft of the Methodist Church at the corner of State and Huron streets. The live-in caretakers, disturbed by footsteps in the night and plagued by church groups' complaints of stolen food, had asked police aid. Once captured, Lim left a national audience dumb-founded by his tale. Humiliated by failing grades in November 1955, he destroyed all his personal identification papers and retreated to an uninsulated crawl-space beneath the church roof. For the next forty-six months, he had left his refuge only at night to forage for food.

As Lim emerged, the 1960's, characterized by extremes of experience, burst upon the city. Years of conscientious civic effort were rewarded when in 1967 Ann Arbor was named an All-American City for the quality of its life and the efforts of its inhabitants to improve that quality. Very nearly at the same time, the city was engulfed by macabre national publicity surrounding the hunt and trial of murderer John Norman Collins.

Long years of behind-the-scenes research and development were rewarded as Ann Arbor people and companies received praise and publicity for their contributions to America's space program. Several of the astronauts received training at The University of Michigan. Included were Gemini astronauts James McDivitt and Edward White for whom the corner of East and South University streets was named. White was later killed in a training accident. Apollo 15 astronauts James B. Irwin, David R. Scott, and Alfred M. Worden left a University of Michigan Alumni Chapter of the Moon charter on the moon. During the summer and fall of 1973, Ann Arbor High and University of Michigan graduate Jack Lousma spent nearly two months aboard the U. S. space laboratory "Skylab," and set a space-walking record.

Fulfilling Charles Ziegler's prediction, Ann Arbor was now completely "belted" by freeways, east, northwest, and south, and increasingly associated with the southeastern Michigan megalopolis. At the same time internal city life became more fractured. Presenting city government with an unusual threat to its authority, neighborhoods organized as pressure groups to protect their interests against what they saw as an indifferent municipal bureaucracy.

Parallel to national trends, the African-American community of Ann Arbor began to raise a concerted voice for a greater share of the opportunities of life in the city. In an unusual move, the African-American Economic Development League received "reparations" from all the city's churches. The funds have been used in a variety of ways to benefit local African-American citizens. One of the most recent innovations has been the awarding of scholarships to African-American youngsters to attend Washtenaw Community College. Other prominent African-American residents have committed a great amount of time and energy to the city's housing commission, charged with insuring the less affluent citizens of Ann Arbor suitable living quarters.

Too often in the '60's what began as deep, rational commitment was overtaken by mass frivolity. On March 24, 1965, as public frustration over the Vietnam War increased, the nation's first "teach-in" was organized at The University of Michigan. Utilizing films, discussion groups, and speakers, many sessions lasted all night in an effort to develop a coherent anti-war position. Later mass rallies and their support of "trashing" or the digging of "bomb craters" to rock music were sad declensions from the original. Serious attempts at creating "alternate life styles" were deflected by the publicity given hair length and increasingly bizarre tastes in clothing. Organized religions experienced sincere pietistic movements, such as the Word of God community in Ann Arbor. Many other seekers found solace in complete submersion into exotic Eastern religions.

There was a pervasive sense in the 1960's of constant remodeling and fabrication. The football team began wearing rubber cleats to play on plastic grass in old 1960 football team Michigan Stadium, and the trackmen ran on rubberized asphalt at Ferry Field. The railroad station, no longer really functional, was turned into a seafood restaurant where a discarded and refurbished baggage wagon served as a stationary salad bar. Good humored guests soon adopted the tradition of applauding the occasional train that came through or, more rarely, stopped. Ann Arbor compensated for the permanent loss of its rural heritage by recreating natural beauty within sculptured recreation areas. The city began to purchase properties along the Huron River in 1965. By 1973 park land, created by new dams and joined by bike paths, stretched almost unbroken along the river from the old canoe livery on the north to the new Huron Parkway Bridge on the east.

Progress and Preservation

Despite the uproar of the 1960's, underneath it all was a steady serious beat. Ann Arbor was a nationally important center of learning and opinion. Adlai Stevenson spoke from the steps of the Michigan Union in 1952. In 1960 two presidential candidates, both of whom eventually became presidents, visited Ann Arbor. SenatorJFK, Peace Corps speech John F. Kennedy, hoping to harness the latent idealism he sensed in his youthful supporters, announced at the Michigan Union at 2:00 a.m., October 14, that if elected he would create a "Peace Corps" and send volunteer workers around the globe. A week later, Richard Nixon stopped his campaign train at the Michigan Central Depot and a crowd of 15,000 gave him a warm welcome. Four years later, on a hot May graduation day, President Lyndon Johnson spoke to a crowd of 80,000 LBJ, 1964 commencement speech in the Michigan Stadium. In perhaps the most important policy speech he ever made, the President unveiled to the graduates and a world-wide audience his plan for the "Great Society." He expressed his hope that a growing impulse for social change and greater equality of opportunity for all might fulfill the age-old promise of America.

All in all, the city responded well to the increased tensions of the '60's. Between 1940 and 1950, Ann Arbor's population increased from 30,000 to 48,000 without too much strain. Between 1950 and 1960 another 19,000 people were added to the city. Stress became evident through the 1960's as the population grew toward the 100,000 mark. By 1965 the University was enrolling 30,000 students. In 1970 the city had two high schools, each enrolling more than 2,000 students and participating in an intense sports rivalry.

Building furiously, Ann Arbor had acquired its first shopping center by 1965 and 9,000 apartment units at the same time. The spring of that year, high-rise construction totalled $21 million and forever changed the city's skyline. Although Ann Arbor was still a town of trees--and enormously proud of the flowering crabs on Awixa--a number of eighteen- to twenty-story buildings poked through the foliage. University Towers, Riverside Park Apartments, and the University's Physics and Astronomy Building joined venerable Burton Memorial Tower. Traffic became an even greater problem and the parking structure a common sight. With the return of Rose Bowl football teams at the turn of the decade, fall Saturdays became even more hectic. A massive regional shopping center, Briarwood, was under construction on the south-west side when this book went into press.

As the city neared its 150th anniversary, it turned its attention to its historic landscape and moved to preserve some of its visual heritage. The Ann Arbor program of preservation is commendable for its twin emphasis on those few aesthetically superior homes of the wealthy as well as the more numerous and modest homes of the working middle classes. In 1971 the Ann Arbor Historical Commission proposed and saw adopted a municipal preservation ordinance. Two years later the ordinance was used for the first time to create a historic neighborhood at Division and Ann streets encompassing four lovely old homes and Ann Arbor's oldest standing church. Previously the commission had purchased and restored the Bennett-Kempf House, a few hundred yards to the south, and made it a living museum of early city history.

The Old West Side Association, encouraged by a local architectural firm specializing in historical restoration, convinced the National Register of Historic Places for the first time that an area, rather than a single structure, could also qualify as a historic trust. The Old West Side is composed of modest late nineteenth and early twentieth century homes in which primarily German working class residents of Ann Arbor lived. The Old West Side has had the beneficial side effect of spawning a host of small shops and businesses in adjacent areas. Around the nearby Farmers' Market are the beginnings of an "Old Town," in conception and direction much like similar areas in Chicago, Cincinnati, and other major cities.

The landmarks of the 1820's and '30's in Ann Arbor are gone, without trace or photograph. Elisha Rumsey's "good framed house," the first such in the village, has long since disappeared from the corner of Huron and First streets. The county courthouse--surrounded by traffic--stands where John Allen once grew vegetables. Yet, the city's long-standing commitment to open parkland and the protection of its trees, coupled with the recent interest in historical restoration will, as the stately homes pictured in the last of these pages demonstrate, allow Ann Arbor to age gracefully.


If there is a theme in Ann Arbor's history, a persistent preoccupation of its citizens, perhaps it is a shared concern for the character of the town. The settlers and subsequent inhabitants of Ann Arbor are not unique in this cast of mind. The Pilgrims and Puritans were determined to construct the perfect society based on their understanding of Biblical precedent. Dissatisfied participants were encouraged to leave established villages, move a reasonable distance away, and organize their own settlements. Long after the religious content of such separations had evaporated, the tradition of moving on to more congenial surroundings remained.

John Allen was a participant and contributor to this restless tendency. His motives in platting "Annarbour" were personal and mercenary. Yet linking his wife's name with a synonym for a cultivated garden by its very sentimentality suggests Allen thought of a town as a safe haven, as did many others. Lucy Morgan's boosterism is produced without ulterior motive; her "modest" fortune took shape some twenty-nine years after she penned her initial favorable description of the village. One remembers also the Silver Greys demonstrating, symbolically, their desire for a safe, secure place to live.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the next, management of society became the specific concern of people history has labelled "reformers." To Ann Arbor's reform mayor Samuel Beakes, the security of the town's citizens was best assured under a city government run by specialists accountable to the public. Ann Arbor's pre-WWI "moral reformers" were part of a nation-wide movement to refurbish America. The rhetoric accompanying their activities suggests a seventeenth-century heritage as well as a continuing American tradition. The campaign against the fly is to insure "the ideal human environment" in a "City with a Conscience."

The commission completed by the Olmsted Brothers after WWI to draw up a master plan for the city is part and parcel of this "conscience." Despite its overemphasis on exclusive residential districts, the report did stress a long-acknowledged relationship between trees, grass, and quiet and contented human beings. Moreover, the report, simply by its very existence, provided assurance that the integrity of the town was being rationally defended. The town's extraordinary response to the early years of the Great Depression indicates that a sense of community responsibility was still strong.

All this is not to deny actual and potential conflict within Ann Arbor. Scarcely disguised ethnic animosities were all too prevalent during the First World War. Moreover, since 1940 it has been less common to speak of the community of Ann Arbor than it has to refer to the communities which make up Ann Arbor. Today, we have the African-American community and the University community as well as any number of neighborhood communities.

There are signs, however, that Ann Arbor's communities, which insisted during the sixties that they be recognized as autonomous cultures, have rediscovered an old pleasure. Immense good will was both the initiator and product of the city's first annual ethnic fair which celebrated the virtues of diversity. The public schools have moved quietly and effectively to create an atmosphere of intercultural affection with their increased emphasis on the fact that diversity is normal and indeed necessary for a healthy society. Thought permanently lost a decade ago, the traditional American sense of community seems to be reasserting itself in Ann Arbor.