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Michigan Automobile Company

Blood Brothers and the Rise of the Horseless Carriage

While the topic of early Kalamazoo-area automobile manufacturing (1900-1920) could include several notable businesses (Barley Motor Company, Handley-Knight, Dort, Burtt Manufacturing Co. e.g.), the Michigan Automobile Company was the first to emerge in 1902. Despite the company’s relatively short existence and limited success, it remains an important part of Kalamazoo’s manufacturing history.


Maurice and Clarence Blood seated in an early automobile that they designed and built, c.1902. KPL catalog number P-1230

In the late 1800’s, prior to the ascent of the automobile, bicycles remained a very popular form of transportation. The Kalamazoo Bicycle Company was run by the Blood brothers, Maurice and Clarence. They had formed the company in 1891, and were considered skilled mechanics with a flare for designing and fixing bikes. They had developed the “Fortune” bicycle line and various cycling accessories at their 210 North Rose Street headquarters. Despite the ubiquity of horse-drawn buggies in 1900, the Blood brothers knew the budding automobile industry was where the future resided, even despite the dominance of the local carriage and buggy industry. Along with Frank and Charles Fuller, the optimistic Blood’s, who by 1902 had already developed several operative prototypes (“The Blood”), organized the Michigan Automobile Company and set out to design a lightweight, reasonably priced product dubbed “The Michigan”. The Michigan debuted at $450, one of the nation’s least expensive models, one intended to counter the popularity of pedal-driven pleasure cars. A two-seat version was later designed to accommodate adventurous couples brave enough to traverse the less than smooth roads. The Fuller’s were in charge of the financial operations of the company while the Blood’s were tasked with innovation and design. Well-known citizens Dr. W.E. Upjohn and Dallas Boudeman were members of the company’s board of directors. “The company was incorporated with $50,000 of preferred stock and $100,000 of common stock.” (Lyon, p.25) The new company immediately moved into the former factory building of Montgomery Ward on the northeast corner of Prouty and North Pitcher Streets.

“The Michigan, which looked more like a golf cart than a car, showed its bicycle heritage. It was powered by an air-cooled, single-cylinder engine, had a wheelbase of only 48 inches, seated two passengers, and weighed approximately 400 pounds.” (Massie, p.143)

While the diminutive Michigan model failed to find much of a state or national market, the little car’s transmission parts were considered to be of the highest quality. Only a year later, the Blood brothers left the company to form their own (Blood Bros. Automobile and Machine Company), leaving the Fuller’s in charge of the Michigan Automobile Company. From 1904 until the flagging company officially dissolved around 1908, the company experienced dwindling sales and employee layoffs. Out of the ashes of the original company plan, Fuller & Sons would emerge around 1912, focusing on the sales of clutches and transmissions.


Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, May 2022

Sources
Articles

“Auto Industry Here Made Its Start in 1902”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 October, 1925

“Chug! Wheeze! Cough! Sputter!”, Larry Massie, Encore Magazine, April 1986, p.18

Books

The Kalamazoo Automobilist, David O. Lyon (H 629.2 L991)

Kalamazoo: The Place Behind the Products, Larry B. Massie and Peter J. Schmitt (H 977.418 M417)

Local History Room Files

Subject File: Automobile Industry

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