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The Influence of the Automotive Industry on the Ethnic Picture of Detroit, Michigan, 1900-1940

Keijo Virtanen

University of Turku

The rapid growth of industry and the service trades, in particular, as employers of manpower at the expense of agriculture has brought about in the present century a vigorous urbanization process in different parts of the world. In this article, I shall deal with a single branch of industry - automobile manufacturing - and its influence on urbanization, mainly from the standpoint of population growth. The target of my investigation is that world center of the automotive industry, Detroit, Michigan, where during the past 70 years automotive manufacturing has had a decisive influence on population growth and raising the level of general prosperity, in addition to which it has been responsible for the creation of various social problems. I shall concentrate on population growth mainly from the point of view of the labor force, and in so doing I shall focus attention primarily on various groups of immigrants. The automobile industry specifically needed uneducated, unskilled workers, who could be recruited easily from the ranks of immigrants arriving from abroad. I shall confine the treatment of my subject to the period starting with the emergence of the automobile industry at the turn of the century and ending with the outbreak of World War II.

It is easy to obtain the numerical size of the different immigrant groups in Detroit at different times from United States census data; and in comparing the figures with the statistics indicating the development of the automobile industry, one can determine how the growing need of Detroit for manpower involved these immigrant groups in particular. Population statistics do not, on the other hand, show directly where the immigrants arriving in the city came from - whether they had come straight to Detroit from the Old Country or whether they were "old-timers", who had moved from other parts of North America to seek jobs in the burgeoning automobile industry. And if these immigrant workers had arrived in town from elsewhere in North America, from where, then? It is my intention to try to answer this particular question as it relates to one ethnic group - consisting of immigrants from Finland - although no altogether sure conclusions can be drawn as regards the Finns, either. One would have to know the previous place of residence and place of employment of each individual belonging to a very large group of immigrants that had moved to Detroit for this, and obtaining all the information required is a practical impossibility. By dealing with a single ethnic group, it is possible, however, to reach conclusions of an indicative nature on the strength of the available source material. Even so, the article is in general aimed at creating a broader picture, one encompassing the various ethnic groups.

It was in 1896 that the first automobile made its appearance in Detroit, and three years later R. E. Olds established the first automobile factory in the city.1 During the next couple of decades, the local automobile industry expanded with such vigor as to justify speaking of Detroit as a city based on a single branch of industry. Whereas in 1900 only 4,192 automobiles were sold in the United States, the number had risen as high as 181,000 ten years later and by 1920 to no less than 1,905,560. The pre-World War II peak in automobile sales was reached on the very threshold of the Great Depression in 1929, when 4,455,178 automobiles were sold.2 Although these figures apply to the United States as a whole, they can at the same time be held as a barometer of Detroit's economic situation and development. The automobile meant so much to Detroit that in 1940, for instance, nearly half (47.2 %) of the city's labor force gained its livelihood from manufacturing which with respect to Detroit was equivalent to the automotive industry and closely allied branches of production. In no other major American city was the corresponding share comparably large; the average figure was 29.2 %. During the initial stage of the automobile industry (specifically, in 1904), Detroit had less than 50,000 workers on factory payrolls; but in 1919 the number was up to nearly 170,000.3 These figures show clearly how a single branch of industry could conquer the economic life of a city. It may be asked why the automobile industry happened to concentrate its production expressly on Detroit. According to Melvin G. Holli, the majority of experts in the field would at the turn of the century have predicted its becoming concentrated in some more industrialized city. Holli points out, however, that the first enterprising pioneers in the automobile industry happened to operate in Detroit, and this circumstance laid the basis for the future development of the industry.4

Figure 1.
Figure 1. Population Growth in Detroit and Urban United States, 1900-1940 (Source: United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics; see Detroit 1976, p. 284)

After automobile production reached the proportions of a major industry in the second decade of the century, Detroit became a symbol of full employment and good wages,5 and the city drew unskilled labor in large numbers from different parts of the United States. The same trend continued throughout the 1920s until the start of the Great Depression. The Finn Frank Sainio gives a lively description in his memoirs of the good job opportunities in Detroit in those days. Employers tended to respond favorably to workers' demands for higher pay if they thought the workers deserved a raise, and overtime stints were offered in abundance.6

It was only natural that the population of Detroit should begin to grow fast with the opening of ever new jobs. In 1900 the city had less than 300,000 inhabitants, in 1910 nearly half a million, by 1920 nearly a million and in 1930 over a million and a half. In twenty years (1900-1920), it rose among American cities from thirteenth to fourth place in population.7 Its population growth was relatively a good deal more rapid than the average rate among American cities, as shown in Figure 1.

All the foregoing facts show clearly that the automotive industry after the turn of the century made Detroit one of the world's leading industrial cities. The second and third decades of the century, in particular, represented a period of unprecedented growth. The first decade of the century can be regarded as a kind of starting phase, while in the 1930s the Depression laid its mark on Detroit and its automotive industry, which was exceedingly sensitive to fluctuations in economic conditions.

What the automotive industry needed in particular was cheap labor, which could be easily recruited from the ranks of ethnic minorities. Immigrants streamed into Detroit in such large numbers that in the mid -1920s roughly half the total population of more than a million, was foreign-born.8 Table 2 lists the numbers of immigrants belonging to different ethnic groups in 1910 and 1930 to point up the increase in the foreign-born population of Detroit that had taken place in two decades. It should be remembered that World War I changed the territorial arrangement of European states considerably. In the table, the nationalities are registered as reported by the immigrants themselves. Accordingly, also in the column under the year 1910, the Poles, Finns, etc., appear in their own separate groups (see also Note 9).

Table 2. The Foreign Born Population of Some Selected European Ethnic Groups in Detroit in 1910 and 19309
 

ethnic group

1910

1930

Austria

3,984

5,898

Belgium

2,237

8,969

Denmark

411

1,930

England

9,202

28,636

Finland

59

2,811

France

637

2,333

Germany

30,908

32,716

Greece

584

6,385

Hungary

935

11,162

Italy

5,724

28,581

Netherlands

584

2,092

Norway

225

1,596

Poland

35,745

66,113

Rumania

313

7,576

Scotland

3,320

23,546

Sweden

601

4,318

Switzerland

595

1,048

The absolute number of persons in various ethnic groups thus in many cases increased several times over during the period of the automotive industry's massive growth. For example: as late as 1910, there were very few immigrants born in the Nordic countries living in Detroit (slightly over 1,000, all told), whereas twenty years later their number had increased nearly tenfold, although immigration from Europe to the United States during this period had been stemmed substantially by World War I and the national quota system effected in the 1920s. The same observations apply also to other immigrant groups and indicate indirectly the fact, too, that the foreign arrivals in Detroit had resided previously somewhere else in the United States. This problem will be dealt with more specifically a bit further on.

The table shows that the Poles farmed the largest ethnic group by far to have arrived in the United States from Europe and sooner or later to have been drawn to Detroit by the automotive industry. Several other nationalities, to be sure, were prominently represented,10 and it can be noted that all the parts of Europe were included in the picture. There were also groups, however, that in spite of the growth of the automotive industry increased in number scarcely at all. Mention might be made in particular of the Germans, who at the turn of the century were numerically without a question the most prominent ethnic element in the immigrant population of Detroit. As other foreign-born elements started to stream into the city, the proportion of Germans gradually decreased, notwithstanding the fact that their actual number also increased slightly from 1910 to 1930 - but relatively distinctly less so than that of the other groups. It would therefore seem - in the group level - that the automotive industry drew the labor it needed to a substantial extent from outside the local area rather than from the immigrant communities already established there. The "old" Detroiters - like the Germans - had already settled down and became employed on a firm basis so as to have no need to shift over to the new big industry, which then proceeded to hire immigrant labor that had been working in other parts of the country.

The automotive industry naturally attracted foreign-born job-hunters of other than European origin, too. Newcomers moved to Detroit in large numbers from Canada. In 1910 there had lived in the city some 4,000 French Canadians, but two decades later there were over 12,000 of them. The corresponding figures for other Canadians were about 38,000 and about 82,000.11

The second decade of this century with the good wages paid by the automotive industry also witnessed a strong flow of the black population to Detroit from the southern states.12 The flow gained force in 1915 and continued strong thereafter, and during the next ten-year period no other American city experienced as large a migratory influx of blacks as Detroit.13 In 1910 the city had only 5,741 blacks, but by 1920 over 40,000, in 1930 about 120,000 and at the outbreak of World War II about 150,000.14

The influx of blacks into the big cities of the North produced problems of many kinds, especially of a social nature. Wretched housing conditions bred diseases, and so on. In Detroit, this situation forced blacks to gravitate from the slums on the east side to the residential areas controlled by whites.15 This in turn created new problems. In the big cities of the North, blacks from the South ran into difficulties of adjustment if only because, coming mainly from rural communities, they were unaccustomed to the conditions prevailing in industrial society.

In 1916 the Detroit Urban League was founded to champion the Negro cause.16 In the early 1920s, however, came the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in opposition in Detroit and other big cities. This organization did not aim its operations against the blacks alone; it also opposed the Roman Catholic religion, the Jews and immigrants in general, especially those who came to the United States from other than the "traditional" western and northern countries of Europe. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was not very violent in character, according to Kenneth T. Jackson, for on the whole it aspired to carry out its program of "100 per cent Americanism" by peaceful means. In its socio-economic structure, the organization largely represented the lower middle class, made up of so-called blue-collar workers from large business establishments and factories. The so-called white-collar class, which was on a higher educational level, was distinctly a minority element in its ranks.17 In Detroit, the Ku Klux Klan attracted a sizable following, apparently in a large measure owing to the fact that the city's population started to grow rapidly after 1910 and at the same time undergo structural changes because of the mass influx of immigrants and blacks. During the period between 1915 and 1944, the organization had a membership roughly estimated at 35,000, a number that was exceeded only in Chicago, with 50,000, and Indianapolis, with 38,000.18

The enormous population growth that took place in a short time parallel with industrial growth was, of course, bound to stir up problems, which were augmented and aggravated by a radical organization of the Ku Klux Klan type. There is no cause in the present connection to go deeper into these things. What is most important is to notice from what sort of material Detroit drew the labor force for its automotive industry. Since the manpower consisted largely of immigrants from Europe (in addition to blacks and Canadians), the question arises: where did these immigrants move to Detroit from? Did they come straight from Europe or had they been employed before elsewhere in North America? In the foregoing, it has already been indicated that the immigrant workers had arrived in Detroit, lured by new job opportunities, from for the most part other sections of America. The period of World War I and the decade of the 1920s saw the tide of immigration wane, but the foreign-born population of Detroit nevertheless underwent its most vigorous increase precisely at this time. I shall try to clarify the problem more thoroughly in the following with respect to one of the ethnic groups for the reasons explained at the beginning of this article. First, however I want to provide some background by going into the matter of the Finnish immigrant community in Detroit and its general evolution. In examining the problem, however, I intend to include some other ethnic groups in the analysis to the extent feasible.

The first mention of a Finnish resident of Detroit goes back to the year 1852, after which some more Finns took up residence in the city during the latter half of the century;19 but on the whole there could be no grounds for speaking of a local Finnish colony prior to the time when the automotive industry began to attract immigrant labor to its payrolls. Detroit remained throughout the 19th century a place where the only Finns were a few artisans.20 The state of Michigan in itself was in the region most favored by Finnish immigrants in the United States, but up to the turn of the century it was almost solely in the mining country of the Upper Peninsula that the Finns pitched camp. Table 3 shows the numerical trends of the Finnish-born population at ten-year periods after 1900 in the United States as a whole, the state of Michigan and, finally, Wayne County, Michigan, to which Detroit and its near surroundings belong (see also Map 1).

Table 3. The Number of First-Generation Finns in the United States, the State of Michigan and Wayne County, Michigan, in 1900-194021
 

area

1900

1910

1920

1930

1940

United States

62,641

129,680

149,824

142,478

117,210

Michigan

18,910

31,144

30,096

27,022

21,151

Wayne County

4

71

2,000

3,218

2,275

The figures in the table clearly support the earlier observation that Detroit - or, taken more broadly, Wayne County - began to act as a magnet on immigrant groups in the second decade of the century. Up to 1910, the number of Finns resident in the area was extremely small; but during the next couple of decades it rose so much as to justify fully speaking of the development of a Finnish colony there. It is noteworthy that the Finnish-born population of Michigan began to . show sign's of diminishing to some extent even before 1920 and quite markedly during the following decade. Likewise in the United States considered as a whole, the number of first-generation Finns began to decrease in the 1920s with the steep drop in the immigration figures. Table 3 forcefully reflects the power of attraction of the burgeoning automotive industry. It was not until the 1930s that the Finnish population of Detroit, too, began to decline. The reason was the protracted slump in the automotive industry caused by the Depression, for car sales have always been highly sensitive to fluctuations in the economic situation. A contributing factor, of course, was the checking of the flow of immigrant labor directly from Europe at a considerably earlier stage.

The worldwide Depression was in the final analysis, however, the factor that struck the vital nerve of the city of Detroit, the automotive industry. Frank Sainio, whose memoirs have been cited in the foregoing, gives a knowledgeable description of the difficulties the automotive industry had to cope with during the Depression, and at the same time he sheds light on the concurrent problems of unemployment. Sainio himself decided to solve his personal problems by returning to the Old Country in 1930.22 The slump in the automotive industry lasted a long time, and Sainio received letters touching on the matter from friends in Detroit at a fairly late date. The two passages quoted in the following date from 1933:

"Asiat täällä Detroitissa ovat olleet jo parikuuta hyvin uhkaavassa pisteessä... Fordin tehtaat sulk ovensa ja yleinen autoteollisuus halvaantui."23 (Things here in Detroit have been in a very threatening way for the past couple of months… Ford's factories shut their doors and the auto industry as a whole became paralyzed).
"…paljon on täältä lähteny pois suomalaisia, mitkä Venäjälle ja toiset Suomeen..."24 (…a lot of Finns have gone away from here, some heading for Russia and others back to Finland...).

Generally taken, the employment opportunities determined whether immigrant workers stayed put in Detroit or left the city.

On the other hand, by the 1930s the immigrant population was so large that various social and community activities had been started among their groups. This was true of the Finnish colony, too. This naturally contributed to making the immigrants feel more at home in the city and at the same time encouraging them and their offspring to sink roots in the local soil. An acquaintance with the history of the Finnish organizations in Detroit produces a picture of the late emergence of community life among the Finns. The first Finnish workers' association, to be sure, was founded as early as 1906, but its membership was in the beginning quite small (in 1909, for instance, only 30). During the next decade, the number increased substantially; but on account of differences of opinion over the course to follow, the local Finnish working-class movement began to languish by the mid-1920s.25 The first Finnish church congregations were formed during the first great decade of the automotive industry, the 1910s. The congregations belonging to Suomi-Synod were established in 1914, 1937 and 1953; the Apostolic Lutheran congregations in 1917 and 1928; the congregation of Kansalliskirkko (the National Church) in 1921; and the Lähetysseurakunta (the Congregational Church) in 1940. Similarly, the rest of the Finnish organized activity started at a very late date; among the earliest were the local chapters, or lodges, of the societies known as Kalevan Ritarit (Knights of Kaleva) and Kalevan Naiset (Ladies of Kaleva), which were formed in 1917.26 As the immigrant population grew, a Finnish-language newspaper also began to appear in Detroit in 1926; but, called Detroitin Uutiset (Detroit News), it gave up the ghost the same year. Short-lived were also the rest of the Finnish journalistic ventures in Detroit, a few of which cropped up at intervals up to 1940. A Finnish vice-consulate was set up in the city in 1924.27 In spite of its late start, social activity among the Finns living in Detroit developed fairly vigorously. The inception of this activity was unmistakably bound up with the progress of the automotive industry.

In the light of the extensive questionnaire survey conducted at the end of the last decade by the Institute of General History of the University of Turku,28 the research problem relating to the places where the Finns of Detroit had come from can be dealt with, although the numbers of respondents are small. Among the respondents were thirty-five immigrants who had departed from Finland at the latest in 1915 and who at some stage of life had moved to Detroit. Of these, a clear majority (24 individuals) got jobs in automobile factories after their arrival in the city. The proportion would be even higher, relatively speaking, if only the male respondents were counted. The immigrants departing from Finland after 1916, on the other hand, found employment to a greater extent in other fields, for of the 25 respondents only seven worked in the automotive industry. Of the 35 immigrants in the first-mentioned group, which left Finland before 1916, the majority (31) moved to Detroit precisely during the period of the great flourishing of the automotive industry, or in 1910-1929, after first residing somewhere else in the United States. The migrants were evenly divided numerically over the, different years of the decades of the 1910s and 1920s. On the other hand, among the respondents there was none who had moved to Detroit before the year 1910 or during the decade of the 1930s. The remaining four respondents migrated to Detroit during World War II, at a time when the Depression was already a thing of the past and the automotive industry was again thriving.29

The fact that the Finnish-Americans who had moved to Detroit had first been employed elsewhere in the United States is made quite clear by the same collection of filled-out questionnaires. Of the 35 immigrants, not one had traveled straight to Detroit from Finland. It was only after the automotive industry had become firmly established and had gathered around it other forms of economic activity that Detroit began to attract job hunters from Finland, too, directly. For, according to the questionnaires, nearly half, or eleven, of the Finns who had arrived in the United States after 1916 and resided in Detroit had made the journey from Finland straight to that city, while the remaining 14 had first lived in some other locality in the United States.

The sampling is small, but to support it one might examine the problem from a broader point of view as well, one including other ethnic groups besides the Finns. The material consists of census figures for the city of Detroit. Table 4 deals with the periods of arrival in North America of foreign-born members of certain ethnic groups resident in Detroit in 1930.

Table 4. Year of Immigration to North America of the Foreign-Born by Certain Ethnic Groups in Detroit, 193030
 

ethnic group

before 1910

1911-1930

unknown

total

Denmark

732 (37.9 %)

1,156 (59.9 %)

42 (2.2 %)

1,930 (100.0 %)

England

8,907 (31.1 %)

19,165 (66.9 %)

564 (2.0 %)

28,636 (100.0 %)

Finland

1,425 (50.6 %)

1,345 (47.9 %)

41 (1.5 %)

2,811 (100.0 %)

Germany

19,794 (60.5 %)

12,263 (37.5 %)

659 (2.0 %)

32,716 (100.0 %)

Italy

9,962 (34.8 %)

18,277 (64.0 %)

342 (1.2 %)

28,581 (100.0 %)

Norway

760 (47.6 %)

762 (47.8 %)

74 (4.6 %)

1,596 (100.0 %)

Poland

32,566 (49.2 %)

32,699 (49.5 %)

848 (1.3 %)

66,113 (100.0 %)

Sweden

2,003 (46.3 %)

2,232 (51,7 %)

83 (2.0 %)

4,318 (100.0 %)

The table does not mi directly reveal whether the immigrants included in the counts had migrated straight to Detroit from their respective homelands or whether they had resided elsewhere in North America before moving to that city. Indirectly, however, it does. For this, it would be exceedingly important to observe the immigration figures for the different groups dating from the time before the great upsurge of the automobile industry, that is, the period before 1910. With regard to the Finns, the observation can be made that whereas in 1910 there were only 59 Finns living in Detroit (see Table 2), 1,425 of the 2,811 Finns resident there in 1930 had migrated from Finland to America before the year 1910. This circumstance indicates that these immigrants had first lived elsewhere in America and then some time between 1911 and 1930 moved to Detroit. The same observation can be clearly made concerning the other Nordic countries when. comparing in a corresponding way the figures contained in Tables 2 and 4. Similarly, examined in this light, the Italians appear to have moved in large numbers from other parts of America to Detroit, for whereas in 1910 the Italian population of the city had been about 5,700 (see Table 2), of the 25,581 Italians living there in 1930 as many as 9,962 had migrated to America before 1910. This observation does not, on the other hand, apply, on the basis of the present material, to the other nationalities listed in Table 4 - the English, the Germans and the Poles. It might be assumed, to be sure, that a substantial proportion of the Poles, for instance, had been first employed elsewhere in the United States and .then been lured by the job prospects held out by the automotive industry to Detroit; but the data at hand do not warrant drawing such a conclusion categorically, as in the case of the Finns and other Scandinavians and the Italians.

The Germans could be classified as "old" Detroiters and even as "old" Americans to boot, as noted in the foregoing. As late as 1930, of the German-born inhabitants of Detroit, nearly half had arrived in the country before the turn of the century. Another peak period, on the other hand, occurred as late as the 1920s, when nearly a third of the 1930 German population of the city migrated to North America.31 The migratory wave from Europe reached its crest at the beginning of the decade in the wake of World War I, before the imposition by the United States of immigration quotas, which took effect mainly in 1924. A sizable proportion of the arrivals in the 1920s undoubtedly migrated to Detroit directly from the countries of their origin, but on the other hand some of them evidently settled first in, for instance, Canada, where during the latter half of the 1920s it was easier to gain entry than directly to the United States. The location of Detroit close to the Canadian border facilitated remigration. Further, the high percentages in Table 4 for the 1911-1930 period are confusing insofar as the element of time, or the age structure, exerted an influence in a diminishing direction: by 1930, many inhabitants of Detroit who had arrived as immigrants perhaps several decades earlier had died, which proportionally correspondingly increases the share of the period close to the year 1930. If the matter is looked at from the standpoint of the automotive industry, the large share of the 1910s and 1920s is also influenced by the fact that the labor force was to a large extent young, which means that by 1930 the manpower at work in the previous decades was already out of the picture. It is therefore not possible to undertake an analysis of whether some given decade might have been a more favorable time of arrival as an immigrant for those residing in Detroit in 1930 than some other decade. Besides, such an analysis would not fit into the purpose of the present article. The principal function of Table 4 is just to show that the settling in Detroit of ethnic groups took place to a marked degree as a migratory movement within the country rather than directly from Europe. In particular, the specific group taken as our example - immigrants from Finland - appears in this respect to be illustrative.

I shall return, finally, separately to the Finnish immigrants to determine from what parts of North America the arrivals in Detroit had moved. No generalizations can, of course, be made on the basis of one ethnic group inasmuch as the settlement of different nationalities in North America has been concentrated in different areas. Certain inferences might in any case be hazarded along broad lines.

As far as the Finns are concerned, it is advisable to proceed from some sort of hypothesis because in practice it is possible only by means of a statistical sampling to find out where the immigrants had moved from. Such a method calls for getting down to the level of the individual immigrant. I shall take as my point of departure the view submitted by Finnish-American researchers that the influx of Finns into Detroit starting in the second decade of the century took place particularly from the so-called "copper country" of Upper Michigan, consisting of Keweenaw and Houghton counties, but also from other parts of the Upper Peninsula. The main reasons for the migratory movement arrived at by the investigators were the unemployment brought about by the weakening of copper markets during World War I and the great labor strike declared in the copper country in 1913.32 The desire to move was apt, it is true, to be stimulated by factors others than those related to the mining industry as well. For example: Holmio tells about certain farmers in northern Michigan who sold their holdings and headed south for Detroit to seek employment in the automotive industry.33 The agreeableness of work connected with automobiles compared with the heavy and dangerous work in mines might have had some bearing on the matter; accidents were comparatively rare in the automotive industry.34 The view of Upper Michigan as the main area from which Finnish workers moved to Detroit probably derives from quite flimsy research material and is based perhaps on only rather random assumptions. In the following, its validity will be examined in the light of two different sets of data - interview material and population statistics.

On the basis of questionnaires filled out by Finnish immigrants,35 it would seem that the foregoing view has, at any rate, support in fact, for of the 49 respondents who had resided in Detroit at some stage, a sizable number had lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before moving there. This can be seen from the following figures:

Michigan

20 

migrants

(of this number, only one had moved
to Detroit from Lower Michigan)

   

Ohio

"

IIlinois

"

Wisconsin

"

New York

"

Ontario, Canada

"

Minnesota

"

South Dakota

migrant

Montana

"

Oregon

"

Washington

"

Maryland
 

1
  

"
 

total

49 

migrants

Michigan was therefore the state that supplied the largest number of immigrant Finnish workers by far to enter Detroit from the outside (40.8 % of the migrants). Judged on this basis, the influx of migrants into Detroit was largely an intrastate phenomenon as far as the Finns were concerned. And the migratory movement was further limited in that the migrants actually had moved from the Upper Peninsula. Owing to the small sampling, it would not be sensible to list the separate localities; suffice it to point out that the most important of them was the town of Hancock, located in the mining territory the Finns still like to call "Copper Island" (Kuparisaari).

After Michigan itself, the most important areas supplying Finnish immigrant labor to Detroit appear in the light of this sampling to be the states located geographically close to Michigan (Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin). In addition, Ontario, on the Canadian side, appears to be important, along with the state of New York, situated at a greater distance away. Judging by this material, the automotive industry of Detroit attracted for the most part those Finns that lived at least relatively near the city. The migration took place either inside the state boundaries of Michigan or from some state located close by with a fairly large concentration of Finnish immigrants. The explanation seems logical and can probably be applied to other ethnic groups as well; but in this connection such an extension is not warranted in the absence of concrete evidence.

On the other hand, with respect to the Finnish immigrants, the foregoing hypothesis about Upper Michigan being the chief area of departure of the arrivals in Detroit can still be checked from another point of view. Table 3 showed the number of Finnish-born migrants to have risen substantially as a result of the lure of the automotive industry in the second and third decades of the century in Wayne County, to which Detroit and its suburbs belong. Correspondingly, United States census figures, show the trend in the number of Finnish residents in the different counties of Upper Michigan (the location of which can be seen in Map 1).

Table 5. The First-Generation Finns in the Counties of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, 1900-194036
 

county

1900

1910

1920

1930

1940

Keweenaw

710

1200

814

663

459

Houghton

7,241

11,536

7,961

5,957

4,483

Ontonagon

251

1,158

1,952

1,7,90

1,452

Baraga

378

955

1,317

1,232

1,060

Gogebic

2,618

3,776

4,024

3,129

2,443

Iron

889

1,831

1,822

1,521

1,213

Marquette

3,871

5,020

4,620

3,612

2,958

Dickinson

372

503

442

553

431

Menominee

135

175

247

196

152

Delta

437

688

779

944

745

Alger

248

1,170

953

941

819

Schoolcraft

299

201

113

129

96

Lute

213

516

557

549

432

Mackinac

155

213

177

157

89

Chippewa
 

286
 

697
 

764
 

675
 

546
 

total

18,103

29,639

26,542

22,048

17,378

Examining the area as a whole first, one will observe the number of immigrants born in Finland to have increased quite substantially during the first decade of the present century but to have begun to diminish as early as the next decade. The Finnish colony diminished most sharply in the 1910s in the counties of Kewesnaw and Houghton, in the copper country, or by nearly a third during the ten-year period. This decrease in numbers supports the foregoing view that a heavy shift of population took place to the seat of automobile manufacturing in Detroit. The downside trend continued there also in the 1920s and 1930s; this can at least in part be attributed to a radical slowing down of immigration from Finland. The Finnish populations of Marquette and Alger counties, in particular, also diminished somewhat as early as the second decade of the century. The same trend prevailed in certain other areas as well, which never had, however, comparable concentrations of Finnish resi dents. On the other hand, in the Finnish areas to the south of "Copper Island" (Ontonagon, Baraga and Gogebic counties), the number of Finnish immigrants increased substantially in the period between 1910 and 1920. The mining industry played an important role there, thanks to deposits of iron ore, but many of the Finns earned their livelihood from agriculture. Equally clear inferences cannot be drawn from the rest of the counties in the Upper Peninsula if only because the number of Finns residing in them was distinctly smaller than in the ones considered in the foregoing.

The table seems, in any case, to reinforce the impression that there was a strong migratory movement from the copper-mining area of Upper Michigan to Detroit, starting in the second decade of the century, and that a similar though less marked trend also prevailed in the iron mining areas. It is conceivable, of course, that a migratory shift of population occurred in other localities, too, but in the light of the present data no realistic conclusions can be drawn. The mining centers (the copper-mining areas in particular) appear to have been on the losing side, whereas in areas where farming was also practiced on more than a modest scale, the Finnish-born population continued to grow even after the automotive industry had become firmly established. It was in the 1920s and after that the numbers of Finns, taken generally, began to decrease throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Finnish colony in Detroit (Wayne County), by contrast, continued to grow quite substantially in the 1920s (see Table 3). The reduction in the ranks of the Finns belonging to the first immigrant generation was due, to be sure, in Upper Michigan as well as elsewhere to natural causes; but, on the other hand, it might be expected that after the automotive industry had gained momentum the recruiting range of immigrant labor would expand as word about employment opportunities spread southward. The dissemination of information certainly was of considerable importance in this respect. Accordingly, in the 1920s, Upper Michigan was apt to have been a broader totality in serving as a labor supply reserve for Detroit than in the preceding decade.

It would not be easy to present a sure picture of the places in North America where the various groups of immigrants arriving in Detroit came from as the automotive industry grew. But as regards one of the groups, this could, in any case, be done, at least to some extent. In analyzing other ethnic groups in the foregoing, however, one could see that a prominent part of the immigrant labor force arriving in Detroit consisted of "old-timers", who had previously held jobs elsewhere in North America. When the additional observation is made that migratory movements took place on an extensive scale from Canada and from black communities in southern states, it can be stated that at an early stage the automotive industry drew its labor force to a large extent through migratory movements within the country. And it is a striking fact that it was immigrant manpower that made Detroit's "wheels turn" and at the same time caused the size, character and importance of the city to undergo a conspicuous change.

Map 1.
Map 1. Michigan by Counties.

1. Know Your Michigan. Published by the Michigan Department of State s.l., s.a, p. 4. t.,

2. Detroit. (Documentary History of American Cities.) Edited by Melvin G. Holli. New York, N.Y. 1976, p. xv, 119, 281.

3. The United States Census of Manufactures (see: Detroit 1976, p. 275, 279).

4. Detroit 1976, p xiv (Foreword by Melvin G. Holli).

5. John M. T. Chavis and William McNitt, A Brief History of the Detroit Urban League and Description of the League's Papers in the Michigan Historical Collections. Ann Arbor Mich. 1971, p. 5.

6. Memoirs of Frank Sainio. Manuscript at the Institute of History (General History), University of Turku (in Finnish), especially pp. 363-365.

7. The United States Bureau of the Census (see: Detroit 1976, p. 269).

8. Detroit 1976, p. 121.

9. The figures are based on the United States Census materials. The author has obtained them from the Michigan Historical Collections, the University of Michigan. Persons reported in 1910 as speaking Polish as their mother tongue but having been born in Austria, Germany, or Russia have been deducted from the respective nationalities and combined with the Polish-born.

10. see also: Detroit 1976, p. 121.

11. Same source as in footnote 9.

12. Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Detroit Urban League Papers. Published by the Michigan Historical Collections. Ann Arbor, Mich. s.a., p. 2.

13. Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City 1915-1930. New York, N.Y. 1967, p. 128.

14. The United States Bureau of the Census (see: Detroit 1976, p. 271).

15. Jackson 1967 p. 128. to the Microfilm Edition

16. Chavis and McNitt 1971, pp. 8-9; Guide . s.a., p. 1.

17. Jackson 1967, pp. 20-23, 127-129, 240-244.

18. Ibid. p. 239.

19. S. Ilmonen, Amerikan suomalaisten historia III. Yhdysvalloissa ja Canadassa olevat suomalaiset asutukset. Hancock, Mich. 1926, pp. 150-151.

20. Armas K. E. Holmio, Michiganin suomalaisten historia. Hancock, Mich. 1967, p. 259.

21. The United States Census of Population 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940.

22. Memoirs of Frank Sainio, pp. 383-386, 397-402.

23. Letter of Alex Isotalo to Frank Sainio, March 14, 1933. Signum at the institute of History (General History), University of Turku: UTGH/S/a/28/II.

24. Letter of Theo Holmberg to Frank Sainio, February 15, 1933. Signum: UTGH/S/a/28/I.

25. Elis Sulkanen, Amerikan suomalaisen työväenliikkeen historia. Fitchburg, Mass. 1951, pp. 42-431.

26. Finnish Album to Commemorate Detroit's 250th Birthday. Detroit Mich., 1951, passim; Holmio 1967, pp. 260-263; '76 Greater Detroit FinnishAmerican Bicentennial Record. Detroit, Mich. 1976, passim.

27. Holmio 1967, pp. 515, 585.

28. It was organized by the Institute of History (General History), University of Turku in 1968. The result was 2521 filled questionnaires, signum: UTGH/ S/1/1-2521.

29. see also: Detroit 1976, p. 281.

30. The figures are based on the United States Census materials. The author has obtained them from the Michigan Historical Collections, the University of Michigan.

31. Ibid. The figures in the source are more detailed than in table 4. The percentage of Germans in the 19th century is 48. 6, and in the 1920s 30.8.

32. Ilmonen 1926, pp. 96, 151; H o l m i o 1967, pp. 136, 400-401.

33. Holmio 1967 p. 237.

34. see: Memoirs of Frank Sainio.

35. see footnote 28.

36. The United States Census of Population 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940.

Published in Publications of the Institute of General History, University of Turku, 9(1977), p. 71-88.

© Keijo Virtanen

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