Travel to the sites that made automotive history. Visit the birthplace of the Ford Model T, drive by the world's first traffic light and the world's first concrete highway, see the headquarters of the most popular car manufacturers in the nation, and drive by the plant where the assembly line was born.
For a full-color, PDF brochure of this road tour, which contains a map and more places to visit, go to the Woodward Avenue website. Click on "Fun on the Byway", then "Automobile Heritage Travel Itinerary."
Start: Hart Plaza - Birthplace of Ford Motor Company
Start your tour of Woodward Avenue's Auto History spots in downtown Detroit at Hart Plaza on the southern end of Woodward Avenue. You'll probably want to drive to most of the stops, but the first ones are within walking distance of each other. Park your car in one of the nearby parking garages instead of the metered lots, so that you will have enough time to visit the Plaza, stroll along the Riverfront and tour the GM Building.
The Plaza features several amphitheaters, an ice skating rink, and sights such as the first International Memorial to the Underground Railroad and a statue of the City’s founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. Major festival events held here have included the Electronic Music/Techno Festival, Praise Fest, African World Festival, and the Detroit International Jazz Festival.
Stop 1: General Motors Headquarters Building
Learn more about our nation's largest manufacturer of motor vehicles at the global headquarters of General Motors in the nearby Renaissance Center. GM World is a showroom housed in the most recognizable building on the Detroit skyline. Explore past and present product displays. Many of the more than 30 GM vehicles on display are changed each month, keeping the exhibit fresh and exciting.
Just beyond the vehicle display, take time to wander through the massive, glass-enclosed Wintergarden, shop in one of its unique boutiques, grab a bite to eat or simply enjoy a relaxing view of the Canadian shoreline directly across the Detroit River. Consider taking advantage of the free guided walking tour, available year-round at the Wintergarden. The tour is about an hour long and includes a visit to GM World and the 72nd floor with its wonderful views.
This is a good place to return to your car and drive the next part of the itinerary.
Stop 2: World's First Electric Traffic Light
A point of interest to look for as you drive north to the Detroit Historical Museum and Detroit Institute of Art is a staple of modern commuter life. The world's first electric traffic light was installed here in Detroit at Woodward Avenue and Michigan Avenue in 1920.
Stop 3: Diego Rivera Mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts
In 1932, industrial magnate Edsel Ford commissioned Mexican artist Diego Rivera to fill the DIA's central courtyard with murals depicting the city's industries, the automobile industry of course figuring prominently.
The Detroit Industry frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts are the finest example of Rivera’s work in the U.S. This mural, created in 1932, was commissioned by Edsel Ford, president of the Arts Commission as well as the Ford Motor Company. It depicts three sets of images: the representation of the races that shape North American culture and make up its work force, the automobile industry, and the other industries of Detroit (medical, pharmaceutical and chemical).
At the bottom of the walls are small panels which depict the sequence of a day in the life of the workers at the Ford River Rouge plant. The central panel of the north wall represents important operations in the production and manufacture of the engine and transmission of the 1932 Ford V8. The major panel of the south wall is devoted to the production of automobile exteriors.
End: Detroit Historical Museum
At the Motor History Exhibit in the Detroit Historical Museum, learn how the automobile built Woodward Avenue and Detroit.
Discover the 100-year story of the sites, people and events that put the world on wheels. Experience a car body drop on the assembly line with the actual machinery from the Clark Street Cadillac Plant. Feel the excitement as you learn about the industrial changes that had global influences and brought about worldwide change. More than 100 car companies had their roots along Woodward Avenue -- the Motor City exhibit provides a good place to begin to learn these stories.
After your visit to the Historical Museum, finish up your day with dinner at one of downtown Detroit's many fine restaurants. This road trip continues tomorrow a few miles outside the downtown area.
Stop 1: Model T Automotive Heritage Complex
Detroit's Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is the birthplace of the Model T. Today, it is the only example of an early Detroit auto factory open to visitors. You can see where Henry Ford designed the Model T and built the first 12,000 "Tin Lizzies."
The Plant has been turned into a museum and now offers a look at the many types of early cars that were produced in the factory between 1904 and 1910, as well as the people of Piquette who set the world's record for car production. Ford Motor Company became the world's largest manufacturer of automobiles in less than four years.
The plant is open on the first and third Saturdays of each month between May and October. Tours of ten or more can be arranged anytime. Check http://www.byways.org/offsite?url=http://www.tplex.org for admission fees and other up-to-date information.
Stop 2: Henry and Clara Ford House
Cruise on by this elegant Italian Renaissance revival home where Henry Ford and his wife Clara lived from 1908 until 1915. The seven years in this house were the most creative of Mr. Ford's career.
During this time, Henry Ford revolutionized American life and the national economy by introducing the Model T and applying the moving assembly line concept to automobile production at the massive Ford Motor Company Plant in Highland Park.
Clara Ford's elaborate garden east of the house reflects an interest that would find expression in the formal gardens of their next residence, Fairlane, located in Dearborn.
The home is a private residence and is not open to the public.
Stop 3: The First Urban Freeway in the U.S. - The Davison Freeway
Built in 1941, the Davison Limited Expressway was the first modern urban highway in the United States.
Stop 4: Ford Motor Company - Highland Park Plant
This plant, a National Historic Landmark, was the site of Ford's innovation for the world, the assembly line. Other innovations included the "daylight factory" and the "Five Dollar Day." In 1910, Henry Ford moved his auto operations here from the Piquette Avenue factory.
The plant was designed by architect Arthur Kahn and was known as the Crystal Palace for its incredible use of glass. It is not open to the public.
Stop 5: The World's First Concrete Highway
In 1909, Wayne County built the first mile of concrete highway in the world here on Woodward between Six and Seven Mile roads. From far and near road builders came to see how concrete stood up under the heavy traffic of that period. The success of this experiment sped the development of modern automobile highways. It cost $13,537, including $1,000 in state aid. The road was replaced in 1922 by a broad thoroughfare.
Stop 6: Woodlawn Cemetery
Section 10 of Woodlawn Cemetery holds the final resting places of several notable figures in the automobile industry, including John and Horace Dodge, Joseph Hudson, Edsel Ford and Roy Chapin.
Other famous people you may find interred here include Rosa L. Parks, the Civil Rights pioneer and social activist; Billy Henderson, lead singer and co-founder of "The Spinners"; and Edwin Henry 'Twilight Ed' Killian, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.
Stop 7: Cruisin' Woodward and the Street Testing Mile
Woodward Avenue was the only street where automobile engineers “street tested” new models, adding unique significance to “Cruising Woodward” in the 1950s to the late 1960s.
"Woodwarding" became the craze in the 1950s and 1960s as teenagers discovered the thrill of taking the family car out for a spin along the boulevard from Ferndale to Pontiac. Cruisers gathered at drive-in restaurants, such as Ted’s Drive-in at Square Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills and the Totem Pole drive-in restaurant at Ten Mile Road in Royal Oak. Muscle car competitions hit its heyday in the mid-1960s. Journalists took note of the phenomena sending correspondents from Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and CBS World News to cover the action on the strip. The trend continued until new car safety standards altered car design in the 1970s. Nevertheless, the love of cars and cruising would experience a renaissance.
The Woodward Dream Cruise is the world's largest celebration of car culture and one of Metropolitan Detroit's most anticipated annual events. Held along Woodward Avenue from Ferndale to Pontiac and covering 16 miles, this mid-summer Motor City classic attracts more than 1.5 million people from around the world and 30,000 vintage cars. Young and old alike pack the boulevard to celebrate the nostalgia, while reveling in this popular social event.
End: Cranbrook House and Gardens
End your Automobile History Tour of Detroit at the beautiful grounds of Cranbrook. Cranbrook is a cultural, educational and religious complex with numerous outbuildings and gardens located on a 300-acre campus.
Cranbrook House and Gardens stands as a centerpiece of Cranbrook's 319-acre National Historic Landmark campus. Cranbrook House was the home of Cranbrook founders George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth, as well as the young adult home of one of their sons, James Scripps Booth. James was an artist and engineer and founded the Scripps-Booth Automobile Company in 1914, which became Chevrolet in 1917. Scripps-Booth conceived the “Bi-autogo,” a two-wheeled motorcar prototype vehicle. The “Bi-autogo” had the first V-8 engine ever built in Detroit.
The Cranbrook House, designed by Albert Kahn in 1908, is an English Arts and Crafts-style home and is the oldest surviving manor home in metro Detroit. It is open to the public for tours.
Stretched out over the grounds, Cranbrook Gardens covers over 40 acres and features wonderful exhibits of plants and flowers. The gardens are open May 1st – October 31st.
Visit http://www.byways.org/offsite?url=http://www.cranbrook.edu to plan your visit.