There must be a deep hard to find secret as to why Detroit is the chosen location for the auto industry from the past and the present. Surely Detroit is shrouded by a deep dark cloak and the secrets were buried back around the turn of the 20th century. What are these secrets and should we invite Geraldo Rivera to uncloak them as he did in 1986 with the unveiling of Al Capone’s Vault? Unfortunately, just as Mr. Rivera discovered, after all of the hoopla, there really isn’t anything all that exciting about why American car companies are gathered in Detroit.
The bottom line is, it was as simple as, Henry Ford lived there. As it happened, Detroit and its environs had a lot to offer. Iron ore was available from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota, and timber was in abundance in the state of Michigan itself. Remember, early car frames were made of wood so this is why this information would be important. It was easy to ship cars to Chicago and New York because the rail and water routes that were readily available.
Detroit’s popularity probably had more to do with a couple of historical mishaps than any geographical advantage. Fist of all, innovators like Henry Ford and Ransom Olds just happened to live in Michigan, and second, because automotive executives lived in that town, they would regularly switch companies and launch spin-offs and start-ups. This is how innovative manufacturing and design ideas came to be. The result of cross-pollination would put Detroit solidly in the forefront of all manufacturing throughout the states. Distant competitors would find this type of research and development operations very hard to keep up with and either shut down they operations or sell themselves to Detroit.