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Kern’s Square

c. 1968

c. 1968

Kern’s Square is one of Downtown’s quickly forgotten landmarks from the recent past. Today you will find the modern Compuware Building sitting on its site, but from 1966 to 1999 it was a large and mostly empty city park. Unlike most Downtown parks, the pentagon shaped greenspace lacked shade trees, monuments or fountains. At the heart of the Campus Martius area, it perennially failed to attract development.

The square got its name from Kern’s department store which expanded on the block from 1900 until its closing in 1959 and demolition in 1966. This foreshadowed the closing and eventual demolition of the Hudsons department store across Gratiot Avenue. The widely recognized clock on the exterior of Kern’s was saved and rededicated on the site where it can still be seen today. – D.S.

1970s (Marty Medvedik)

1970s (Marty Medvedik)

1973 (Andre Franklin)

1973 (Andre Franklin)

1920s drawing

1920s drawing

1970s (Marty Medvedik)

1970s (Marty Medvedik)

Packard Anniversaries

2009.021.060When you picture the anniversaries of major automobile companies, what do you imagine? Do you think of big sales or elaborate displays or advertisements about the company’s history? Packard has had some interesting anniversary promotions. For example in 1949, which was the 50th anniversary, Packard had 2000 automobiles painted a custom gold color. There were also golden coins to celebrate the 50th anniversary. However those are for the big anniversary dates, for small yearly ones companies might just have advertisements releasing information about the new automobiles being released that year. For example there is a picture in the collection of a 1930’s Packard advertisement showing a birthday cake with the message “Packard cuts itself a piece of cake.” The advertisement was made to look like a birthday card and had information about the new Packard automobiles inside.

- Sarah Marsack, Wayne State University Graduate Student

“Now I’m the Man Who Owns One” – The Changing Nature of Packard

2009.021.414In an effort to stave off the bankruptcy that had doomed- or was soon to doom- other luxury car makers such as Cord, Duesenberg, Pierce Arrow and Auburn, Packard President Alvan Macauley introduced the Packard 120 in 1935. This car, a far cry from the company’s previous commitment to luxury, was designed to appeal to the masses and appeal to them it did. 10,000 orders were placed, each with a down payment, before the first 120 rolled off of the assembly line.

The company’s slogan, “ask the man who owns one”, once a statement connected to elegance and stature, shifted to being a more inclusive message. Even Santa Claus helped to promote the company in a 1939 holiday parade in Hartford, Connecticut, a banner affixed to his Packard Eight stating “Now I’m the Man Who Owns One- Ask Me”, an important variation on the classic slogan. The average Hartford resident may not have been able to afford such a posh model but a Packard was still within their reach.

Santa Claus in a Packard, Hartford, CT. 1939.

Santa Claus in a Packard, Hartford, CT. 1939.

The company would advertise “senior” and “junior” line models to their respective demographics for a few years thereafter but with Macauley’s departure and Max Gilman’s installation as company president, the lines blurred and the previous luxury automobiles built by hand were moved onto the assembly line with the “junior” line models. It would be only a matter of time before the company would be overtaken in terms of prestige.

- Robert Kett, Wayne State University Graduate Student

“Ask the Man Who Owns One”

2004.043.402aThe rise and fall of the Packard Motor Car Company is a fascinating story. Promotional photographs from the late 1930s to the mid-1940s show their advertising campaigns and how they mirrored the company and the automobiles it produced.

In 1902 J.W. Packard wrote the first hit car slogan “Ask the man who owns one,” which was used until the company’s demise in 1958. This slogan, and its ubiquity in Packard promotional materials, has been considered an early version of reference selling, or as it’s known today “buzz marketing.” This slogan, rather than seeking consumer approval, or spurring consumers to action, encourages recommendation. Let the cars and the satisfaction of its owners speak for themselves, it says.

2004.043.403This slogan was as much a part of Packard’s identity as a company as was its trademark front grille. Many of the photographs from this collection highlight the grille in a way that may seem a little strange out of context, but when understood through the lens of the Packard brand identity make more sense.

Packard’s advertising was handled by the ad agency Young & Rubicam from 1932 to 1951. Young & Rubicam created ads that highlighted the quality of Packard cars. Well-built, long-lasting and well-designed cars were the hallmark of the automaker, and what made it stand out from lower-priced, high-production cars made by other automakers during the same time period. Packard initially prided itself on building quality cars, rather than building to a price point. Packard had an exhaustive testing program and built a large proving ground in Shelby Township, to test its cars, which was another distinctive aspect of the company played up in the ads created by Young & Rubicam.

2004.043.024aIn the end, Packard failed for a complex set of reasons under a complex set of circumstances. There is no consensus, or single cause for the failure of the automaker that was once at the top of the luxury car market. Even after its zenith in the roaring 20s, when Packard introduced the 120, a mid-range automobile, its sales were high. Yet through a series of missteps and a dried-up luxury car market in its later years, Packard was unable to compete in the new era of low and mid-range vehicles. The evolution of the company from a prestige automaker to mass-market car company relying primarily on its past reputation is reflected in its advertisements. According to Arthur Einstein, author of “Ask the Man Who Owns One,” the ads mirrored the machine itself, they “never promised anything it couldn’t deliver” until the 1950s as both met their demise.

- Jessica Keener, Wayne State University Graduate Student2004.043.130

Packard in Mexico

Mexican revolutionaries standing next to a Packard, c. 1915.

Mexican revolutionaries standing next to a Packard, c. 1915.

The contributions made by the Packard Motor Car Co. during World War II are well known. Less is known, however, about the small role that a single Packard automobile played in the Mexican Revolution. This image is part of a series which depicts a Packard automobile, driven by an American driver, surrounded by armed Mexican revolutionaries. Two letters accompanying the photographs shed some light on the circumstances surrounding the images, and the reception of the photographs by a Packard executive.

Letter from H.M. Dawley to Packard Sales Manager, 1932.

Letter from H.M. Dawley to Packard Sales Manager, 1932.

Response from H.F. Olmsted, Packard Publicity Director, 1932.

Response from H.F. Olmsted, Packard Publicity Director, 1932.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first letter, from Herbert M. Dawley to the Sales Manager at the Detroit Packard office, states that “These pictures were taken at the time of the overthrow of Diaz and this old Packard” was used “for reconnaisance [sic] and swift raids.” A reply from H.F. Olmsted, the Publicity Director at Packard, indicates a possibility that Packard “will be able to use” the photographs “to good advantage in a publicity way.” It is difficult to envision these images emblazoned with the iconic Packard slogan, “Ask the Man Who Owns One.” It is interesting, nevertheless, to consider the possibilities, and to be thankful that Mr. Olmsted did not choose to follow one of the suggestions made by Mr. Dawley to “consign [the photographs] to oblivion” and prevent these unique artifacts of the early international exploits of Packard automobiles from entering the Detroit Historical Society’s collection.

2009.021.187The full set of photographs documenting the Packard’s role in the Mexican Revolution can be viewed here as part of the Detroit Historical Society’s growing Packard Motor Car Co. digital collection.

-Dallas Pillen, Wayne State University Graduate Student

The Aga Khan’s Packard Eight Limousine

The Aga Khan’s Packard Eight Limousine Circa 1928.

The Aga Khan’s Packard Eight Limousine (circa 1928).

Owning a Packard automobile maybe have been the height of style and elegance in the United States, but they were also popular across the world. In Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, Packard’s quality craftsmanship was enjoyed by many. One prominent owner was Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, also known as His Holiness the Aga Khan III, an honorary title given to the leader of the of the Nizari Ismaili Muslim Community. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah lived from November 2, 1877 – July 11, 1957. At the young age of 8 he succeeded his father as the 48 Imam (leader of the Shi’a Ismai’li Muslims). At the age of twenty he was made a “Knight of the Indian Empire” by Queen Victoria of England. He was also made Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire by Edward VII in 1902, and a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India by George V in 1912. Some of his other accomplishments include being a founding member of the All-India Muslim league as well as their first president and serving as member and eventually becoming president of the League of Nations. In 1928 Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah the Aga Khan III visited the Aimila Automobile Company in Bombay, India. There he purchased a Packard Eight Limousine from Packard salesman H.C. Mitha.
- Edras Rodriguez-Torres, Wayne State University Graduate Student

His Holiness the Aga Khan III Bombay, India Circa 1928.

His Holiness the Aga Khan III Bombay, India (circa 1928).

From left to right: Y.C. Mitha, the Aga Khan III, H.C. Mitha, and A. Rahimtulla

From left to right: Y.C. Mitha, the Aga Khan III, H.C. Mitha, and A. Rahimtulla

Packard Motor Car Co. Historical Collection

2013.049.474Digitization of our extensive Packard Motor Car Company Collection is underway, with the assistance of students from Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. This collection was “established to create a permanent tribute to this Company, which was so much a part of Detroit’s and America’s industrial past.” The photographic collection consists of thousands of unique views into the company’s history, including studio shots, technical drawings, promotional materials, images of Packard automobiles across the world, and the company’s presence in Detroit and surrounding areas, not to mention the well known Packard Automotive Plant and Packard Proving Grounds.

Frank S. Nichols, Packard Motor Car Co. sales associate from Boston

Frank S. Nichols, Packard Motor Car Co. sales associate from Boston

In the coming weeks, blog entries by each of the participating students will be published here, highlighting just some of the interesting stories brought to life by the collection. In addition, due to the large size of the collection and the lack of information associated with some of the photographs, we invite you to please help us improve the experience of fellow visitors by sharing your knowledge of Packard history. This includes identifying models of automobiles, locations, or any contextual information. With your help, we can fulfill the collection’s “potential to become one of the most significant tributes ever created to honor a single automotive marque.” –D.P.

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