|Located at 1600 E. Clay Avenue, Detroit, MI 48211,
construction on the seven building complex now known as
The Russell Industrial Center (RIC) began in 1915 and was
completed in 1925. It was originally home to the Murray Mfg.
Company, an auto body supplier. It is now home to many
businesses, artists, craftspeople and printers.
The RIC has a historically significant past that started with
John William Murray who was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan,
in 1862. Murray worked for Michigan Stamping but resigned
in 1913 to form, with his son, John William Murray, the
J.W. Murray Mfg. Co. (1913-24) to manufacture stamped
sheet metal parts for the automobile industry. Their first plant
was 12,000 square feet and was located in Detroit at 1975
Clay Street, across from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad
line. The plant bordered on Fordyce, Morrow, Marston and
Clay Streets. It was replaced in 1916 by a much larger one
at 1600 Clay Street that was designed by famed architect
J.W. Murray customers included the Dodge brothers, Ford,
Lincoln, Crosley, Willys, Hudson, Hupmobile, King and
Studebaker. Murray made automobile bodies, manufactured
stamped fenders and other large sheet metal stampings such
as hoods, cowls and frames. They were a major supplier to
medium sized car makers who didn't have large body
manufacturing facilities themselves. Demand was so high
that a second plant was established 15 miles to the south in
the Detroit suburb of Ecorse, Michigan. Murray also made
tools and dies for various other automakers and competing
body fabricators and was known as the "Dean of Stamping
Manufacturers". In later years Murray's customers would
include Cleveland, Essex, Ford, Hudson, Hupmobile, Graham,
Jordan, Marmon, Reo, Studebaker and Willys-Knight.
In 1924 The Murray Body Corporation was formed from the
merger of C.R. Wilson Body Co., J.W. Murray Mfg. Co.,
Towson Body Co., and J.C. Widman Co because of the
sudden death of Charles R. Wilson, the head of the C.R. Wilson
Body Co. (one of Ford's primary production body builders).
Murray Body Corporation's new corporate office was established at 1600 Clay Street.
(Some sources list addresses at 7590 Russell and 1975 Clay Ave.) The two larger firms,
Wilson and Murray, had longstanding contracts with the Ford Motor Co. and other two
were in good financial shape and employed craftsmen with specialized skills that would
be beneficial to the new firm. Murray Body's new combined operations included over a
million square feet of floor space, employed 1,000 men and women, and had a capacity
of 60,000 to 70,000 automobile bodies per year. With the trend towards greater streamlining,
automobile body building had become a highly specialized business and it looked as if
Murray was well-situated to give its investors a fair return on their investment.
(They were also the world's largest manufacturer of pedal cars for children.)
After the 1924 merger John W. Murray was slated to take charge of the newly formed Murray Body Corp., but he decided to retire instead. A longtime associate of Guardian Trust Bank's president William R. Wilson, Allan Sheldon, was elected president at the first board meeting. Sheldon was a successful Detroit banker and businessman whose Allan Sheldon Co. was once Detroit's largest wholesale dry goods distributor. Unfortunately, Sheldon had little manufacturing experience and made a series of costly mistakes that would soon prove fatal to the new firm.
One of the first mistakes Sheldon made was when Hupp Motor Cars approached him with a proposal to sell the H & M Body Corp. in Wisconsin to Murray at a great discount, providing that Murray would guarantee to supply Hupp with all of the production bodies they required over the next five years. (Hupp was looking for a new supplier after their former one, C.R.Wilson, had merged with Murray.)It seemed to be a good idea at the time, but Murray soon discovered that the H & M body plant was too far away to be managed effectively, and when combined with the added costs of transporting the bodies 400 miles to Detroit, the plant never turned a profit and never produced bodies for anyone other than Hupmobile.
In December of 1924, Edsel Ford instructed Sheldon to travel to New York to discuss bringing the design and manufacturing firm LeBaron to the Detroit area to build custom and semi-custom work for Lincoln. Murray supplied Lincoln with LeBaron-designed two and three-window sedans and Victoria coupes. Edsel Ford would typically order five to ten prototypes of a particular design, and if it proved popular back in Detroit, it would be slated for mass production by Murray.
A follow-up meeting was held in Detroit in January 1925 where Sheldon and his attorney submitted a proposal to Raymond H. Dietrich, one of the LeBaron founders and board of directors member; Dietrich designed exclusively for Lincoln. The proposal was for purchase of controlling interest in LeBaron, and to move the entire operation to Detroit. Dietrich took the proposal to New York and submitted it to the rest of LeBaron's board of directors. Although Dietrich was eager to move to Detroit, his other partners refused the initial offer, and made a counter offer of $250,000. Dietrich objected to the price, stating that the firm was barely worth $50,000.
A February meeting was set up between Sheldon and Dietrich in Detroit to discuss the matter, and it came as no surprise to anyone when he returned to New York with the news that the $250,000 offer had been declined. Dietrich recalled, "Neither did it set well when I revealed Murray Body was chiefly interested in my services, and that Mr. Sheldon had made an offer to me which was identical with that which would have been offered LeBaron". Dietrich sold his stake in LeBaron, Inc. and joined Murray Corporation of America.
Just before Murray acquired the services of Ray Dietrich in 1924, they had hired Wills Ste. Claire's chief designer, Amos Northup to be chief designer. Northup is known for the significant design contributions of adding fender skirts to cars and starting the streamlining design trend. Northup handled the design and body engineering for Murray's core production bodies while Dietrich designed the custom styles. Northup brought along his young assistant, Julio (Jules) Andrade, who later became known for his design of the 1934 LaSalle as a member of Harley Earl's General Motors staff.
Murray Body Corp. had been experiencing financial difficulties: the anticipated Spring upsurge in sales did not materialize in 1924 leaving dealers with large inventories of unsold cars that Fall. Consequently 1925 production was significantly reduced forcing many auto workers to be laid off. The economic recession of 1924-25 sealed it's fate; Murray Body Corp. went into receivership on Dec. 4, 1925, a short eight months after it started.
Detroit's Guardian Trust Bank was appointed as Murray's receiver.Guardian's president, William Robert Wilson, had gotten the firm's investors into trouble by appointing Sheldon as president of Murray, and was now given the responsibility to get them out of trouble.
Sales rebounded during 1925 and Wilson was able to satisfy the firm's creditors with small cash payments. By March of 1926 the firm was shipping 14,000 bodies per month, and plans were laid for a reorganization of the firm. Profits for 1926 had been $1.5 million and the firm acquired the Jenks & Muir Co. (a Detroit upholsterer), as well as negotiating a deal with Marmon (a high end car builder that was suffering financially) to supply them with all of their production bodies.
The receivership lasted only 13 months, and in January, 1927, a new firm, the Murray Corporation of America was capitalized at $8 million dollars and absorbed the assets of the Murray Body Corp. The firm's principal customers were now Hupmobile, King, Marmon, Moon and Willys-Knight, but a giant contract was looming in the near future: Ford Motor Co. was shut down for re-tooling for the Model A and within the year would become Murray's largest customer.
Anticipating this potentially large contract from Ford, the new president of Murray, William R. Wilson, recruited Clarence Willard Avery from Ford as chief engineer. Avery had been Ford's chief development engineer, and has been credited for many of the Ford Motor Co.'s mass production concepts including the moving assembly line; those who took part acknowledged Avery as the guiding light of the project. By timing each step to maximize the speed of production at the Piquette plant in Detroit, Avery and Charles E. Sorensen (head of production at Ford) reduced the assembly time of the Model T from 12.5 hours to 2.7. Sensing the opportunity Ford's retooling presented as well, Avery resigned from Ford to join Murray. Within a year, Avery was president of the firm and chairman of the board of directors and held the position until his death in 1949.
In January of 1927, Dietrich Inc. (owned 50% by Murray), moved out of the Clay St. studios, which had been shared with Northup, to the former Leland Lincoln facility at 1331 Holden Ave. In addition to Dietrich Inc.'s booming design business - Chrysler, Dodge, Franklin, Lincoln, Packard and Studebaker - Dietrich Inc.'s semi-custom production body business expanded to become the largest in the country, producing from 18-25 bodies per week, or in excess of 1000 bodies per year. Murray was now supplying Ford with semi-custom bodies for the Model A, as well as custom bodies for Lincoln cars; they continued building bodies for other manufacturers as well.
In the February 26, 1927 issue of Automotive News a story ran that stated a Briggs/Murray merger was ";being considered."; Walter O. Briggs wanted to buy out his prime rival, Murray. However, Henry Ford reasoned the merger of his two largest body suppliers would not be in his best interests. A week later, a large Automotive News headline proclaimed, "Briggs Mfg. Co. Not To Merge With Murray Corp. of America".
In 1929 Ford decided to provide a factory station wagon for their new Model A, marking the first time a manufacturer mass-produced a station wagon on their own assembly line; Murray produced 4,954 of them. In 1930 a new body style was introduced and the contract was split between Murray and Baker-Raulang. Murray was swamped with other Ford projects so Baker-Raulang built the bulk of the 6,363 bodies produced in 1930-1931. 1932 Ford Model B station wagon bodies were all built by Baker-Raulang, as Murray was still overwhelmed with bodywork destined for the new 1932 Ford.
Ford built most of their own production bodies for the Model A, however, both Briggs
and Murray were their largest outside suppliers of complete bodies, producing all of
Ford's Town Sedans and Fordor Sedans.
During 1929 Murray supplied bodies for Ford as well as Chrysler, Hupmobile, and Reo,
as well as body framing and stampings for Ford, Dodge, Peerless, and Chryslers.
They were using so much wood, that they purchased their own mill in Memphis,
Tennessee to ensure a constant supply was available to meet their heavy production
Starting in 1931, Murray began to build some of Ford's more limited production bodies, including the highly treasured Model 190 convertible coupe and Model 400 convertible Victoria. Budd had traditionally handled all of Ford's commercial bodies, but Murray was given the job of building a few low-volume specials.
Murray Corp. struggled during the Great Depression, losing money in the years 1931-1934. However, Ford, with an eye to keeping one of its major suppliers afloat, helped the company out with larger contracts and allowed Murray to use some Ford-owned dies. As a result, Murray posted a profit in 1935, and kept in business throughout the Depression.
Unfortunately, Dietrich Inc.'s business took a turn for the worse at the beginning of 1929. Instead of a normal replacement order of say, 25 examples of a certain body, only 10 or 15 might be re-ordered. As the year went on, the orders decreased further, and when Black Friday rolled around on October, 28th, Dietrich Inc. was in trouble.
In September of 1930 Dietrich resigned from Murray over disagreement with Avery on how to handle the financial crisis. Dietrich Inc.'s Holden Ave. facility was returned to Ford, and its manufacturing was transferred to surplus space in one of the Murray plants where identical bodies - some bearing the Dietrich badge, and some not - were built for Packard and Chrysler. The Dietrich badge was reserved for Murray's upscale convertible sedans and Victorias - those equipped with pricier trim and materials. A former C.R. Wilson employee, James Vehko, became Murray's chief manufacturing engineer in 1931. Vehko is credited with the engineering of the first all-steel body made using a deep-draw die. Vehko later became successful in his own right as an independent consulting engineer for Ford and Studebaker.
Murray had become a specialist in building complex production bodies, as well as the standard Ford AA Delivery van bodies and those for the smaller Model A commercial delivery van, which might have put them in a good financial position if they were building expensive custom bodies; unfortunately, they were building inexpensive production bodies. Ford needed bodies for their new V-8, and between 1932 and 1933 Murray furnished them with coupes, convertibles, roadsters and phaetons (open body style), as well as a panel delivery. Ford's Heavy-Duty Express Body was also built by Murray; it was similar to other manufacturer's bodies, but did not offer the versatility of the other's. Ford also introduced a new line of commercial chassis in 1932. Murray supplied the convertible cab, model B and BB, which was sold in very limited numbers. Murray's Ecorse, Michigan frame plant contributed to what few profits were made during the
Depression. 1932-34 Ford station wagon bodies were new, with Murray and
Briggs (another supplier) building them for Ford. By 1934 independent body
builders were folding at an alarming rate and Murray knew full well if they raised
prices on their work for Ford, it would just be turned over to Briggs.
Consequently, many of Murray's complicated bodies were built at a loss,
which by 1934 had begun to threaten the firm's very existence. Between
1931 and 1934 Murray Corp. of America lost $4.3 million dollars. Bodies for
the 1935-36 wood bodied station wagons were re-designed, Briggs was
dropped, and only Murray assembled and finished the station wagon's
body, which was then shipped to one of Ford's assembly lines.
Following the long and costly 1933 strike that caused a shutdown at Ford and involved all four Briggs plants, Murray Corp.'s plant and the Hudson Motor Car Co, Ford began (due to the shutdown) taking steps to phase out their outside body builders, and Briggs was slowly cut out of the picture.
It was clear to Clarence W. Avery that more profitable avenues of revenue should be explored, and as early as 1935, Murray started producing non-automotive stamped steel products such as beer barrels and steel kitchen cabinets.
To help Murray out of their precarious financial situation, Ford allowed them to use some Ford body dies to produce a series of bodies for Hupmobile during 1934. They were sufficiently disguised by Amos Northup (Murray's chief designer) that Ford had no objections. In the following year Murray was awarded a huge contract to build popular Ford's 3- and 5-window coupes. For the first time they had a large and profitable run of an easy-to-produce body, and they posted a profit of $1.4 million in 1935. Lincoln also ordered some profitable runs of coupe and sedan bodies although Murray was still building mostly unprofitable body styles for Packard - convertible sedans, phaetons and Victorias.
By 1935 the bodies originally designed by Ray Dietrich before his departure from Murray in 1930 had become severely outdated, and Murray introduced a new series of semi-custom bodies for Packard and Lincoln that featured the Dietrich Inc. badging. However, Ray Dietrich had nothing to do with them; they were merely re-badged Murray production bodies with increased levels of trim and upholstery. These "faux-Dietrich" bodies were produced through 1937.
Briggs, having strengthened their ties to Chrysler after being dropped by Ford, built most of the Chrysler Corporation's bodies, but between 1937 and 1939 Murray furnished Chrysler with a convertible sedan body - Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler in 1937-38 and Plymouth in 1939. The 1939 Plymouth shared the same body as the discontinued '37-38 Chrysler and DeSoto convertible sedans; very few were built.
Murray experienced three profitable years, but suffered another devastating loss in 1938, when sales of new cars lagged far behind industry expectations. In 1936 Ford had purchased only 36% of their outside bodies from Murray, but by 1939 that percentage jumped to 49%. Unfortunately, 1939 was the last year that complete bodies would be built for Ford by Murray.
In 1939 Murray supplied bodies to some of the largest and smallest new automakers. Ford Motor Co.'s new mid-priced Mercury appeared that year with Murray-built bodies, as did Powell Crosley Jr's new Crosley automobile, which entered into production in June of that year.
Ford continued to build more and more of its own bodies, and was only purchasing sheet-metal stampings from Briggs, Budd and Murray. The new process saved Ford millions in transportation costs as a stack of identical metal stampings could now be transported in the same space formerly occupied by a single automobile body. Murray now became a supplier of knocked-down bodies and stampings only.
In the forties Murray purchased the Easy Laundry Appliance Co. from the Hupp Corp., reorganizing it as the Easy Washing Machine Corp. For many years Murray-built appliance cabinets, kitchen cabinets and stainless steel sinks that were sold through the Montgomery-Ward catalog.
At the beginning of WWII, Murray was well positioned to fulfill military contracts; the plant
was converted for war production. As early as 1940 military contracts began to be fulfilled.
Avery steered the company into the production of airplane wings and other components.
Aluminum was substituted for steel and Murray's huge presses operated around the clock
producing B-1 Fortress wings and other components for the Boeing B-17 "Fortress" and
B-29 "Super Fortress" heavy bomber, Douglas A-20 "Havoc" light bomber and Republic
P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighter/bomber. By 1944 the company' employed over 13,500 workers,
most of them women. Towards the end of the war, Avery started a project to solicit
business from Ford and Kaiser-Frazer, another auto manufacturer, to develop Murray's
post-war business. William J. Flajole was Murray's designer at the time:
"Toward the first of 1945, we mounted quite a forward projection of automobile design for young Henry II, who was about to assume leadership of the Ford Motor Co., In an attempt to show him what might be expected in the industry; four walls of drawings indicated the changes which really did take place later-notchbacks, panoramic vision, wraparound bumpers, etc., and a quarter-scale plaster model of a 100-inch wheelbase sedan that was very much like the later Mustang. HF-II didn't like any of them. In fact, he was quite explicit in saying these things would never be. Clarence Avery was hurt by his definitive attitude."
Avery, Murray's driving force for over 20 years, passed away a couple years later, in 1949.
Following the war, Murray resumed to their pre-war activities supplying Ford with sheet metal stampings and an occasional partially completed auto body. Mercury (1946) and Ford's (1946-47) limited production Sportsman were assembled at Murray as were the compact unit-bodied Willys Aero (1952-54) and Hudson Jet (1953-54). Ford discontinued using Murray as a supplier in 1950. Murray considered manufacturing their own V-6 powered compact in the early fifties, and even produced a couple of prototypes, but the project was shelved. Eljer, a plumbing and bathroom fixtures company, was sold to Murray in 1953. The Murray Corp. of America now had plants in Detroit, Michigan, Ford City, Pennsylvania (Eljer) and St. Petersburg, Florida (Lawton div. of Murray Corp). Murray Body in Detroit ceased automotive production in 1954. Murray's Ecorse, Michigan, frame plant was the last Murray plant turning out any automotive products and was sold to the Dana Corp. in September, 1955. That same year new ownership of Murray resulted in the closure or selling of all their Michigan plants.
Murray Corp. and William Wallace Co. both shared a common
chairman on their respective boards of directors and in 1965
Murray was reorganized as the Wallace-Murray Corp. The new
company specialized in truck engine parts, metal-cutting tools
and plumbing fixtures; they also purchased the Simonds Cutting
Tools Corp. of Newcomerstown, Ohio, and Fitchburg,
Massachusetts. With the purchase of Simonds the total sales
for Wallace-Murray doubled, becoming a Fortune 500 company
soon thereafter. Throughout the 60's Wallace-Murray continued
making further acquisitions of other industrial businesses.
Michigan Stamping, the company that Murray's founder had
worked for before forming Murray Mfg. in 1913, made their
home at the Murray complex in Detroit sometime during the
50's or 60's. The plant was renamed the Michigan Stamping
Plant during this time. During the 1960's and 1970's many
printing companies moved in as well. Eventually, approximately
130 printers occupied the building, triggering Detroit's reputation
as the "Printing Capital of the Midwest". The giant industrial complex, which abutted Russell Street, began to be called "the Russell Industrial Center". The name stuck.
In 1970, Harry and Leona Helmsly assumed ownership of the building. A few years later the complex, now well known as the Russell Industrial Center (RIC), was purchased by the investment firm of Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corp. (DKM). It was again sold by DKM in 1981 to Household International, better known for their Thermos brand. In 1991 Wintor Swan, a printer, whose clientele included Kmart, National Geographic and the "Big Three" automakers, bought the building. Unfortunately for Swan a 1998 tornado and accompanying storm blew the main transformers. Many of the classic Albert Kahn designed factory windows blew out and there was also a flood from a broken sprinkler main; many union artifacts were thrown out, including those from Walter P. Ruether and the "Big Strike" of 1933. Due to financial difficulties Wintor Swan was unable to afford to continue ownership of the RIC. In 2003 Dennis Kefallinos bought all seven buildings. Boydell Development Company (owners of Nikki's Pizza and hundreds of other properties in Detroit) manage the RIC today.
The RIC is experiencing a revival as a mixed business community and is home to dozens of artist's studios and many others. Its structure is made from nearly indestructible concrete and has bountiful natural light with its classic steel framed factory windows. With 2.2 million square feet of space, studios range in size from 1000 to 7000 square feet each. Of the 2.2 million square feet, 650,000 are in use, with another 500,000 available for use. Infrastructure work is planned for another million square feet of space.
One of the originators of the studio-space concept was Albert Young. The RIC is managed by Chris Mihailovich. Eric Novack is assitant manager.
On September 15, 2007 the RIC presented its first People's Arts Festival. Attendance was estimated at over 4,000 people. Due to that year's success the next year's festival (2008) was planned for September 13, 2008, but took place on September 21, 2008 due to a change in date the day before the festival was scheduled to take place; Hurrican Ike reached as far North as Michigan and brought heavy rain with it..
A list of bodies manufactured by Murray:
1925: Jewett, Hupmobile, Rollin, Willys-Knight, Chandler, Jordan.
1926: Hupmobile, Marmon, Willys-Knight, Cleveland, Durant, Jewett, Paige-Detroit, Chandler.
1927: Hupmobile, Marmon, Cleveland, Jordan, Studebaker, Erskine, Chrysler, Dodge, Reo, Wolverine.
1928: Hupmobile, Marmon, Jordan, Reo, Ford, Dodge, Peerless.
1929: Hupmobile, Reo, Chrysler, Ford, Peerless, Dodge.
1930: Ford, Reo, Hudson, Hupmobile.
1931: Ford, Reo, Hudson, Hupmobile, DeVaux.
1932: Ford, Lincoln, Packard, Hupmobile, DeVaux.
1933: Ford, Lincoln, Packard, Continental.
1934: Ford, Lincoln, Hupmobile, Pierce-Arrow, Auburn, Graham.
1935: Ford, Packard.
1936: Ford, Packard.
1937: Ford, Packard, Chrysler, International-Harvester.
1938: Ford, Chrysler, International-Harvester.
1939: Ford, Mercury, Plymouth, Crosley.
1940: Ford, Mercury, Crosley.
1941: Ford, Mercury.
1942: Ford, Mercury.
1945: Ford, Mercury.
1946: Ford, Mercury.
1947: Ford, Mercury.
1948: Ford, Mercury, Lincoln.
1949: Ford, Mercury, Lincoln.
1950: Ford, Mercury.
1952-54: Hudson Jet, Aero Willys.
www.albertkahn.com (The City of Detroit, Michigan,1701-1922 , Volume 3 Clarence Monroe Burton, William Stocking, Gordon K. Miller)
HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING RECORD National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior 1849 C St. NW Washington, DC 20240
Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry by James M. Rubenstein, JHU Press, Nov 16, 2001
The Fable of Fisher Body by Ramon Casadesus-Masanell & Daniel F. Spulber, Journal of Law and EconomicsJ. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management Northwestern University
Automotive News,February 26, 1927
http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z11772/Lincoln-Model-KB.aspx (Daniel Vaughan, Aug 2006)
|Information in this article is taken from several sources, please contact the
|This page is no longer the official website of the RIC; it is now part of
Julie Fournier's personal website
and is no longer sanctioned by the RIC.