Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Michigan History in Objects" at the Michigan Historical Museum: Part Two

As promised (though a day late), here's the next installment of my "treasure hunt" at the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. If you missed Part One, you can find it here:

"Michigan History in Objects" at the Michigan Historical Museum: Part One

Now, on to business.

1. Prohibition-Era Alcohol and Gun

These bottles of hooch, as well as the gun, were found in the Detroit River in the 1980s, several decades after bootleggers likely discarded them while trying to sneak alcohol into the country. Though liquor was banned in the United States from 1920 to 1933, smugglers maintained a lucrative trade keeping Americans stocked with booze. Detroit's closeness to Canada, where alcohol was legal, made it a prime spot for such activities. Bootleggers traveled across the Detroit River to smuggle alcohol from Windsor, Ontario to the Motor City, transporting so much illicit cargo that the so-called "Windsor-Detroit funnel" provided 75 percent of all the alcohol smuggled into the United States. It's no surprise, then, that southeastern Michigan had a ridiculously high number of speakeasies, by some accounts as many as 25,000 in Detroit and surrounding cities.
2. Bloody Shirt, Tie, and Vest from the "Battle of the Overpass"

This is the shirt, tie, and vest that United Auto Workers organizer Richard Frankensteen wore during the "Battle of the Overpass," an altercation on May 26, 1937 during which security guards at the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge plant in Dearborn beat UAW leaders who planned to distribute pro-union leaflets from a pedestrian overpass during a shift change at the plant. When news photographers asked the leaders to pose for photos, the security guards charged, while police stood by, saying they could do nothing because the security guards were defending Ford property. The resulting public outcry increased support for unionization at the plant, and Ford ended up signing an agreement with the UAW three years later.

3. Two-Seat Corvette

During the early 1950s, General Motors' Chevrolet division suffered from an image problem. While European sports cars were all the rage, motorists regarded Chevy's cars as lackluster and boring. To spice up its image, Chevy introduced the two-seat Corvette at the 1953 Motorama car show. The Corvette's sleek lines and fiberglass exterior excited attendees so much that GM rushed the vehicle into production at its Flint auto plant that same year. Unfortunately, the first-year Corvettes had only six-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions, so they were not exactly the "power vehicles" that consumers had been promised. To remedy this, Belgian engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov refined the Corvette, giving it a larger engine and manual transmission. Sales skyrocketed, making the Corvette one of the most popular vehicles of all time and earning Arkus-Duntov the nickname "Father of the Corvette."

FYI, the Corvette automobile was named after a type of small, lightly armed warship, typically used to patrol coasts and escort fleets.

The "other" corvette

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