Diane took this last weekend at the Grand Rapids Balloon Festival (which I hadn’t heard of).
More balloons on Michigan in Pictures.
On the morning of Thursday, January 14, 1926 fire broke out in the company’s sanding machine and spread spontaneously through the blowers to different parts of the room.
In the few hours that followed, Onaway’s main means of livelihood went up in smoke and although the city still exists, it has never reached the proportion it was on that historical day. With the presence of the American Wood Rim Co. and its sister company, the Lobdell Emerey Manufacturing Co., Onaway experienced tremendous growth in its early year. The big industry, along with the profitable timber business made Onaway the biggest little town in northern Michigan.
According to one report, Onaway had two newspapers, three lawyers, four doctors, three large hotels, 17 saloons, nine churches, two bakeries, a fairgrounds, racetrack and an opera house in the pre-fire days. The figure varies, but Onaway’s population was approximately 4,000 and the two huge industries employed anywhere from 1200 to 1500 persons.
The Lobdell Emery Manufacturing co. was involved in lumbering, sawmill operations and the making of such products as dowels, broom handles, and coat hanger stock. The American Wood Rim Co., was the world’s largest and finest producer of automobile steering wheels and bicycle rims. For a number of years the company made all the steering wheels with either malleable iron or aluminum spiders. The aluminum spiders were all molded and finished in the plant while the malleable iron castings were purchased from outside sources.
During its last few years in Onaway, the American Wood Rim Co. introduced the all-wood steering wheel with only the hub made of steel. Some of the automobile rims were made of maple or beech, but the better ones were of black walnut with a black walnut or mahogany finish. The bicycle rims were made of hard rock maple or beech. All the wood used in manufacturing the wheels and rims was from the surrounding forests owned by Lobdell-Emery.
If you like this sort of thing, Michigan in Pictures has lots more of Marty’s up north historical explorations!
In 1871, the Thumb area of Michigan was ravaged by The Great Michigan Fire, part of a series of fires across the Midwest that included the Chicago Fire. The Michigan DNR’s History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan explains that 10 years later on September 5, 1881, another devastating fire rolled through the Thumb area.
…the fire of September 1881, commonly known as the Thumb fire, was more severe and did more damage since settlers had begun pouring into the region and logging had gotten underway. As a result, more people were rendered homeless and the loss was greater. It is estimated that this fire burned well over one million acres, cost 282 lives, and did more than $2,250,000 worth of damage. ($55,834,321 adjusted for inflation)
Like the 1871 fire, the fire of 1881 came at the end of an extremely severe drought and was the result of hundreds of land-clearing fires whipped into a seething cauldron of flame by high winds. It was worse in the Saginaw Valley and Thumb region where it burned over much of the same territory that had burned ten years before.
In 1881 Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. The organization’s first meeting had taken place in Washington DC at the home of Sen. Omar D. Conger of Michigan. Their first official disaster relief operation was the response to the Thumb Fire, and the Red Cross provided money, clothes and household items to victims of the fire.