One highlight of the U-M Graduate Library’s absorbing transportation exhibition is a slender, pocket-size 1913 directory that lists all of the few owned cars in Michigan — “a combination social register and advertising tool,” notes the exhibition catalog. The directory page on display reveals that about half of the cars are Fords, with the remainder divided among a wide variety of other car companies, including such forgotten brands as Nyberg, Babcock, Streator, Chalmers, and Krit. The list also shows that one person on the page owned two vehicles, a Cadillac and a car from a Kalamazoo company called “Michigan Buggy.” This was Kalamazoo resident (and U-M alum) W. E. Upjohn, founder of what was originally called the “Upjohn Pill and Granule Company.” Nearby, a letter in the Michigan Central Railroad’s letterbook — a scrapbook of correspondence to the company — contains a request from a parent of two boys killed by the railroad:
Bedford, Indiana, Jan. 25, 1863
I had the misfortune about 2 years ago to lose two children on the railroad, one a child of 3 years old was killed at Michigan City, the other, a young man of 21, was a brakeman on the Road and was killed at this place. I have frequently been advised by professional men to sue the company for damages but have no wish or desire to do so, but I think it not amiss for me to apply for an occasional free pass on the RR. Myself and family wished to visit some friends in Jackson, Michigan. We have received a free pass as far as Lafaette, which (station) application on representation of the circumstances has been freely granted us. If you will grant us a pass from Lafaette to Jackson we shall be much obliged. For proof of what I have stated I can refer you to the Robberts, and others at Michigan City.
Instead of immediately granting this modest request, somebody scrawled in pencil on the bottom of the letter, “Robert — what about this case?”
Also on display is Italian military engineer and inventor Agostino Ramelli’s lavish 1588 engraving of an imaginary mobile bridge, consisting of short wagonlike sections, from his displayed book Le Diverse et Artificiose Machine. We’re told this book also contains Ramelli’s famous “wheel-like machine that allows for the reading of multiple books without leaving one’s seat.” And there’s a dainty proposed 1836 “aerial railroad” (pictured) with cars “Arrow” and “Dart” suspended on threadlike cables above the Thames, a velocipede whose entire frame is ingeniously shaped from one giant curvy leaf spring, and the facsimile of a Cyrillic-printed logbook from the first Moscow-North Pole-United States flight, in 1937, completed by “Airplane No. 25.” The works are on display through Thursday, May 31.
[Review published May 2007]