Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Armstrong Spring Company & Marvel Carburetor Co..

A 1907 map showing the layout of the factories in the Oak Park Industrial Complex . The Armstrong plant is at the lower right in the grouping. You will notice that the Imperial Wheel plant does not look quite right. It was probably under construction at the time this map was being compiled. I have always thought it was being built starting in 1904 but it may have been later judging by this map. This map supplied by Leonard Thygesen.
I found a couple of different patents that were filed under the name of the founder John  Belmer Armstrong after he was deceased. I figure these were initiated by his son Robert who was the one who brought the company to the United States from Guelph Ontario Canada where many early entrepreneurs in Flint had their  early training. One other notable would be William A. Patterson, the first large scale producer of carriages in Flint during the 19th century.  Go here for a comprehensive history of the Armstrong family.
This view is looking north at the south-end of the J.B. Armstrong spring plant. St. John Street is in the foreground (James P. Cole Blvd. today). One interesting date was given by Buick historian Don Bent in his book "A Place Called Buick" he says the first set of springs delivered to the Buick factory on Kearsley Street for the first Flint built Buick was on January 1, 1904. The story remembered by James Parkhill who succeeded Robert Armstrong as president of the Company said this. "They were hauled over in Bert Armstrong's 1902 curved-dash Oldsmobile". The very first automobile built in Flint was built by Judge Charles H. Wisner,  possibly as early as 1898. The carriage house which was his workshop was written about in The Detroit Journal of October 10, 1901 as being one of the best appointed machine shops in the state. I just so happened to be there the day they were moving it to it's new home in Crossroads village near Flint, where it can still be seen today. I was skipping school that day. It was located at the southwest corner of east Court and Lapeer Street. I looked in the windows with the glass now removed and it was already elevated for moving. It was bright red with white trim as I recall. It was being moved to make way for the new business loop through Flint called the Buick & U.A.W. expressway or I-475 as we know it today. Wisner's first car was known as Wisner's "Buzz Wagon". Wisner built a total of three cars and two of them are said to have had their final assembly done at the Armstrong plant on St. John Street. Robert (Bert) Armstrong supposedly helped Wisner with those two. One side note is that James Parkhill erected the first gasoline station in Flint during 1905. A recreation of this station was for a time set up at the Sloan museum in Flint.   James Parkhill Flint Garage 1906.  James Parkhill's book: To My Friends: by James Parkhill 
A closeup of the J.B. Armstrong spring factory, who's location relative to the Buick factories is shown below.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              December 1912. 
March 1909.
The red arrow shows the Armstrong Spring factory in 1910. The Flint river is in the foreground showing a bridge that never existed in this exact configuration. This view is facing west. Armstrong is located on St John street which was notorious in the 19th century logging era for it's many taverns. In this drawing Armstrong is located in what was called since the '20s "Cigarette  park" because of trees there that had fruit that resembled cigarettes. It's official name in later years was the  James Cussan's park and was a Vietnam war memorial or just Veterans Park. In real life the river curved farther east here (look at 1907 map above).  Just north along the river is the Flint City Water Works. Farther north of the bridge is the Flint Axle Works. On the opposite side of St. Johns is the Flint Varnish Works (future Dupont) and across Hamilton Avenue to the north is the Imperial Wheel plant. South of Hamilton towards the top is the Stewart factories #3 and #4. The zig-zag building on the south side of Hamilton is the original Buick garage #08. It was not built exactly in this shape. Sometimes these drawings would show what was planned but did not happen. Directly north across Hamilton Avenue is the Buick office and factories. North of that along Industrial Avenue is the Weston-Mott axle plant and north of that is Michigan Motors Casting.  
From Don Bent's book "A Place Called Buick" a great book by the way.
Inside Armstrong.

Inside Armstrong.
Inside Armstrong.

Inside Armstrong.
Short story from an advertisement shown farther above. This and the  photos above  came from Don Bent's book and was credited to Leroy Cole an older Flint and Buick historian.  
Marvel took over the Armstrong factory in 1921. I'm thinking this is the old Peerless building on Mill St. next door to the old Cornwall Whip Socket plant. Marvel first expanded operations to Flint in 1912 to be near the auto plants there. So they would be in this location for about 8 years.  This may be the three story building on Mill, mentioned in the article below.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Sept 1912.
Link: 

Durant-Dort Factories East of Saginaw Street.

This is a 1916 article speaking of the outstanding one day production of Marvel.
A 1916 Marvel advertisement showing that they also supplied some carburetors for Ford. 
This view of the old J.B. Armstrong spring plant is after the Marvel Carbureter Company has moved from Mill St. on the east side of the river to this location on the west side of the river. This view was obviously taken from the Dupont factory (old Flint Varnish Works) which is casting it's shadow onto St. John Street. This view is facing south with the Flint river partially visible in the distance. This is from the book "Fire Department City of Flint 1916. 
                                                        Hamilton Avenue And St. John Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              July 1916.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        December 1916.
This is from the book "Fire Department City of Flint 1916
The Wall Street Journal reports on G.M. taking control of Armstrong in early 1924. Don Bent of "A Place Called Buick" says that the purchase took place on January 1, 1924 of the Armstrong Spring on (Hamilton Avenue) which I have not found that location myself and cannot find where it could have been located on Hamilton. 'Maybe it was a typo'? A quote from Don's book says "After Armstrong Spring moved from the factory on St. Johns Street., the building was purchased by Marvel Carburetor in 1921. In March, 1928, Marvel bought Schebler Carburetor Company in Indianapolis. In June,1928, Marvel became one of the four companies that formed Borg-Warner. In 1931, all Schebler production was consolidated to Flint. In 1934, it officially became the Marvel-Schebler division of Borg-Warner. The Division was moved to Illinois in 1948". I have found all this to be correct. He also has Armstrong merging with Buick on May 13, 1932. 
This is the site in the 1920's. Compare these two maps for locations of  certain  Buick factories discussed below. These maps were taken from the book "Our Days Together At Buick City".
This map depicts the Buick site at the end.
These enlargements of the north Buick site from around 1947 show the location of the Armstrong Spring Company. This factory was built in 1919 and was used  for making Buick springs until Buick absorbed the company on May 13, 1932. Don Bent, the author of "A Place Called Buick" told me last year that he seemed to remember this building being used as a meat packing plant at some point after Armstrong vacated the premises. In the bottom blow-up  I have numbered the Buick buildings with their final designations at the time of demolition. Factory #10 was the big aluminum foundry built in 1941 and designated as building #20. At the end of the war it became factory #05 for a short time and then got it's final designation of #10 which most of us still  alive today knew it as. The old  Buick aluminum foundry #30,  which was changed to #03 in 1963 when the old #03 forge plant south of Leith Street was demolished had some of it's work moved there and became #03, the new spring plant at Buick.  It was built between 1917-1918. Factory #81 got it's new designation in 1981 and was the old grey iron foundry #70. Factory #81 was the first Buick factory to go with the honor system and do away with time clocks. The old Armstrong building would be removed to make way for the new Buick engine plant #36 built between 1951-1952. Newman Street and Sanford Street would no longer exist after that time and Black Avenue would loose it's east end. The dirt paths visible to the north-east of the Armstrong building are the remnants of the Tank test track of World War II. Division Street turns into Selby Street at the Stewart Street intersection. Division Street was not a Flint City Street and was only used by Buick. Andrews Street was the one most workers know today because that was the way into the parking lots at the engine plant. That is the old Pere Marquette rail line shown at the right. It would later be the C & O rail road.
This circa 1947 photo of the Buick site from a Leonard Thygesen print shows the location of the Armstrong Spring Company before they were absorbed by General Motors and then Buick.  This is shown in greater detail above.  The 1916 Armstrong addition
Here is the old (at that time) Armstrong factory on Stewart Street. It is shown in the background during construction of Buick factory #10 in 1941. It is sitting directly on the site of the future engine plant #36.
March 1917. 

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