Birthplace of the Ford Automobile: 58 Bagley Avenue

A while back at Mac’s Motor City Garage, we took a look at the second car built in the city of Detroit, Henry Ford’s 1896 quadricycle. Now we pay a visit to the familiar address where the car was built, 58 Bagley Avenue. 



REVISED AND EXPANDED — If you’re a fan of automotive history, you’ve probably seen the above photo countless times. It’s the famous coal shed behind Henry and Clara Ford’s house at 58 Bagley Avenue where Henry built his first automobile. Here’s a little more background to the story.


Here’s a less frequently seen image—the double house at 56 and 58 Bagley where Henry and  Clara were tenants. (This photo was taken some years later.) The coal shed was directly behind it. Henry worked a short distance away as a powerhouse superintendent at the Edison Illuminating Company, and Clara was a homemaker caring for their son Edsel, who was not quite three years old when the quadricycle was built. The Fords soon moved from the Bagley address and Henry set up an experimental shop next door to the Edison generating plant.

Of course, the double house and the coal shed are long gone now, as is the address in old downtown Detroit. In 1920, the city changed the street numbering system and today the location is in the 200 block of Bagley—and it’s the site of another well-known structure, the Michigan Theater, also known as the Michigan Building, constructed in 1926. The theater portion of the 13-story building is now a parking garage.


Here’s the Michigan Building in Autumn of 2012. Next to the front door in this photo can be seen a historical marker, shown in closeup below.


Possibly out of respect for his (slightly exaggerated) historical claims, the marker states that Ford’s automotive experiments at the Bagley address began in 1892. However, we know today that the quadricycle made its first run sometime between 2AM and 4AM on Thursday, June 4, 1896.


If you’d like to visit the spot yourself, it’s a few blocks off Woodward Avenue near Grand Circus Park, between Clifford and Grand River Avenue on Bagley Avenue. Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers, and Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play, are a half-mile northeast. By the way, the principal owner of the Lions is Mrs. William Clay Ford, the widow of Henry Ford’s grandson.


Above: At Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Henry Ford’s historical theme park, there’s a recreation of the Bagley Avenue coal shed, which houses a quadricycle replica and other artifacts. The shed at Greenfield Village, it’s said, was built from bricks taken from the house on Bagley. In the photos below, Ford himself drops in for a visit. You can read more about Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle in this Mac’s Motor City Garage feature. 


8 thoughts on “Birthplace of the Ford Automobile: 58 Bagley Avenue

  1. The garage at Greenfield Village is behind the Model T taxi stand. It’s well worth checking out.

  2. Marker doesn’t say he built, finished, or drove his vehicle in 1892; it says he “began” experimenting with it in that year. Having not been there myself, I can neither confirm nor refute the claim. Consequently, I’ll just enjoy the story and the photos and accept whatever history tells me (I’m gullible).
    All seriousness aside, thanks for presenting it!

  3. It’s always a bonus to read some background on the place where it all started. I really want to visit these places in person; they’re part of my bucket list. Thanks for posting.

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