The Way It Was
by Larry Wakefield
Larry Wakefield wrote many books about Traverse City history, the last of which is this delightful collection of Traverse City's most colorful characters and dramatic events.
An excerpt from the Chapter on the Napoleon Car Company.
"Its name was Napoleon, and it originated in 1916 in the little town of Napoleon, Ohio, a few miles southwest of Toledo. Its logo was a rear view of Napoleon Bonaparte himself in full dress uniform, including the familiar bicorn hat.
In 1917, a group of Traverse City people got together at the Chamber of Commerce and decided that an auto plant was just the thing to boost the area’s ailing economy, which had been crippled by the loss of Oval Wood Dish Company, the largest industry, to Tupper Lake, New York, in 1916. They had heard good things about the Napoleon, and early that same year they approached the company with an offer of financial assistance if it would relocate to Traverse City.
As it happened, Napoleon had economic problems of its own. Business was good, and it was swamped with orders for the fabulous new machine, but it lacked the necessary capital to increase its production beyond a single unit per day. So both parties were more than willing to cut a deal and it was cinched after only a week or two of negotiations.
A new company was formed with executives from both companies, and it began to raise a start-up capital of $75,000 by selling stock at $10 per share. The price was held purposely low, the company explained, so almost everyone in Traverse City could afford a piece of the action. In full-page advertisements in the Record-Eagle people were urged to invest as a kind of patriotic duty, almost on a par with buying World War I Liberty Bonds. Over long lists of happy investors the banner headlines blared: “THESE PEOPLE WANT AN AUTO FACTORY IN TRAVERSE—HOW ABOUT YOU?” and “THESE PEOPLE ARE LUCKY—HOW ABOUT YOU?” and “ONLY SIX MORE DAYS—EVERYBODY BOOST!” And one day the paper pulled out all stops by printing the following letter:
Nearly everyone in Traverse City has been loyal to our country. We have bought Liberty Bonds and we have aided the Red Cross. Now let us be loyal to our city by buying stock in the new auto company. Don’t be a slacker in your home town! I am only a poor widow woman but I love Traverse City and want to see it grow and prosper.
(signed) Mrs. J. Brown"
The Way It Was