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Jackson: Once the Other "Motor City"

Jackson automotive manufacturing history preserved locally by Lloyd and Judith Ganton
Posted at 9:20 AM, Jun 24, 2024
  • Jackson was once Michigan's other "Motor City".
  • 24 Jackson-based companies produced automobiles.
  • Henry Ford's mass production undercut Jackson's hand-crafted automobile industry.
  • Video shows Ganton collection of Jackson-made automobiles and interview with Judith Ganton.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

At the dawn of automotive history, our neighborhood of Jackson took a shot at the title "Motor City."

As we get ready to take FOX 47 On the Road to Friday's Cruise In and Concert, we're looking in the rear view mirror. We’re visiting a collection of vintage made-in-Jackson vehicles preserved by Lloyd and Judith Ganton.

Judith, how’d this collection get started?

“Well, my husband, Lloyd found a ‘barn find’ — that’s what they call an old car that somebody’s abandoned, left around, and so he loved it, he thought it was beautiful with the high wheels, and so he restored it,” says Ganton.

As her husband worked, he discovered the car had been made in Jackson.

This, says Judith Ganton, made him curious about the history of Jackson’s auto industry — and led to the expansion of the collection.

This one, called the Jaxon, is the oldest — dated 1903. It had a steam engine…and another unusual feature:

“This is called a mother-in-law seat. It comes down. And it is a tiller instead of a steering wheel," says Ganton.

At the turn of the century, about 24 companies made cars in Jackson.

The Ganton collection contains about 20 of them.

So what happened?

“Really I think that Henry Ford killed us with the assembly line," says Ganton. "These cars were selling….for $1500-2000 a car for some of them and when Henry Ford could sell them for $300 and $400, probably $500 per car, with that assembly line, Jackson was all making them hand-made.”

The industry lasted a few more decades…until the last Jackson auto manufacturer closed up shop.

But not before turning out this beauty in 1954 — the last car to be “Made in Jackson”.

“It’s fiberglass. It’s called the Kaiser-Darrin, and it’s a very unique little car. The sliding doors are unique. It's beautiful inside, and it would have been a real hit, I think…if it hadn’t been for that other car called the Corvette,” notes Ganton.

To think what could have been…but all was not in vain.

Long after the last Jackson auto manufacturer shut its doors, our city has remained integral to the automobile industry, producing parts that make them possible to this day.

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