The following is my summary of the autobiographical sketches written at unknown dates by the automotive pioneer Henry Bourne Joy, whose papers are found in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan.
1. Boyhood of Henry B. Joy
2. With J.F. Joy in England—July 1884
3. Development of Aviation Interest in Detroit
4. Joy-Beecher Controversy
Boyhood of Henry B. Joy.
Henry lived the first 28 years of his life two blocks from the Detroit post office “until I embarked on the sea of matrimony and removed to another part of the City.” His father James F. Joy, was president of the [Michigan Central] Railroad, with depot, office, and shops six blocks away from the family’s home. John F. Griffiths was Mr. Joy’s secretary. Young Henry liked to play with the telegraph in Griffiths’ office: “The result was chiefly a great deal of trouble, because I did not understand that I should leave the telegraph key closed after I had finished ‘operating.’” In the railroad’s shop “I was entranced with the big machine tools turning car axles and making big shavings of steel, on which, of course, I had promptly to burn my fingers.”
At age 11, with his brother, Fred, he went to the Wisconsin woods “to pay a visit at the home of my older brother, James Joy, who there had a farm, or rather a cranberry marsh.” Chicago papers arrived in the mail stating details of the Custer massacre. Rather than fight the Indians, they went back to Detroit and then went with his parents to Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The boys had read “Frank in the Mountains” and “Frank on the Prairie.” In their Philadelphia hotel, Henry and Fred hunted Indians until guests complained and the management reached the boys’ “commanding officers [parents].”
It was “intensely hot” at the Exhibition, but Henry “was to fall in love” in one building: “There I met my fate.” A Corliss engine furnished power to the machinery hall. Over the next few days he sat on the platform by it. The engineer “let me touch the engine; he let me fill the oil cans; he let me go around with him as he oiled the vast machine. Yes, I may as well confess, I was enraptured.”
Back at home, Fred went to military school in Orchard Lake; Henry envied his uniform. He was allowed to enroll the next year and was put in charge of the drum corps. “In that drum corps I finished my musical education.”
He stayed at school over Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving Day was skating on the lake when he fell through the ice. “I was really at the time quite interested in getting out.” He persisted and did hoist himself onto solid ice once again.
Naturally enough “the family had not been greatly pleased with my failure to come home Thanksgiving.” He did go home for Christmas. Santa gave him and Fred telegraph instruments. “We got a hold of some old wire, and while the family was absent, we proceeded to tack wires on the nice woodwork from one end of the house to the other, and set our telegraph company in operation. It was wonderful. It really worked. When mother returned, and we ran to her to show her what we had accomplished, we were disappointed at the effect of our skillful wiring work.” Later, after investigating at the Detroit Fire Department Telegraph Headquarters and the Western Union office, he figured out how to conceal the wiring, which he then surreptitiously installed throughout the house.
Easter was a repeat of Thanksgiving, and he stayed at school reading “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Count of Monte Christo.”
After another year at military school, Henry transferred to the Patterson School, in Detroit, and “fell under the instruction of a woman, a splendid woman” named Miss Hosmer. Mathematics now became an “enjoyable pastime.” Unlike his father, whose library of 10,000 volumes included an “elaborate” collection of Latin and Greek volumes and perhaps more than 3000 in French, young Henry was less of a language scholar, although he still “got by successfully.”
His father “was distinctly a home body,” devoted to his family and his books. His mother was “a saintly woman, and the best mother any man ever had, self-sacrificing, thoughtful, always planning for the happiness and comfort of those around her.” She also was “busy beyond words in attending to the charitable affairs with which she was connected in the City.”
Neither father nor mother ever spoke a cross word to each other. “It was a happy home of good cheer and good will and left an indelible impression on me which will endure with me to the end.”
With J.F. Joy in England—July, 1884
J.F. Joy was “vastly interested in keeping the Wabash as an entity and having it made tributary to his city of Detroit.” This would give Detroit “an entrance…for business to the great southwest.” The elder Joy “had become engaged in the effort to extricate the Wabash from the mire of financial complications into which it had been lead [sic] under the masterful guidance of Jay Gould.” The railroad’s health was also important to those Detroiters who were “engaged in the establishment of the new Union Depot gateway.”
Returning from Yale in June, Henry learned of his father’s plan to go to London. Having always found it “exceedingly entertaining” to follow his father on business, and relishing the opportunity to meet “very distinguished and prominent people,” Henry used “sincere effort” to go along. It was to be his first sea voyage and first visit abroad. Besides Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, he was keen to “follow out some of the descriptions in Dickens.”
They sailed on the Cunard liner “Gallia.” She was “an iron vessel built in 1879, single screw, 4808 Tons, 430 ft. long, 443 ft. broad, 36 ft. deep, 5300 H.P., speed 15-1/2 knots.” Despite heavy seas, he “enjoyed the voyage to the fullest extent.” Other distinguished passengers included Robert Garret, president of the Baltimore & Ohio, and Chauncey M. Depew, of the New York Central and the Vanderbilt interests.
There proved to be but few diversions during the journey. “I, myself, being a moderate reader, thought the load of books I carried on board for my father to last him the ten or twelve days of the voyage would have lasted me, I estimated, approximately six months.” That is, if he had been able to read Latin, Greek, and French at the pace his father maintained. (Here, he reveals that his father, then 74 years old, had come to Detroit in 1836 and hung out his shingle as a lawyer.) There were some after-dinner conversations with Garrett and Depew. Of the latter, Henry thought that “a more interesting and entertaining man could never have lived in the world. His unending supply of stories and anecdotes kept the company entertained in the highest degree.” But Henry was later somewhat disabused of his high esteem when his father called Depew “Mr. Vanderbilt’s man Friday.”
Reaching port in Liverpool, they made their way to London, where they stayed at the Langham, reputed to be London’s best hotel. In comparison to the hotels of New York, Boston, or Chicago, Henry found it to be “dark, gloomy, forbidding, and unattractive throughout its interior.” The roast beef and mutton chops were good, though.
Mr. Joy wouldn’t let “Harry” go along to his meetings, neither as porter nor errand boy. He carried his own satchel and left each day by himself. One morning Harry noted a newspaper ad for a Wabash shareholders’ meeting in a railway station auditorium. As it was a public meeting, he went on his own. About 300 shareholders had lost millions, and they engaged in “angry talk and anathematizing of American railroads, the American people and Jay Gould in particular.” Captain Francis Pavey conducted the meeting and introduced James F. Joy. The “tool of Jay Gould” withstood several minutes of derision from “the vexed multitude until they somewhat ran out of steampower.” The elder Joy mastered the crowd for more than an hour. “The situation altered like magic under the spell of his argument, heads nodding favorably here and there in the audience as he made point upon point; the approval gained and the confidence of the audience was won.” Another hour of Q&A followed, and then many from the audience stepped forth and shook Mr. Joy’s hand. Finally, young Harry presented himself.
“What? You here, Harry?” Mr. Joy said.
“Could I do anything for you, Father?” Harry asked.
“No,” his father said. “I’ll be back to the hotel in the afternoon.”
But Captain Pavey overheard all and acknowledged Harry. “I want to tell you that you should be proud. We’re going out to lunch and then down to my office for a meeting. Would you not come along?”
This time Harry “lost no time in assenting.”
It wasn’t the last time during the visit to London that he was invited along to meetings in Captain Pavey’s office.
Development of Aviation Interest in Detroit
Dictated by Henry B. Joy at the request of Harold H. Emmons, Detroit, Mich., December 3rd [no year given]
Joy Aviation Field, later to become Selfridge Field and elements tending to develop interest in Aviation locally
Joy began earnestly to study aviation and how Packard Motor could contribute to the service of the country “in case war should lead us into such difficulties as participation.” He had been increasingly interested in aviation since the Wright Brothers demonstrated flight at Fort Myer, in Washington, D.C. “I decided to drive towards an aviation motor in the Packard Experimental Department…”
As a testing ground for airplanes and for motor cars, he “canvassed the entire vicinity of Detroit to find a suitable location.” He bought up farmland without discussing the issue with the Packard board of directors, and he would simply hold the land as a real estate investment if they disapproved.
Two years into the war, the board decided not to pursue the testing ground, so “the land purchases which I had made were left in my ownership and possession.” Joy lived on the square mile in a tent, “spending as much time there as I could directly supervising the grading, going back and forth to the Packard factory each day over mud roads hub deep.” His interest was engaged because no such problem of drainage and reclamation had ever been attempted in the Detroit area.
When America entered the war on April 7, 1917, Joy was living in a frame house that he had built at the property. Much building of dikes, grading of ditches, and seeding of fields had been done at his own expense. The land was a foot lower than Lake St. Clair and really “was nothing but a ‘cat-tail’ swamp.” The federal government and Joy Realty Company worked out a three-year lease deal paying five percent on the calculated $195,000 price for land purchase and development. An option to buy was included. The road Joy had opened to Gratiot Avenue was paved with concrete by the State of Michigan and named Henry B. Joy Boulevard. A railroad was built on the property and buildings erected.
Joy Aviation Field became the first training center for military aviators.
“There is an interesting sideline in connection with my effort to develop an Aviation Field in the vicinity of Detroit as above outlined, which few people or practically none, know about or appreciate.”
“It illustrates the value of looking ahead and planning for possibilities in a doubtful future.” When Edward A. Deeds and Charles F. Kettering were visiting the Packard factory, Joy “induced [them] to take a little time off, and we went down to the [Detroit] river and got on my little power boat and took a run up to the Joy Aviation Field development.” They discussed the war and the possibilities of aviation. When Deeds and Kettering returned to Dayton they established their own field [today’s Wright-Patterson AFB?], “and when the war came on us and we were a participating nation, they gave their effort also to development of Aviation most unselfishly and liberally and with great and distinguished ability.”
Joy Field was renamed after Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge, whom Joy had seen killed on Sept. 17, 1908, in a crash with Orville Wright at Fort Myer.
After the war, the government did not exercise its option to buy at $195,000, so the property reverted to Joy’s control but the government continued to occupy it.
Whether Selfridge would become a permanent air base became “purely a political matter.”
“Finally the military authorities and the politicians in Washington decided to retain Selfridge Field, but instead of coming to me and discussing the matter, they instructed the District Attorney to institute condemnation proceedings and I was charged in public print with trying to get rich out of the Government and selling the property at twice its value, etc., etc.” An assessment process carried out by the D.A. showed the value between $400,000 and $500,000. So the authorities approached Joy about reinstating the option.
Joy agreed to this and the $195,000 was paid “in due time…after much silly negotiation and the matter was closed.”
He had felt that the base would be a benefit to Mt. Clemens, but ultimately he concluded otherwise because “the constant flying of planes all day long, daily, including Sunday, and the target practice which is incident to military training, causes so much disturbance in the contiguous area as to be decidedly detrimental to the upbuilding of a community anywhere within the vicinity of such a military aviation training field.”
(A matter too obscure for summary here, involving the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher’s contention that Republican Party presidential candidate James G. Blaine had solicited a bribe from James F. Joy.)