William Livingstone and family papers, 1850-1995 (majority within 1865-1925)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open to research.
- Livingstone, William, 1844-1925
- Livingstone was a Detroit, Michigan businessman, banker, and newspaper publisher. He was an advocate of improving shipping on the Great Lakes, helping to found the Lake Carriers' Association. Livingstone successfully lobbied Congress for funds to construct a channel in the lower Detroit River (the Livingstone Channel). The collection consists of manuscript and visual materials, some of which were collected by later family members. Included are diaries and account books, 1871-1882 (scattered) and 1925; correspondence and newspaper clippings; subject files pertaining to the Dime Savings Bank and the Lake Carriers' Association; and a speech book containing draft of speech written for James G. Blaine, presidential candidate in 1884. Visual materials include photographs and drawings.
2 reels (in 4 boxes)
1 oversize volume
1 oversize folder
- Call Number:
- 9653 Aa 2; UAl
- Finding aid created by Sondra Smith, 1996
- Scope and Content:
The papers of William Livingstone consist of manuscript and visual materials, some of which were collected by later family members. The papers include diaries and account books, 1871-1882 (scattered) and 1925; correspondence and newspaper clippings; subject files pertaining to the Dime Savings Bank and the Lake Carriers' Association; and a speech book containing draft of speech written for James G. Blaine, presidential candidate in 1884. Many of the letters in the collection were personal communications sent to Marion Scherer from family and friends while she was away at school. Visual materials include family photographs and drawings. The collection is organized into three series, William Livingston Jr. Topical Files, Correspondence, and Visual Materials.
- Biographical / Historical:
William Livingstone is best remembered for his vital role in the Great Lakes shipping industry, but he was also an important figure in banking and newspaper publishing in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in Dundas, Ontario, on January 21, 1844, to William and Helen (Stevenson) Livingstone and moved to Detroit with his parents at age five. He sought employment as a machinist at age 17, first in Detroit and then in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before returning to Detroit to enter into partnership with Robert Downie, the owner of a grocery store. In 1864 Livingstone married Downie's daughter, Susan Ralston Downie.
The following year, with the aid of his father, Livingstone opened his own business. Livingstone & Company began as wholesale and resale grocers but soon became flour and grain merchants. In time, the company undertook other profitable business ventures, such as dealing cordwood, lumbering, and operating a fleet of tugboats for the Western Transportation Company. In 1880 Livingstone founded his own steamship agency, the Michigan Navigation Company.
Livingstone's prominence in Detroit business led to his involvement in politics. Courted by the Republican Party, Livingstone accepted the nomination for state legislator in 1874 and was elected a representative for Wayne County. Although he never again sought political office, Livingstone remained active in politics, campaigning for Republican candidates. His successful efforts to elect Thomas W. Palmer to the United States Senate resulted in an appointment to the position of collector of the Port of Detroit in 1884. Livingstone later served in various leadership roles in the state and national Republican Party and chaired the Michigan delegation to the National Convention in 1900.
That same year, Livingstone was named president of the Dime Savings Bank of Detroit. He had helped to organize the bank in 1884, "believing that provision should be made for even the child with its dime for deposit."1 Livingstone remained president until his death in 1925. During his tenure the bank vastly increased its deposits and loaned money to a soon-to-be famous customer, Henry Ford.
Livingstone's long friendship with Ford actually began not in banking but in the newspaper industry. Livingstone had purchased the Detroit Evening Journal in 1885, and the paper was the first to publish an account of Ford's invention.2 As with most of his business ventures, Livingstone's experiments in newspaper publishing proved a success. A letter written to his staff outlines his policies:
First, we are a Republican paper; and, secondly, I want the news without regard to likes or dislikes. What my private opinion of the man may be cuts no figure in the case. While I run a newspaper, as far as possible I propose to sink individuality, and give my readers the news just the same as a hotel-keeper would cater to his guests. My only ambition is to give the news, all the news, and particularly Michigan news.
With a five-year hiatus from 1887-1892, Livingstone owned and published the newspaper until 1901, bringing it financial stability and prestige.
Among his many achievements, Livingstone's efforts to improve shipping on the Great Lakes remain best remembered. He successfully campaigned against a rail road bridge that would have obstructed navigation on the Detroit River and was instrumental in effecting improvements on Great Lakes channels and canals. He helped to found the Lake Carriers' Association, an informal organization of ship owners, and served as the Association's president for 23 years. Livingstone family biographer David Sanders Clark outlines Livingstone's navigational accomplishments:
As an acknowledged expert on Great Lakes ports and channels, he appeared repeatedly before the Senate Committee on Commerce and the House Committee on Rivers and Harbors. Through testimony and personal contacts he was influential in persuading the Federal government to construct the 1,350 foot Davis and Sabin locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and deepen and straighten channels in the St. Mary's River, at the lower end of Lake Huron, and across Lake St. Clair. But the achievement which gave him the greatest satisfaction was his success in getting Congress to appropriate funds in 1907 for the Livingstone Channel in the lower Detroit River.
One of the greatest engineering feats in the country up to that time, the channel was formally opened on October 19, 1912.
Heading the procession through the newly opened Livingstone Channel was another tribute to "Sailor Bill," the freighter William Livingstone. Livingstone's name was further memorialized following his death when the William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse was erected on Belle Isle in 1930.
At the time of their deaths in 1925, William Livingstone and Susan Ralston Downie Livingstone had been married nearly 61 years and were the parents of eight children. A more detailed account of their family history can be found in David Sanders Clark's unpublished genealogy, "Notes on the Livingstone Family of Lanark, Scotland, and Detroit, Michigan and Related Families," located in the present collection.
- Acquisition Information:
- The papers (Donor No. 8497 ) were donated to the Bentley Historical Library on July 23, 1996, by Helen Livingstone Bogle. Additional papers were received in 2012.
Periodic additions to the records are not expected.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
There are additional William Livingstone materials in the Florence Livingston Odell Ledyard collection at the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Banks and banking -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Shipping -- Great Lakes (North America)
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1884.
Banks -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Dwellings -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Ships -- Great Lakes.
Aerial photographs -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Dime Savings Bank.
Lake Carriers' Association.
William Livingstone (Ship)
Livingstone, William, 1844-1925.
Blaine, James Gillespie, 1830-1893.
Ford, Henry, 1863-1947.
Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930.
Detroit River (Mich. and Ont.)
Great Lakes (North America)
Detroit River (Mich. and Ont.) -- Channels.
Using These Materials
The collection is open to research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
[item], folder, box, William Livingstone and family papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan