A National Treasure: The Detroit Public Library's National Automotive History Collection

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
a national treasure the detroit public library s national automotive history

Occasionally, when talking to other car folks, I’ll hear, “well, you live in Detroit”. It can mean different things. Sometimes it’s an accusation of jingoist bias in favor of the domestic automakers. I plead guilty in not wanting to see lots of my neighbors and customers unemployed. Other times, it’s more wistful, more envious. For a car guy, Detroit can be Mecca and nirvana on Christmas morning with a cherry on top. I don’t have to fly in for press events at the Big 3 and because there are so many automotive writers around here, even the foreign brand press fleet is stocked pretty nicely.

Though not as common as they once were, you can still take a factory tour at Ford’s [not quite so] giant [anymore] Rouge complex, and while you’re in Dearborn it’s definitely worth your while to visit the Henry Ford Museum. Just one note, you won’t find it listed under that name. A few years ago, for some insane marketing reason, the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village decided to rebrand itself, choosing “The Henry Ford”. I suppose that goes over big with museum curators – I’m sure that everyone in Manhattan knows what the Guggenheim is, but in a region that has hospitals and schools named after Henry Ford (I & II), dropping Museum from the eponymous Henry Ford, is just confusing and a little too precious.

The Henry Ford Museum (see, I refuse to comply) has an outstanding automotive and automobilia collection, but it’s really more about modern life than anything else. The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills is a bit more focused on cars. Though not generally open to the public, GM’s Heritage Center surely is of interest to any car enthusiast, GM or otherwise. But there’s one point of automotive interest in Detroit that, though not nearly as well known as the OEM-associated museums, is truly a treasure. The National Automotive History Collection at the Rose & Robert Skillman Branch of the Detroit Public Library is the largest publicly accessible automotive archive in the world. The collection’s oldest book was published in 1896, and with help from The Friends of the NAHC, the collection continues to grow with a good selection of recent automotive titles.

Even the building that houses the NAHC has an automotive link. The firm of Smith Hinchman, and Grylls, who did much of the architectural work for Dodge Brothers, designed that library branch, and its successor firm did the recent renovation.

In addition to a variety of automotive books, the NAHC includes domestic and foreign factory service manuals, owners’ manuals, brochures and other sales literature, advertising, automobilia, original artwork, business papers and manuscripts. The personal papers of industry notables like Charles Duryea and the Knudsens are also part of the collection, as are a large number of factory photographic images and motorsports photography.

The NAHC is an invaluable resource to hobbyists, restorers, automotive historians, writers… simply anyone with an interest in cars. If you’re researching an automotive topic and can’t find the book or photo that you’re looking for, the NAHC probably has it. The NAHC deserves our support. Any time you are in the Detroit area, it’s worth a visit.

Actually, there’s an event coming up at the NAHC itself that’s worth a trip to the Motor City. On November 20, 2010, the Friends of the National Automotive History Collection will be hosting the 5th annual Automotive Authors Day at the Rose and Robert Skillman Branch, 121 Gratiot Avenue, in downtown Detroit (right behind the Compuware Headquarters). At the time of publication, 25 authors have agreed to participate. The authors and their works are varied, including academic and popular histories, as well as cultural and more graphically oriented books. Perhaps the best known is Paul Ingrassia, who’s written about the auto industry for the Wall Street Journal, and will be flacking , Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road From Glory to Disaster. Charles Hyde, author of a number of fine academic automotive histories will be promoting Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors. There are authors who have written about Mustangs and Corvettes, Mopar racers and Yugos. There is even something for the Booth Babe, Margery Krevsky and her Sirens of Chrome, The Enduring Allure of Auto Show Models. Bring your checkbook or credit card because I’m sure you’ll find at least a couple of books that you’d like to buy and have autographed. Make sure you also make out a donation to the NAHC.

Press release below.

Fifth Annual Automotive Authors Day


Saturday, November 20, 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Detroit Public Library

Rose and Robert Skillman Branch

121 Gratiot Avenue

(In downtown Detroit behind the Compuware Headquarters)

Historians and motor heads of all ages are invited to attend Detroit’s largest gathering of automotive history writers. Over twenty authors who write about the world of cars and their societal impact will assemble in the Skillman Library, home to the National Automotive HIstory Collection, to share with the public their passion for all things automotive. Books will be available for purchase.

Attended parking is available in the Compuware visitor lot south of the Skillman Branch on Farmer Street. This event is free and open to the public. For a complete listing of participating authors, and maps of the area, please visit www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/NAHC. Other inquiries may be directed to The DPL Friends Foundation office at 313-481-1357 or friends@detroitpubliclibrary.org

Participating Authors Include:

Lindsay Brooke, Ford Model T: The Car That Put the World on Wheels

Mark Cantey, Driving Style: GM Design’s First Century

John Clor, The Mustang Dynasty

Tom Cotter, The Corvette in the Barn, The Cobra in the Barn and other “Car in the Barn” books

Mike Davis, Detroit Area Test Tracks

Arthur Einstein, “Ask the Man Who Owns One”: An Illustrated History of Packard Advertising

Patrick Foster, Kaiser-Frazer history; Studebaker: The Complete History; and books on American Motors and Jeep

Robert Gabrick, Go the Greyhound Way: The Romance of the Road and Sterling Trucks Photo Archive

Robert Genat, Woodward Avenue: Cruising the Legendary Strip

John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life

Charles Hyde, Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors

Paul Ingrassia, Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road From Glory to Disaster

Margery Krevsky: Sirens of Chrome, The Enduring Allure of Auto Show Models

Randy Leffingwell, Muscle: America’s Legendary Performance Cars and Legendary Corvettes

David Lewis, The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company

Jim Luikens, Standard Catalog of Mercedes-Benz

Walt McCall, City Service Hook-&-Ladder Trucks, Encyclopedia of American Fire Engine Manufacturers

Thomas McPherson, Miller-Meteor: The Complete Illustrated History and The Henney Motor Company

David Newhardt, Art of the Muscle Car and books on Camaro and GTO

Timothy O’Callaghan, Ford in the Service of America

Tracy Powell, American Auto Legends and Cadillac at 100

David Rockwell, We Were the Ramchargers: Inside Drag Racing’s Legendary Team

Jim Schild, Maximum Performance: Mopar Super Stock Drag Racing, 1962 – 1969 and Proving Ground: A History of Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth Racing

Jason Vuic, The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

Anthony Yanik, Maxwell Motor: And the Making of Chrysler Corporation

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2 of 16 comments
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