The early years of a Michigan settlement used the comfortable lifestyles of the East to start new communities. One industry in particular was a flour mill. The original Jackson community survived eight years before construction of a mill began. The first mill built occurred in 1837 by William and Jerry Ford, Aetna Flouring Mills. It was the first structure built on the east side of the Grand River and had a capacity of 100 barrels of ground flour per day (Ella Sharp Museum, 12). The new mill now was more efficient for locals and it attracted large numbers of settlers to the Jackson area. Another spark to the industry in Jackson was the arrival of the Michigan Central Railroad in 1841. With the success of the milling industry, led to other flouring equipment manufacturers and machinists expand and flourish.
The trend of the industry throughout Michigan also occurred in Jackson with many carriage companies starting up as well as sleighs and carts. There were Jackson natives that did invent their own version of automobiles including Coe S. Reeves who built his first gasoline-powered vehicle in 1897(Ella Sharp Museum, 58). In 1902, several years before Henry Ford created the Model T, several Jackson entrepreneurs had gathered to form the Jackson Automobile Company. It was the city’s first successful, long-lived auto maker. The difference between the Jackson cars and say Fords, was Jackson was producing very expensive, high quality cars, and did not use the mass production. Briscoe Motor Corporations did adopt the assembly line into it’s production and made over 48,000 cars between 1914 and 1922. Jackson car makers produced twenty-one different makes during the city’s twenty years in the automobile industry. The production of the automobile not only brought Jackson into the manufacturing picture, but it changed the way that Jacksonians saw themselves and our city.
In 1904, William Durrant saw an opportunity to take a car company and give it life. David Buick’s company need money as well as a factory. Durrant had both and provided Buick with an ideal location, a Durant-Dort company plant in Jackson. By the next year, 1,000 Model C Buicks were produced. That model only was made for about a year until plans were made to move the production to Flint. Production of the Model F continued in Jackson through 1908 and Buick trucks till 1912 (Ella Sharp Museum, 61).
Many other industries thrived in Jackson from corset production, to brewing, machining, to the production of automobile parts. Jackson created a community that could provide for it’s citizens everything they needed and then some. The help of the state prison and railroad, connected the industries with other parts of the state of Michigan and the country. Today the industries of Jackson are slimming from the amount of manufacturing that occurred in the twentieth century. One of the biggest companies that have a strong headquarters in Jackson is Consumers Energy. It started in 1888 as Jackson Electric Light Works by William A. Foote and Samuel Jarvis. The two had already incorporated electrical power for downtown Jackson but by 1888 they were wanting to expand to private homes and businesses. This company took off and soon it began to take in other companies, as a holding company, and by the 1930s Consumers Power (later to become Energy) became one of the largest utilities in the nation. By Elaine Brewster