Ann Arbor / Washtenaw County - History

AADL Talks to Rhonda Gilpin

One of Ann Arbor’s Heritage Businesses, The Caravan Shop has been an anchor in the historic Nickels Arcade for over 80 years. Opened in 1927 by Frank and Jean Karpp, it is known for its eclectic merchandize with an international flavor.

Recently, its current owner Rhonda Gilpin talked with us about the history of the shop, how she came to own it and her goal of keeping it a family business. She talked about the pleasures and challenges of doing business in a college town. Rhonda is also the owner of Arcadian Antiques and Collectibles located in the Nickels Arcade. She credits the "Think Local" initiative and the nice mix of new businesses for the improved retail climate in Ann Arbor.

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AADL_Talks_To-Rhonda_Gilpin.mp3 9.7 MB

Hill Auditorium ~ One Hundred Years of History

On June 25, 1913, Hill Auditorium was officially opened to the University and the community with the mission to bring the world to Ann Arbor. Grace Shackman's Old News feature tells the story of Hill and the thousands of performers, speakers, events and controversies that have made Albert Kahn's gorgeous building so central to Ann Arbor's history. Old News has published hundreds of Ann Arbor News articles and photographs that chronicle the history-makers, the premiere performers, the celebrations and the one-of-a-kind.

In collaboration with the University Musical Society, the complete UMS Concert Program Archives have been digitized. The program notes offer some of the best music criticism written. In keeping with a long-held Town & Gown tradition, UMS will celebrate Hill's 100th with a big Community Sing of Verdi's Requiem on May 14th, one hundred years to the day that they did the Requium in 1913. Come, sing and be a part of the continuing history of Hill Auditorium.

AADL Talks to Cynthia Shevel

In this episode AADL talks to Cynthia Shevel, owner of Middle Earth Gift Shop on South University. Middle Earth came on the scene in 1967 as the first “head shop” in Ann Arbor. The store began as a one-room, 2nd-floor walk-up on Liberty Street. The motto of Middle Earth is “harming only the humorless.” Long-time TreeTowners will remember the great ads Middle Earth ran in The Sun, our contribution to the underground newspaper movement. We talked to Cynthia about the move to South U and the changes over time to the merchandise, the customers and the crew at Middle Earth.

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AADL_Talks_To-Cynthia_Shevel.mp3 12.7 MB

AADL Talks to Joe O’Neal

AADL sat down with Joe O'Neal, president of O'Neal Construction who, along with Bill Martin, established the Argus Museum. Joe related how the purchase of the Argus buildings from the University of Michigan in the early 1980s led to the acquisition of cameras, photographic equipment, memorabilia and company publications of the Argus Camera Company. Many of the ideas and leads for the museum collection came from the pages of the Argus Eyes.

Joe's many stories include names familiar to Argus employees and collectors including Milt Campbell, Art Dersham, Don Wallis, Sammy Ross and Tony Vicaro.

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AADL_Talks_To-Joe_Oneal.mp3 10.9 MB

Argus Camera - The Story Behind the Stories

Old News has obtained two promotional videos produced by Argus Camera around 1945 and 1953. Argus Eyes For Victory recounts the "miracle of production" that earned Argus several E Awards for excellence in design and manufacture of World War II-related materiel from the U.S. War Department. The video captures the post-war economic optimism while paying tribute to the soldiers, inventors and labor that became known as the Greatest Generation.

In Fine Cameras and How They Are Made, the Argus C-Four takes center stage. The narrator intones, "It takes three things to make a fine camera . . ." and with that the film launches into a highly technical and detailed description of every step in the camera-manufacturing process at Argus Cameras of Ann Arbor. Scenes of the scientists and craftsmen creating the Argus C-Four are interwoven with scenes of customers using the camera to take family photos and outdoor shots. Visit AADL's Argus Camera online exhibit and take a walk over to the Argus Museum for even more Argus history.

Powering Ann Arbor: The Huron River Dams

Ann Arbor may be known as "Tree Town" but it was the Huron River and it's potential for industry and commerce that brought settlers to the area. Grace Shackman's Then & Now article The Broadway Bridge Parks provides a succinct history of dam-building on the Huron beginning with Anson Brown's in 1830. Old News has assembled articles on the dams including the tragic tale of a 1913 accident at Barton Dam and the lone survivor.

Architect Gardner S. Williams designed nine dams along the Huron River including Barton in 1912, Argo in 1913 and Geddes in 1919. The dams were on-again, off-again sources of hydroelectric power for the city. Read Shackman's article on the old Municipal Beach at Argo Park, the precursor to the great recreational facilities now available at Argo Park.

Ann Arbor Goes to the Movies

In 1908, 5 cents would get you into a movie at The Casino. The Theatorium on Maynard, built on a former skating rink, showed one-reelers. The Majestic, a W.S. Butterfield theater, opened on December 19, 1907, quickly followed by the Whitney on Main Street the next January. The chain also operated the Michigan, the State, the Wuerth, and the Orpheum.

On Saturday afternoon September 11, 1915, 2000 Ann Arborites poured into the new Rae Theater (capacity 385) on Huron Street to see Pearl White in the Iron Claw. But the big hoopla occurred on Sunday September 12, when the first legal and public showing of a motion picture took place on a sabbath day in Ann Arbor history, and it took a special election to accomplish that.

The Old News team has digitized many of the news articles on the early history of Ann Arbor's movies theaters.

The Story of Argus Camera

The story of the Argus Cameras, Inc. is one of ideas, perseverance and adaptability.

Founded in the Depression years by businessmen who were as tough as the times, it employed, at its height, 1300 workers and occupied 2 city blocks on 4th Street.

In 1929, local inventor Charles A. Verschoor and Mayor William E. Brown Jr. started a radio manufacturing business with support from local bankers called the International Radio Company. In 1932 they produced the Kadette, the first radio that used tubes instead of a large transformer. Verschoor then traveled to Europe researching the idea of producing a camera (like the Leica) but made and sold for $10. With the first camera rolling off the assembly line in 1936, the name of the company was changed to Argus, after the Greek mythological god of 1,000 eyes. The Model A camera was so popular, it sold 30,000 units by Montgomery Ward in the first week.

In the 1940s, with stiff competition from cheaper Japanese cameras available on the market, Argus diversified its product lines with projectors, optical and specialty equipment for several United States Department of Defense contracts during WWII, and the Korean War, thus saving many local jobs.

Local historians like to point out that Argus Cameras, as one of Ann Arbor’s early industries, was 100% Ann Arbor: 100% Ann Arbor capital, 100% Ann Arbor brains, and 100% Ann Arbor people. The Old News staff have gathered decades of news articles, photos and videos that trace the rise and decline of this very important manufacturer in local history.

While the business no longer exists, Argus cameras remain much sought-after collectibles. (See them at the Argus Museum Exhibits and photos taken by AADL photographer Tom Smith). The original Argus buildings still stand, now used by various departments of the University of Michigan, and inspired local author Steve Amick’s second novel Nothing but a Smile (2009) .

AADL has partnered with the Argus Museum to digitize a wide variety of images and documents that build a fuller picture of what it was like to work at Argus Camera, its products, people, and impact.


Ann Arbor News Articles

AADL has digitized hundreds of articles from the Ann Arbor News documenting the history of Argus Camera as it happened. These articles include announcements of new products, changes in the company, and the company's impact on the Ann Arbor Community. Argus Camera's role as an industry leader and a major employer in the area assured that coverage by the Ann Arbor News was in-depth.


Argus Eyes

AADL has digitized the Argus Eyes, the employee newsletter of Argus Camera. This publication includes details about the company and its workers, from descriptions of new product lines and facilities to birth announcements and company picnics. And of course, given its source, it is also full of spectacular photos, many of them from the Ann Arbor area.


Podcasts

AADL has conducted the following interviews regarding the history of Argus Camera:
-Cheryl Chedister, Argus Museum Curator
-Milt Campbell, Art Dersham, and Elwyn Dersham, long-time Argus Camera employees
-Art Parker, long-time Argus Camera employee


Argus Camera Publications

In addition to the Argus Eyes, the Argus Museum and AADL have made available digitized copies of many of the publications created by the Argus Camera organization over the years. These include instruction manuals for many of Argus's products, parts lists for the same, and educational booklets on how to take better photographs using Argus cameras.


Photos

The Argus Museum and AADL have also made available a collection of photographs of Argus products and the museum itself. These include high-resolution photos of some of Argus Camera's most iconic creations, from the Kadette Radio to the Argoflex camera.


Argus Videos

We've also digitized two historic films about Argus cameras, Argus Eyes for Victory, from 1945 and Fine Cameras and How They Are Made, from 1953.

AADL Talks to Argus Employees and Museum Curator

Do you ever wonder what it was like to work for one of the largest employers in Ann Arbor and one of the most prestigious and well-known camera manufacturers in the world?

AADL talked to Art Parker, an avowed “Townie” who spent nearly 20 years with Argus Camera. Art talked about his family’s long history with Argus and the company’s social life that included Christmas parties, teen dances, summer camp, scholarships and profit-sharing.

We also talked with Milt Campbell, Art Dersham and Elwyn Dersham about their years at Argus during its heyday in the 1940s and 50s and the challenging years of the 1960s and 70s as the company’s fortunes declined and Argus left Ann Arbor forever.

Cheryl Chidester, the Argus Museum curator shared the history of the company, its products and innovations, and its role in United States’ victory in World War II. We also learned about the founding of the Argus Museum, its missions in preserving the history and material culture of this early Ann Arbor industry significant to generations in the community.

AADL Talks to Cheryl Chidester, Argus Museum Curator

We would like to thank the Argus Museum, located in the original Argus Building at 535 W. William St. for generously sharing its resources, artifacts, and archival materials in preparing this AADL exhibit on the Argus Camera, Inc.

A special thank you goes to Cheryl Chidester, the Argus Museum curator. In this podcast, she shared the history of the company, its products and innovations, and its role in United States’ victory in World War II. We also learned about the founding of the Argus Museum, its missions in preserving the history and material culture of this early Ann Arbor industry significant to generations in the community.

We can see photos of the Museum and its exhibits as well as samples of the Argus Eye, a monthly newsletter produced by the Argus employees from the Museum’s archive.

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AADL_Talks_To-Cheryl_Chedister.mp3 13.14 MB
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