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Lansing Improvement Association & Lansing Business Men's Association
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(PHOTO NOT AVAILABLE) Bush, John J. - President - Lansing Improvement Association 1873. Born in 1833 in New York, Bush came to Lansing as a child with his father Charles, who would become the Lt. Gov. of Michigan. He started his banking career with Isbell & Bush, which later became Lansing National Bank in 1872 with Bush serving as president. Bush also was the founder of Central Michigan Savings Bank, was a partner with Edward W. Sparrow in land development in Lansing, and was also in the lumber business in Pentwater. In addition to his banking interests, Bush had extensive real estate and stock interests. Under the leadership of Bush and Sparrow, the Lansing Improvement Association published a book extolling Lansing as the capital of Michigan and as a center of trade and manufacturing. Bush was also a member of the Lansing School Board and was appointed State Librarian. He died October 11, 1886.


Sparrow, Edward W. - President - The Second Lansing Improvement Association 1892 - 1906. Sparrow was born in Ennescorthy County, Wexford, Ireland, in 1849 and came to Lansing at the age of 12. One of his first jobs was as a page in the Michigan Legislature in 1859. As a young man, he worked in the E. R. Miller and Harley Ingersoll stores and later embarked in the real estate business. Sparrow was the founder and largest stockholder of City National Bank, president of the Lansing Company, and a major shareholder in Seager Engine Works and the St. Clare Land Company. He was the owner of nine stores on Washington Ave., north from South St. near the Grand Trunk tracks, and was building two more buildings at the time of his death. He had extensive additional land holdings in Lansing, as well as timber and mining properties in the Upper Peninsula, Florida, Alabama, Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho and Brazil. He was the largest and first investor in Olds Motor Company. Today, he is best known as the original benefactor of the Edward W. Sparrow Hospital, having donated $100,000 to build the hospital in Lansing. Sparrow died in New York City on February 22, 1913.


Thoman, Fred - LBMA President – 1901. In either 1857 or 1868, Thoman built the Oriental Mill in downtown Lansing, later named the Thoman Milling Company. The gristmill was a center of community life, but also furnished steam and water for many local businesses. In 1882, a state-of-the-art Corliss engine was installed in the mill, providing a tie to the nearby Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), attracting engineering students who came to the mill to study the engine. The mill remained a model of the Industrial Revolution until 1957. At the first meeting of the LBMA, held at the Grand River Boat Club, Thoman was elected president and the new association voted to purchase the fairgrounds to secure a site for Olds Motor Works.


Thomas, Harris E. - LBMA President - 1902. Thomas graduated from Michigan Agricultural College in 1885 and then "read” the law with the firm of Cahill and Ostrander, both of whom became Michigan Supreme Court Justices. Thomas was admitted to the bar in 1889. He was the managing partner of the law firm of Thomas, Shields & Silsbee. He founded and incorporated the Michigan Knitting Company in 1891. He joined with Frank Clark andArthur C. Stebbins in 1902 to form the short-lived Clarkmobile Company. Thomas incorporated countless companies, including the New Way Motor Company, the Prudden Company and REO Motor Car Company. Thomas was active in politics as an alternate delegate to Democratic National Convention in 1912, treasurer of the Michigan Democratic Party in 1915, and a candidate for Michigan state senate for the 14th District in 1930.

Baird, James J. - LBMA President - 1903 & 1904. Baird was the owner of Baird's Opera House, a 1,500-seat playhouse located at the corner of Washington Avenue and Ionia Street. The Opera House presented much more than just operas including melodramas, "rollicking Irish comedy”, and blackface minstrel shows. Baird's also hosted local events, such as the high school's commencement exercises and fundraising plays performed by students from the Boys Industrial School. Baird also served as president of City National Bank.



Piatt, A.A. - LBMA President - 1905. Piatt was the founder and longtime owner of A.A. Piatt and Bros., a handle manufacturing plant located on the old capitol grounds in Lansing. Piatt was also the founder and president of Howell Manufacturing Co., which by the late 1890s, was making two-million spokes a year and furnished electrical power for streetcar companies. Its 500-horse power compound condensing engine furnished power for the electric railroad company. Piatt also served as the fuel administrator for the State of Michigan.



Price, Lawrence - LBMA President 1906. Price was a Civil War veteran who arrived in Lansing in 1883 and started buying and shipping livestock, and also invested in the lumber business. He was instrumental in promoting the Capital Lumber Company and became one of the pioneers in Lansing's automobile industry. He was also president of the Lansing Brewing Company for a number of years. Price founded the Auto Body Works in 1901 and was president at the time of his death. He was largely credited for the success of the company. Price was a director and one of the organizers of both the Gier Pressed Steel and Auto Wheel companies; president of the Rikerd Lumber Company, where Mill Supply Corp. currently stands; one of the original stockholders in the Reo Motor Car Company; and a director of the City National Bank.


Porter, Edgar S. - LBMA President - 1907 & 1908. Porter was a founder and general manager of the Lansing Spoke Company, formed in 1891. Within 10 years, the company was handling five million feet of lumber per year in its production of spokes. The company employed 75 workers and was known for using the most modern machinery available. Porter later served as president of the Auto Wheel Company. During Porter’s years as president, the LBMA agreed to donate land it owned to the Reliance Motor Car Company of Detroit if the company agreed to locate in Lansing.



Downey, Charles P. - LBMA President - 1909 & 1910. Downey was born in 1869, the son of H.J. Downey. In 1888, the Downey family purchased the Lansing House, changed the name to Hotel Downey and remodeled the building for $75,000, creating a first-class hotel in Lansing. The hotel was a popular convention location for businesses and organizations wishing to meet in the capital city. The second floor contained committee rooms and while the Legislature was in session, the hotel was the most popular restaurant and watering hole in town. Governor Rich called the Downey his home while in office. Downey died in 1921.



Olds, Ransom Eli - LBMA President 1911. Olds was born in Ohio on June 3, 1864. Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing on August 21, 1897. The company was bought by copper and lumber magnate Samuel L. Smith in 1899 and renamed Olds Motor Works. The new company was moved from Lansing to Detroit and Smith became president while Olds was named vice president and general manager. The Detroit plant burned to the ground March 9, 1901. On August 12, 1901, Olds Motor Works agreed to move its plant and business to Lansing on the old state fairgrounds, buying the property from the Lansing Business Men’s Association for $5,118. In addition, the Lansing Business Men’s Association offered to erect a building on the site sufficient to accommodate Olds Motor Works and offered the use of the building for one-year rent-free, provided that Olds Motor Works pay the taxes, insurance and maintenance on the building. The building was built on the banks of the Grand River. It was in 1901 that Olds designed the curved dash Oldsmobile that sold for $650. It was this car, rather than the Model T, that was the first mass-produced, low-priced car.

After leaving Olds Motor Works in 1904, Olds formed the REO Motor Car & Truck Company in Lansing and remained with the company until 1936. Olds formed or participated in the formation of several other companies, many of which were automotive related and served to provide a stable and reliable source of parts for Olds Motor Works and later, REO. Olds held over 30 patents personally and was associated with over 200 other patents. Olds was called by his peer group, "The Father of the American Automobile Industry”. He was the only auto pioneer to utilize steam, electricity, diesel and gasoline to propel his vehicles.

Olds was the organizer of Capital National Bank, which became Michigan National Bank. He was also involved in the Olds Tower, Hotel Olds and many other projects. His mansion on South Washington, which included a turntable in the garage so he could pull in at night and turn the car 180 degrees to head out in the morning, was demolished in 1972 to make way for I-496. Olds died August 26, 1950 at the age of 86.


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