Harry Jewett’s pursuits were not all trivial

Former college football standout Harry Jewett ran the Paige Motor Company in Detroit from 1923 to 1926.

With Michigan appearing in the Outback Bowl later today on New Year’s Day, and Notre Dame playing in the BCS title game a week from now, it’s as good a time as any to dust off the answer to an obscure sports trivia question involving the two longtime rivals from Ann Arbor and South Bend.

“Who,” you might ask the man on the bar stool or easy chair next to you, “was the first player to score a touchdown against the University of Michigan football team?”

Michigan and Notre Dame had both just recently taken up the sport of football when they met in South Bend in the spring of 1888 for a pair of games. As a feather-footed halfback returning kicks, Harry Jewett took the ball deep in his own end zone and then streaked through the Wolverines’ defense for the sole Irish score in a lopsided loss to their guests from Ann Arbor. The run earned him a medal from his teammates.

Notre Dame fans were understandably wild about Harry. Between 1886 and 1890, the Elmira, New York native won a letter in every sport recognized at the school. In addition to his gridiron exploits, Jewett was a catcher on the baseball team and stroked the Notre Dame crew on the water. But young Harry was at his best on the cinders. At a Notre Dame-Michigan track meet in 1890, he easily won the 100-yard dash, broad jump, high jump, and the hop, step, and jump. His performance grabbed the attention of several members of the city’s leading amateur organization, the Detroit Athletic Club.

John C. Lodge, a politician and captain of the D.A.C.’s track team (and namesake of the Lodge Freeway), invited the young star to run for the club after he graduated from Notre Dame. Jewett, armed with a degree in civil engineering, accepted an offer from the Michigan Central Railroad and moved to Detroit.

Jewett started workouts at the D.A.C.’s clubhouse on Woodward. In 1892, he became the first man to beat 22 seconds in the 220-yard dash. He also won a championship in the 100-yard dash and excelled in the high jump and broad jump. Amateur athletics ruled the day in the late 19th century, and so Jewett became one of Detroit’s most prominent sports figures.

Jewett took advantage of his D.A.C. connections and made several fortunes. In 1895 he borrowed $10,000 from club members and opened a retail coal operation. Within a few years he was bored with success and looking for fresh challenges. In 1909 he entered the fledgling but crowded automobile industry with partner Fred O. Paige. The original Paige car company soon ran out of gas. Never one to give up, Jewett sold most of his considerable coal holdings, scrapped more than $250,000 worth of outdated and faulty Paige equipment, and installed himself as president of the brand new Paige-Detroit Motor Company.

Advertised as “the most beautiful car in the world,” Jewett’s automobiles sold extremely well. Later he formed a subsidiary, Jewett Motors, which produced a popularly priced six-cylinder. All of Jewett’s models trumpeted clean lines, contemporary styling, and durability. At its height, the Paige-Detroit Motor Company employed 2,300 people. In 1927, Jewett sold the company to the Graham brothers and Paige-Detroit became Graham-Paige.

Unwilling to slow down or rest on his considerable laurels, Jewett became involved with wildlife conservation work. He owned an estate of several thousand acres near Grayling called Grousehaven. There he introduced industrial-scale pheasant breeding in the early 1930s. He also worked with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries in stocking the headwaters of the Rifle River with trout, making it one of the best fishing areas in the state.

Harry Jewett died of a heart attack at his Grosse Pointe Shores mansion on June 15, 1933. Since then his medals have been lost, his records broken, and his northern estate sold (to the State of Michigan in 1944). However, a few of his heavy, durable automobiles still can be seen at car shows and museums today. Like the one-time track star that created them generations ago, they seem intent on running forever.

Comments

comments

About Richard Bak

Richard Bak grew up on Detroit's west side doing poor imitations of Dick McAuliffe's batting stance and Denny McLain's leg kick. He is a contributing writer to Hour Detroit magazine and the author of nearly 30 books, including biographies of Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. Bak's most recent books are The Big Jump, the story of Charles Lindbergh and the great New York-to-Paris air race of the 1920s, and Detroitland, a collection of his history pieces. He currently is finishing two more books of history: Soldier of Misfortune: The Execution of Private Eddie Slovik and Its Aftermath (DaCapo) and When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties (Wayne State University Press), both of which will be published in 2015.