The time was the early 1900s. The nation was in the midst of an industrial and manufacturing revolution, and Detroit was at the forefront – led primarily by automotive pioneer Henry Ford.
After years of inventing motorized vehicles, Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903. Within the first few months, Ford was selling the Model A and turning a profit. In 1908, the legendary Model T was born. It wasn’t long before Ford Motor Company became an industrial giant that spanned the globe.
With the workforce at Ford and the population of Detroit rapidly growing, so too were the health care needs of the community. Henry Ford understood the importance of keeping a healthy and productive community, and he envisioned creating a hospital for the working man.
The year 1909 marked the beginning of a movement to establish a new hospital in Detroit. The Detroit General Hospital Association was organized to plan and build the Detroit General Hospital. With Henry Ford as chairman, the Finance Committee purchased twenty acres of land bound by West Grand Boulevard, Hamilton, Byron and Bethune Avenues. Plans of a pavilion type of hospital, drawn up after committees had studied the leading hospitals in Europe and America, were accepted and the work of building began.
In 1912 ground was broken for the first building unit. However, enthusiasm soon lagged and subscriptions were insufficient to carry the project through. The foundation of the building remained unfinished for eighteen months. In 1914, it was suggested that the City of Detroit take over the entire project.
Henry Ford objected and offered to repay subscribers and assume the outstanding debts and contracts for the buildings of the Detroit General Hospital. His offer was accepted immediately. On June 26, 1914, the present site of the Henry Ford Hospital was deeded to Henry and Clara Ford.
Henry Ford Hospital, 1915
On September 8, 1915, the articles of incorporation for the Henry Ford Hospital were recorded. Five days later Henry Ford and his wife deeded the property to the Henry Ford Hospital, Incorporated. The first meeting of the incorporators was held September 21, 1915, and a board of trustees was elected with Henry Ford as president and his son Edsel as vice president.
On October 1, 1915, the first patients were admitted at Henry Ford Hospital. Although the Hospital interior was not yet completed, a long ward in the Private Patient Building accommodated 48 patients, and several other small buildings housed the surgical pavilion, research quarters, kitchens and laundry facilities, the power plant and garage. About 100 patients were admitted over the next 80 days or so.
Shortly after that, Henry Ford met Dr. William Mayo of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Ford was impressed by Mayo’s description of new methods for hospital operations, including a closed staff of employed physicians who worked exclusively in and for the hospital. Henry Ford felt it was important to attract excellent staff members for the closed staff of his new hospital. Dr. Frank J. Sladen, a former resident physician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital who came to Detroit to serve as the chief of medical service for the Detroit General Hospital was appointed physician-in-chief. In 1916, Dr. Roy McClure – a gifted young surgeon also from Johns Hopkins – was recruited as the surgeon-in-chief.
Over the next two years, as plans were being made for the large hospital and staff, the war in Europe escalated. On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany and the country began to mobilize for the war effort. The first American troops arrived in France in June of 1917, and Henry Ford Hospital staff members were soon to join them.
As the hospital could not operate on its own, Henry Ford offered it to the U.S. government for use as an Army hospital for the duration of the war. The hospital was closed in the summer of 1918, and all remaining staff who could pass the military physical entered the service. A ceremony on October 26, 1918, marked the temporary transfer of the unfinished Henry Ford Hospital to the U.S. Army. For the next 11 months, Henry Ford Hospital would be known as the U.S. Army General Hospital No. 36.
Image by Peter H from Pixabay