Michigan Historical Collections
Bentley Historical Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
William Livingstone papers, 1850-1995

Finding aid created by
Sondra Smith, 1996

Summary Information
Title: William Livingstone and family papers
Creator: Livingstone, William, 1844-1925.
Inclusive dates: 1850-1995
Bulk dates: 1865-1925
Extent: 2 feet (in 4 boxes), 1 oversize volume, and 1 oversize folder
Abstract:
Livingstone was a Detroit, Michigan businessman, banker, and newspaper publisher. He was an advocate of improving shipping on the Great Lakes, helping to found the Lake Carriers' Association. Livingstone successfully lobbied Congress for funds to construct a channel in the lower Detroit River (the Livingstone Channel). The collection consists of manuscript and visual materials, some of which were collected by later family members. Included are diaries and account books, 1871-1882 (scattered) and 1925; correspondence and newspaper clippings; subject files pertaining to the Dime Savings Bank and the Lake Carriers' Association; and a speech book containing draft of speech written for James G. Blaine, presidential candidate in 1884. Visual materials include photographs and drawings.

Call number: 9653 Aa 2; UAl
Language: The material is in English
Repository: Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan
1150 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
Phone: 734-764-3482
Fax: 734-936-1333
e-mail: bentley.ref@umich.edu
Home Page: http://www.bentley.umich.edu/


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

The papers (Donor No. 8497) were donated to the Bentley Historical Library on July 23, 1996, by Helen Livingstone Bogle. Additional papers were received in 2012.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Preferred Citation:

[item], folder, box, William Livingstone and family papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan


Biography

William Livingstone is best remembered for his vital role in the Great Lakes shipping industry, but he was also an important figure in banking and newspaper publishing in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in Dundas, Ontario, on January 21, 1844, to William and Helen (Stevenson) Livingstone and moved to Detroit with his parents at age five. He sought employment as a machinist at age 17, first in Detroit and then in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before returning to Detroit to enter into partnership with Robert Downie, the owner of a grocery store. In 1864 Livingstone married Downie's daughter, Susan Ralston Downie.

The following year, with the aid of his father, Livingstone opened his own business. Livingstone & Company began as wholesale and resale grocers but soon became flour and grain merchants. In time, the company undertook other profitable business ventures, such as dealing cordwood, lumbering, and operating a fleet of tugboats for the Western Transportation Company. In 1880 Livingstone founded his own steamship agency, the Michigan Navigation Company.

Livingstone's prominence in Detroit business led to his involvement in politics. Courted by the Republican Party, Livingstone accepted the nomination for state legislator in 1874 and was elected a representative for Wayne County. Although he never again sought political office, Livingstone remained active in politics, campaigning for Republican candidates. His successful efforts to elect Thomas W. Palmer to the United States Senate resulted in an appointment to the position of collector of the Port of Detroit in 1884. Livingstone later served in various leadership roles in the state and national Republican Party and chaired the Michigan delegation to the National Convention in 1900.

That same year, Livingstone was named president of the Dime Savings Bank of Detroit. He had helped to organize the bank in 1884, "believing that provision should be made for even the child with its dime for deposit."1 Livingstone remained president until his death in 1925. During his tenure the bank vastly increased its deposits and loaned money to a soon-to-be famous customer, Henry Ford.

Livingstone's long friendship with Ford actually began not in banking but in the newspaper industry. Livingstone had purchased the Detroit Evening Journal in 1885, and the paper was the first to publish an account of Ford's invention.2 As with most of his business ventures, Livingstone's experiments in newspaper publishing proved a success. A letter written to his staff outlines his policies:

First, we are a Republican paper; and, secondly, I want the news without regard to likes or dislikes. What my private opinion of the man may be cuts no figure in the case. While I run a newspaper, as far as possible I propose to sink individuality, and give my readers the news just the same as a hotel-keeper would cater to his guests. My only ambition is to give the news, all the news, and particularly Michigan news.

With a five-year hiatus from 1887-1892, Livingstone owned and published the newspaper until 1901, bringing it financial stability and prestige.

Among his many achievements, Livingstone's efforts to improve shipping on the Great Lakes remain best remembered. He successfully campaigned against a rail road bridge that would have obstructed navigation on the Detroit River and was instrumental in effecting improvements on Great Lakes channels and canals. He helped to found the Lake Carriers' Association, an informal organization of ship owners, and served as the Association's president for 23 years. Livingstone family biographer David Sanders Clark outlines Livingstone's navigational accomplishments:

As an acknowledged expert on Great Lakes ports and channels, he appeared repeatedly before the Senate Committee on Commerce and the House Committee on Rivers and Harbors. Through testimony and personal contacts he was influential in persuading the Federal government to construct the 1,350 foot Davis and Sabin locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and deepen and straighten channels in the St. Mary's River, at the lower end of Lake Huron, and across Lake St. Clair. But the achievement which gave him the greatest satisfaction was his success in getting Congress to appropriate funds in 1907 for the Livingstone Channel in the lower Detroit River.

One of the greatest engineering feats in the country up to that time, the channel was formally opened on October 19, 1912.

Heading the procession through the newly opened Livingstone Channel was another tribute to "Sailor Bill," the freighter William Livingstone. Livingstone's name was further memorialized following his death when the William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse was erected on Belle Isle in 1930.

At the time of their deaths in 1925, William Livingstone and Susan Ralston Downie Livingstone had been married nearly 61 years and were the parents of eight children. A more detailed account of their family history can be found in David Sanders Clark's unpublished genealogy, "Notes on the Livingstone Family of Lanark, Scotland, and Detroit, Michigan and Related Families," located in the present collection.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The papers of William Livingstone consist of manuscript and visual materials, some of which were collected by later family members. The papers include diaries and account books, 1871-1882 (scattered) and 1925; correspondence and newspaper clippings; subject files pertaining to the Dime Savings Bank and the Lake Carriers' Association; and a speech book containing draft of speech written for James G. Blaine, presidential candidate in 1884. Many of the letters in the collection were personal communications sent to Marion Scherer from family and friends while she was away at school. Visual materials include family photographs and drawings. The collection is organized into three series, William Livingston Jr. Topical Files, Correspondence, and Visual Materials.

Subject Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the finding aid database and catalog of The Bentley Historical Library/University of Michigan. Researchers desiring additional information about related topics should search the catalog using these headings.


    Subjects:
    • Livingstone, William, 1844-1925.
    • Blaine, James Gillespie, 1830-1893.
    • Banks and banking--Michigan--Detroit.
    • Dime Savings Bank.
    • Detroit River (Mich. and Ont.)
    • Great Lakes (North America)
    • Lake Carriers' Association.
    • Shipping--Great Lakes (North America).
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1884.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Livingstone, William, 1844-1925.
    • Banks--Michigan--Detroit.
    • Detroit River (Mich. and Ont.)--Channels.
    • Dime Savings Bank.
    • Dwellings--Michigan--Detroit.
    • Ford, Henry, 1863-1947.
    • Livingston family.
    • Ships--Great Lakes.
    • Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930.
    • William Livingstone (Ship)
    Genre Terms:
    • Aerrial photographs--Michigan--Detroit.
    • Drawings.
    • Diaries.
    • Photographs.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
     
    William Livingston Jr. Topical Files [series]:

    The William Livingston Jr.Topical Files document many of the business and personal activities of Livingstone's life. Of particular interest is the Speech Book, which gives clear indication of both Livingstone's speaking style and his political views, and the Family Biography file, which provides genealogical information about William Livingstone and Susan Ralston Downie Livingstone as well as anecdotes about their lives. The Diaries and Account Books primarily contain routine information about Livingstone's shipping and trading (such as wind direction and business transactions), but a few more personal entries are scattered throughout the journals. There is also in this series a volume (1925) kept by an unnamed person close to Livingstone in which is recorded business and travel dates of Livingstone's final months of life as well as a note about his death.

    Box   1  
    Certificate, "License to Master of Steam Vessels,"  1924
    Box   1  
    Correspondence,  1874-1925
    Box   1  
    Diaries and Account Books,  1871,  1873,  1874,  1875,  1877,  1878,  1879,  1882,  1925 (9 volumes)
    Box   1  
    Dime Savings Bank,  1925     (includes photograph) 
    Box   1  
    Family Biography (school report, "William Livingstone," by James S. Scott; unpublished genealogy, "Notes on the Livingstone Family and Related Families," by David Sanders Clark),  1948,  1966
    Box   1  
    Gift Book, What I Know About Farming (presented to Henry Ford by Livingstone),  1921     (the pages are blank; the volume was subsequently some time later with a cordial letter from Clara Ford) 
    Box   1  
    Lake Carriers' Association, articles and by-laws,  1903
    Box   1  
    Newspaper Clippings,  1922-1940 ?
    Box   1  
    Speech Book (draft of speech for Republican Presidential campaign of James G. Blaine and running mate John A. Logan with pasted newspaper clippings from similar speech by Livingstone and extracts from speech by Blaine),  1884
    Box   1  
    Tributes, etc.,  1919-1925 ?
    Box   1  
    William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse (Belle Isle, Detroit),  1930-1995     see also photograph in oversize Box 4 
    Box   1  
    Miscellaneous and duplicate items
    Out. vol.  
    Scrapbook (correspondence, cards, etc., many relating to invitations to Livingstone's eightieth birthday celebration),  1923-1924
     
    Correspondence [series]:

    This series consists mainly of letters sent to Marion Scherer from family and friends. The letters relate to family activities, many of a social nature. Marion Scherer married Seabourn Livingston, October 23, 1920.

    Box   2  
    Correspondence to Mrs. Hugo Scherer,  1916
     
    Correspondence to Marion Scherer from family and friends
    Box   2  
     1891 and  undated
    Box   2  
     October 1916 (2 folders)
    Box   2  
     November 1916 (2 folders)
    Box   2  
     December 1916
    Box   2  
     January 1917
    Box   2  
     February 1917
    Box   2  
     March 1917
    Box   2  
     August 1920
    Box   2  
     September 1920 (3 folders)
    Box   2  
     Undated 1922
    Box   2  
     April 1922
    Box   2  
     June 1922
    Box   2  
     April 1924
    Box   2  
     March-April 1926
    Box   2  
     1934 (includes correspondence to Dorothy Scherer)
    Box   2  
     1948 (correspondence to Seabourn & Marion Livingstone)
    Box   2  
    Miscellaneous
     
    Visual Materials [series]:

    The Visual Materials series is the highlight of the Livingstone collection. The Photographs subseries documents Livingstone himself from his days as a young man to the final year of his life. Numerous portrait shots of Livingstone, his wife Susan, and their parents and children tell the story of an affluent Detroit family from the Gilded Age to the Jazz Age. Photographs of their homes and vacations (to Venice and Miami) round out the pictorial history.

    Researchers searching for information on Great Lakes shipping will be interested in photographs that recount the construction and launch of the freighter William Livingstone and capture other moments of note on the Detroit River and Great Lakes.

    Also of note is an aerial photograph of downtown Detroit taken around 1920. There are also photos of the opening of the Livingstone Channel on the Detroit River in 1912, a photo of the Dime Saving Bank in Detroit (1925), and photos of Livingstone with Henry Ford and William Howard Taft.

     
    Family Photographs
    Box   3  
    Bogle, Helen Livingstone
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Mr. and Mrs. William, Sr.,  undated
    Box   3  
    Livingstone and Downie family homes,  ca. 1900-1930
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Marion Scherer
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Marion Scherer with other family members
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Seabourn
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Seabourn R., Family photos
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Seabourn, birthplace (a ship "The City of Rome")
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Seabourn Scherer
    Box   3  
    Livingstone, Susan Ralston Downie,  ca. 1865-1935
     
    Livingstone, William, Jr.,  ca. 1865-1925     include group photograph with Henry Ford and William Howard Taft   (see also oversize box 4) 
    Box   3  
    Portraits
    Box   3  
    With friends and associates
    Box   3  
    Scherer, Dorothy
    Box   3  
    Scherer, Hugo, estate, East Jefferson, Detroit
    Box   3  
    Schmidt, Mr. & Mrs. Traugott
    Box   3  
    Miscellaneous
     
    Shipping and related photographs
    Box   3  
    Livingstone Channel opening,  1912
    Box   3  
    Speed boat and lake vessel     (see also oversize box 4) 
     
    William Livingstone (ship),  1908
    Box   3  
    Construction
    Box   3  
    Launching and related
     
    Aerial photographs drawings, and other oversized materials
    Box   4  
    Aerial photograph of downtown Detroit looking down Woodward Avenue toward the river, about  1920
    Box   4  
    Pen and Ink Drawings (mainly caricatures),  1915-1926
     
    Miscellaneous
    Box   4  
    Livingstone family on gondola in Venice,  1888
    Box   4  
    William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse (Belle Isle, Detroit),  1930-1995
    Box   4  
    Placard presented to Livingstone by the Marine Engineering department of the University of Michigan upon the launch of the William Livingstone (with painting of the ship),  1908
    Box   4  
    Portrait of Ford, Henry (presented to Livingstone, signed "From your friend Henry Ford"),  undated
    Box   4  
    Great Lakes shipping,  ca. 1900-1925
    Box   4  
    William Livingstone Jr., as part of business group (2 photos)
    Box   4  
    Livingstone, William, Jr., lithograph
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related material

    There are additional William Livinstone materials in the Florence Livingston Odell Ledyard collection at the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.