Streetcars played an especially important role in society around the turn of the twentieth century in Detroit, in part because of the downtown hub-and-spoke design of its main streets. During this period the streetcar was the main mode of transportation for the average citizen, as horse-drawn carriages and automobiles were not found outside of the upper class. Control over streetcar franchises was highly coveted—this control was simultaneous with having power over how and where people were transported throughout the city, making it an incredible political tool. The Thirty-Year War was a battle waged between 1892 and 1922 by the City of Detroit against the politically powerful and deeply entrenched corporations that owned streetcar franchises for control of the city’s streetway system. This compelling history shows how and why the owners of monopoly franchises of great public utilities such as bridges, street railways, electricity, natural gas, and cable television will protect and defend their privilege against public ownership or control, and is an example of how one city successfully fought back.
“In The Thirty-Year War, Neil J. Lehto has created what may well become the definitive history of the struggle between 1892 and 1924 to determine who would control public transportation in the City of Detroit, city government or outside private corporations. At the same time, Lehto has ably placed this ‘war’ in the context of its time as Detroit grew to become a major metropolis and an industrial giant.”
—David G. Chardavoyne, coauthor of Michigan Supreme Court Historical Reference Guide, 2nd Edition
- 2019 Judge Avern Cohn Award