City of Monroe History
Cardboard boxes, newsprint, wrapping paper, binder cardboard, liner board, fiber board, cereal cartons, recycled fiber; and most recently roofing shingles, once made Monroe a manufacturing center or paper and paper-related products. The first of the community’s many paper mills began in 1834 when the Raisinville Mill was built several miles west of the city on the south bank of the River Raisin. Other paper mills followed: Monroe Paper Company (circa 1866), Lake Erie Pulp and Paper Company (circa early 1880’s), Richardson Paper Company, Waldorf Paper Mill (circa 1888), Monroe Folding Box Company (circa 1903), Monroe Binder Board Company (circa 1906), River Raisin Paper Company (circa 1911), Monroe Corrugated Box Company (circa 1917), Monroe Paper Products Company (circa 1921), Consolidated Paper Company (circa 1921), Ace Paper Products Company (circa 1953), Jefferson Smurfitt Corporation (circa 1982), and roofing shingles from IKO Monroe Incorporated (2000).8
Monroe entrepreneurs have given the world a smoother ride and a more comfortable place to sit and relax. In 1916 August Meyer started Brisk Blast in Monroe, which produced as many as 5,000 tire pumps a week. In 1919 the business changed its name to Monroe Auto Equipment Company and eventually evolved into a worldwide manufacturer of automotive shock absorbers. The company built the first shock absorbers for railroad passenger cars in 1938. In early 1974 Monroe Auto Equipment Company moved its world headquarters from the city to Monroe Charter Township. In 1977 the company merged with the large multinational automotive supplier Tenneco, Inc. Tenneco continues to manufacture Monroe Shocks and Struts.20
Two Monroe cousins taught the world the joys of reclining! In 1927 cousins Edward Knabusch and Edwin Shoemaker pooled their money and started a furniture-making business in the garage Edward Knabusch’s father. The Kna-Shoe Manufacturing Company was born and in 1928 the cousins designed a wood-slat folding reclining chair (which the company still makes). In 1929 the company made its first upholstered reclining chair — the chair that went on to become the signature product of the small garage-based furniture company that eventually grew to become LA-Z-BOY Incorporated. With its corporate headquarters still in Monroe, today LA-Z-BOY has retail stores and manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe, and Asia.21
While the paper industry dominated much of Monroe’s industrial life, a steel factory was the center of a confrontation that put Monroe in the national news. Monroe City officials and the Monroe Industrial Commission recruited a steel business to Monroe from Newton Falls, Ohio. The Newton Steel plant opened in Monroe in 1929 and employed about 1,300 workers, with as many 90% of its employees who followed the steel factory from Newton Falls to Monroe. Newtown’s largely immigrant workforce did not assimilate well into Monroe’s social fabric, with many of them originally emigrating from Eastern and Southern Europe. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) formed the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). In 1935 Republic Steel bought Newton Steel. Republic’s president was anti union and maintained a practice of not signing labor contracts with his company’s employees. National SWOC organizers sent a representative to Monroe to create an organized union workforce at the Newton Steel plant. The SWOC representative in Monroe also was to try to recruit Newton’s employees to join a national SWOC strike against the so-called Little Steel companies that began on May 26, 1937. The SWOC presence in Monroe was part of a larger attempt nationally by the CIO to unionize the Little Steel companies of Republic Steel, Bethlehem Steel, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and Inland Steel. The national SWOC labor activist sent to Monroe was able to convince Monroe SWOC members to join the strike on May 28, 1937 when a vote was held at a morning and evening meeting. Out of a workforce of 1,300 employees at the Newton Steel Monroe plant, only about 10-15% of Newton workers voted to strike. Attendance was small at both strike meetings.
Republic Steel did nothing to dispel rumors that the Soviet Union and the Communist Party were linked to the CIO’S. Picket lines went up around the plant. The City of Monroe seemed to be more sympathetic to Newton’s officials than to the SWOC’s position. That sympathy may have been born of familiarity. Mr. Orren Barron was both an advisor to the Newton workers who disagreed with the vote to strike and he was also City Attorney to the administration of Monroe Mayor Daniel Knaggs. Also, Monroe’s Police Chief, Jesse Fischer, had formerly been director of Newton’s company police force from 1930-1934. At the company’s request, Monroe County Sheriff Joseph Bairley gave county-wide deputization authority to seven members of the Newton company police force. By the end of the strike, the City of Monroe had deputized at least 383 civilians to join the ranks of its police department. Mayor Knaggs intervened in the strike and organized a vote to determine if employees wanted to go back to work. The election was not approved by the National Labor Relations Board. Results of the election showed that 782 workers voted against the strike while only 30 supported it.
The first violence in the strike came when a SWOC union leader was assaulted in Monroe’s post office by a mob and by deputized special police that had been created by the City. The special deputized police left the City Commission offices and marched toward Newton Steel. At this point in time, with the possibility of violence increasing, Michigan Governor Frank Murphy unsuccessfully attempted to mediate the strike by telephone, making calls to strike leaders, City officials, and Newton officials. Chief Fischer ordered the strikers to open their picket lines. Strikers refused and apparently company police lobbed a tear gas bomb from behind the picket lines. A melee ensued and the special deputized police launched tear gas canisters at the strikers. Cars were overturned and dumped into the River Raisin. The strikers were outnumbered and out equipped, they ran and special deputized police chased and beat them. During the riot ,eleven people were injured. Within one-week after the violent picket line clash, Newton Steel was operating again at full capacity.7
Another industrial milestone in Monroe’s life, and for that matter, all of Southeast Michigan, came in 1971 when DTE Energy began operating the Monroe Power Plant. The coal-fire electrical generating station is located on the River Raisin and Lake Erie shore where it uses that water to generate steam, which turns the turbines, which turns generators that make electricity. The Monroe plant burns about eight-million tons of coal per year. It burns a mixture of low-sulfur Western coal and mid-sulfur Eastern coal. About one-million tons of coal is unloaded by freighters which dock on the River Raisin, and the remaining seven-million tons by train. Freighters typically unload anywhere between 28,000 tons to 42,000 tons of coal, taking them six to ten hours respectively. An average train has 115-rail cars, each carrying 100 tons of coal. One of the most noticeable features of the Monroe Power Plant are its twin 800′ tall concrete smoke stacks, which are Monroe landmarks and can easily be seen for 10-15 miles on a clear day. The Boiler Building is 13-stories tall. The plant and equipment that sit on DTE Energy’s 1,200-acre site makes the Monroe Power Plant the city’s largest taxpayer, comprising about 39% of the city’s tax base.26
On December 21, 2001 President George W. Bush signed legislation authored by U.S. Representative John Dingell that established the first international wildlife refuge in North America: the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge has grown from its initial size of 304 acres to its current size of approximately 5,000 acres. Habitats that are part of the 48-mile length of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge include: islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands. The Refuge’s length spans the Lower Detroit River, south to the western shore of Lake Erie. The Refuge is intended to protect and restore habitat for 29 species of waterfowl, 65 kinds of fish, and 300 species of migratory birds in Michigan and Ontario, Canada.
A series of negotiations took place to expand the Refuge to include marshes from Monroe. The negotiations were initiated and lead by Representative John Dingell, and took place between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Automotive Components Holdings (ACH), a division of Ford Motor Company. Those negotiations successfully led to the creation of the 240 acre Eagle Island Marsh unit of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The two Refuge parcels that make up the 240 acres of the Eagle Island Marsh are located on the east and west sides of the property owned by Automotive Components Holding, 3200 East Elm Avenue. Employees of ACH thought of the name for the Marsh. On October 31, 2005 a dedication ceremony was held at the ACH plant that formally celebrated the management agreement whereby the 240 acre site is under the protection and stewardship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 240 acre marshland protects coastal wetlands and provides habitat for American Lotus Blossoms and for Bald Eagles.
The initiative and determined legislative efforts of Michigan Congressman John D. Dingell (D) circulated Monroe’s name through the halls of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. during 2006. The City, collaborating with other local organizations and groups, had been working for a number of years to acquire property where the Battle of the River Raisin was fought. A major step forward in the lengthy process came on December 30, 2005 when Mayor John Iacoangeli introduced two agreements at a Special City Council meeting. City Council adopted both agreements. One agreement transferred the 35.5-acre Battlefield property from a private owner to the Port of Monroe.33 The second agreement was the River Raisin Battlefield Development Agreement, which created the nonprofit River Raisin Battlefield National Foundation.34 The Foundation will promote public education of the site along with conducting fund-raising for the Battlefield’s preservation.
The River Raisin Battlefield site was on the legislative fast track in 2006. On April 6, 2006, Congressman John Dingell introduced two bills in the House of Representatives: the River Raisin National Battlefield Study Act (H.R. 5132) and the River Raisin Battlefield Acquisition Act. H.R. 5132 quickly became the legislative priority among the two bills. It directed the National Park Service to study the Battlefield and to make a recommendation whether the site should be included within the National Park System. Congressman Dingell’s persistence was responsible for getting a Congressional hearing scheduled on July 13, 2006 to consider the River Raisin National Battlefield Study Act. In what may be a first in Monroe’s history, Mayor C.D. Cappuccilli joined Congressman Dingell at the table in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building to provide oral and written testimony before members of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Committee on Resources.
Mayor Cappuccilli was not only well prepared for his Congressional testimony, but he also had brought plenty of support with him from Monroe to the Capitol. The Mayor had organized an endorsement letter-writing campaign as evidence that there was broad local support for seeking Federal protection for the Battlefield site. Nearly 60-letters of support accompanied the Mayor to Washington. Community leaders in business, academia, government, nonprofits, and ordinary residents throughout Monroe County and the State wrote letters in support of Congressman Dingell’s Battlefield legislation. The coordinated effort paid off when the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5132 on September 26, 2006.35
Michigan’s two Senators, and a Senator from Kentucky, were also promoting Monroe’s Battlefield interests on the Senate side of the Capitol. Michigan Senators Carl Levin (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D), along with co-sponsor Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning (R), introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate on August 8, 2006. Four months later, almost to the day, on December 7, 2006 the U.S. Senate passed the bill.36 The bill was then forwarded to the White House for signing by President George W. Bush. On December 20, 2006 White House Press Secretary Tony Snow released a Statement on Bill Signings that announced “On Wednesday, December 20, 2006 the President signed into law … H.R. 5132.”37 On that day the River Raisin National Battlefield Study Act became Public Law 109-429. Congressman Dingell was optimistic the new law will lead to greater Federal recognition and protection of the site “We are now on our way to bringing a wonderful monument honoring people who sacrificed their lives to secure America’s sovereignty.”38
The speed at which the bill moved through Congress to get to the White House astonished those who are familiar with the normally glacially slow, and often obscure journey a bill can take once it is introduced in Congress. Most bills that get introduced never make it beyond their early stage in life and end up being held in committee where the bill dies for lack of action. The fact that this piece of legislation was a stand-alone bill and was of local interest only, without attracting the kind of national attention something like a social security bill might, made its light speed journey from bill into law even more of an amazing peculiarity.
1 Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Great Lakes: An Environmental Atlas and Resource Book. C 1995.
2 U.S. Department of Agriculture with Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, Soil Survey of Monroe County, Michigan. C 1981.
3 City of Monroe and Haley and Aldrich of Michigan, Inc., Former Jefferson Smurfitt Corporation East Mill Properties. 10 May 2002.
4 Keefer, Kathryn. The Bloody Stream: An Archival Excavation of the Battles and Massacre of the River Raisin. 19 June 2003.
5 Chamberlin, Dr. Kathleen. Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University.
6 National Park Service Internet site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana.
7 Turrini, Joseph M. “The Newton Steel Strike: A Watershed in the CIO’s Failure to Organize “Little Steel.” Labor History. Spring-Summer 1997.
8“Monroe Paper Industry Has Deep Roots,” The Monroe Evening News. 7 May 1964.
9 Correspondence from U.S. Post Office Department Official John McLean. 1 May 1824 and 1 July 1824.
10 Phifer, Gregg. (Courtesy Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Greeneville, Tennessee, National Park Service), “The Last Stand of Presidential Reconstruction, 1866: Andrew Johnson’s Persuasive Efforts on His Swing Around the Circle.” 1947.
11“The President in Monroe,” The Monroe Commercial. 6 September 1866, p. 3.
12 Scarpelli, Lisa. Instructor of Geoscience, Monroe County Community College.
13 Halsey, John R. State Archaeologist, Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, “Prehistory of Michigan Gallery.”
14 City of Monroe and Beckett, Raeder, Rankin, Inc., Lake Erie Gateway Development Plan. August 1980.
15 Wing, Talcott E. History of Monroe County, Michigan. 1890.
16 Bulkley, John McClelland. History of Monroe County, Michigan. 1913.
17 City of Monroe and Haley and Aldrich of Michigan. Inc., “Former Jefferson Smurfitt Corporation East Mill Properties, Monroe, Michigan/Historic Significance of the Frenchtown Settlement and River Raisin Battlefield.” May 2002.
18 Ottawa County Tourism Bureau, Monroe County Tourism Bureau, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Windsor, Essex County and Pelee Island, “1812 – The Pursuit of Peace.”
19 Zeisler, Karl. Monroe Evening News, A Brief History of Monroe. 1960.
20 Tenneco Automotive, “Monroe Shock and Struts: A Heritage of Innovation, Quality and Performance.”
21 LA-Z-BOY Incorporated, LA-Z-BOY: Celebrating 75 Years of Comfort.
22 Dorsch Branch, Monroe County Library System.
23 Monroe Art and Beautification Fund Committee brochure.
24 The Monroe Evening News. 2 May 1981.
25 Thomson Gale. Contemporary Authors Online. 2005.
26 DTE Energy.
27 Solomon, Ryan S. “Passing the Torch,” City of Monroe Newsletter The City, Fall 2000, with quotations from videotape of visit.
28 Slat, Charles. “Bush in Monroe” and “Bush Pushes Pollution Rule Changes,” The Monroe Evening News. 15 September 2003.
29 Quotations from President George W. Bush from videotape supplied by DTE Energy.
30 City of Monroe Council Meeting Minutes. 1932, pp. 1,297, 1,300.
31 “City to Be Given Many Advantages Because of Field,” The Monroe Evening News. 31 December 1928.
32 “Custer Airfield Will Be Surplus,” The Monroe Evening News. 22 September 1945.
33 City of Monroe. “Conveyance Agreement.” 2005.
34 City of Monroe. “River Raisin Battlefield Development Agreement.” 2005.
35 Dingell, John D. “Dingell Praises Passage of River Raisin National Battlefield Legislation.” News Release. 26 September 2006.
36 Library of Congress. Chronology of H.R. 5132. From Thomas database.
37 Snow, Tony. “Statement by the Press Secretary on Bill Signings.” 20 December 2006.
38 Dingell, John D. “Dingell Praises Levin and Stabenow for Getting River Raisin Battlefield Study Act Through U.S. Senate.” 8 December 2006.