September 6, 2012

Universal Bottle Washer Co.


When the Universal Machine Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia sought a more suitable location for its growing business, it relocated to a brand new building at the southwest corner of Twelfth Street (now Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Marantette. The choice of the location wasn't merely due to Detroit's preeminence among manufacturing centers--one of the company's owners, Philip Breitmeyer, was a former mayor of Detroit. His primary occupation was that of a florist, and he was one of the founding members of Florists' Transworld Delivery.

The permit to build this factory was issued on June 11, 1913, and the company reincorporated in Michigan as the Universal Bottle Washer Company the following September. As the name implied, they manufactured bottle washing machines primarily used by breweries. Company officers, office management, and the most skilled machinists were relocated from Philadelphia to Detroit.

The following illustration was either an attempt to exaggerate the factory's size (it was only half this big) or indicate what a future expansion might look like. The background, of course, is not an accurate representation of Corktown. The building in the distance that could conceivably be Michigan Central Depot would place the building several blocks south of its actual location.

The Universal Bottle Washers Company met with much success, shipping their machines to customers across the country. As the company grew, it did not add onto its Corktown factory, but instead relocated to a building on the southwest corner of Grand River Avenue and Loraine Street by 1918. The next occupant of the building was Republic Knitting Mills, manufacturers of socks and underwear.

From early 1930s through the 1980s, this building was the main office and warehouse for Cunningham Drugs, a once-thriving chain of pharmaceutical stores that ceased to exist in 1991.

Marantette and 12th St. in 1976. Photo courtesy State Historic Preservation Office.