Captain Ward

Eber Brock Ward was Michigan’s most famous and most innovative Rich Man for much of the 19th century; his best comp is certainly Henry Ford, who flourished about 75 years later. I don’t think anyone’s written a full-blown biography of Ward, but there are pieces of him all over my library.

Bruce Catton’s Michigan says this:

Men who ought to have known better feared that those who planned the new [Sault Ste Marie] canal were much too optimistic. E.B. Ward of Detroit was the lakes’ chief steamboat magnate, just then, and he wrote anxiously to a Michigan Congressman protesting that the locks, planned to measure 350 feet in length by 70 in width, were much too large; 260 feet by 60 feet would be ample, because steamboats too large for such locks would be too big to get up the St. Mary’s River, which had shallow places with hard-rock bottoms…. [page 120]

…Captain Ward, as competent a businessman as the lakes country afforded, had turned out to be a terrible prophet, not because he lacked intelligence, but simply because neither he nor the other men who were industrializing this wilderness had any notion how fast the process was going to go, once it got started. [122]

The CCC’s Michigan Guide tells us:

Early in 1853, Captain Eber B. Ward, a Detroit shipping magnate, purchased the [John] Biddle estate [in Wyandotte] and established the Eureka Iron and Steel Company on the waterfront, the first plant of its kind in the Detroit area. A blast furnace and rolling mill were built, and a settlement was platted. In the next 20 years, Wyandotte pioneered in the steel industry with two important firsts: the first steel analysis laboratory in the United States (1862), and the manufacture of the first Bessemer steel [properly, this was Kelly-patent steel] in America (1864)…. Because of the mill’s position between the ore beds of upper Michigan and the coal fields of Ohio and Indiana, it seemed probably that it would become one of the most successful plants in the Nation; but Ward had overreached himself. When he fell dead in Detroit in 1875, his partners, hit by the panic of 1873, permitted the mill to fall into ruin…. [T]wo years before his death, Captain Ward had drilled an oil and gas well on his property, which, although it proved unproductive, revealed the existence of an immense salt bed of good quality and not too deep to be exploited commercially. [470]

Ward gets quite a bit of attention from Jean McHugh in her biography of Alexander Holley; here’s one paragraph:

Ward’s sole aim was to build the experimental plant and to rush it into operation. He was a strange person. To his credit, he rarely interfered with Durfee’s operation [Wyandotte’s Kelly-patent mill]. He has been described as a man of extremes: self-controlled and passionate, shrewd and credulous, persistent yet changeable. He was not an ironmaster in the true sense of the word and had little real understanding of the details of Durfee’s experiments. In his anxiety to make a financial success of the venture, Ward seemed always ready to listen to any suggestion, no matter how ridiculous. He probably had no intention of creating difficulties for Durfee, but seemed unable to resist trying out a persuasive scheme, especially if it were put forward by those unfriendly to Durfee. [175]

He’s mentioned four times in James C. Mills’ Our Inland Seas; this one is typical:

The large steamer Planet, built by Captain Ward at Newport, in 1855, and which was a leviathan of the time, was added to the [Goodrich] line about 1863. She was of twelve hundred tons, and splendidly furnished, but ran only until 1866, when she was taken off the line and dismantled. [240]

Finally, and most surprisingly, Ward and his sons show up in Peter Morris’s wonderful Baseball Fever:

For five years, Ward tried desperately to make businessmen of his sons, but failed miserably. He put Charley in charge of a business in Toledo, and Charley proceeded to run up thirty-seven thousand dollars in debts. Captain Ward bailed him out, and Charley ran up another two hundred thousand dollars in debts that his father again had to make good. E. B. Ward made similar attempts with Milton, with no more success. Milton ran up large bills in Ludington, Milwaukee, and Ripon, Wisconsin, without making much pretense of following his father’s instructions. Both sons of the state’s “first real captain of industry” became notorious for their “questionable industry,” though it’s unclear whether this should be attributed to insanity, rebellion against their father, or mere laziness. In 1874, the Detroit Evening News announced that “Milt Ward has at last found his strong point. He says that he can sit in a chair, and balance longer on the two hind legs than any man in the West.” [235-36]


I’ve no plan to write Ward’s missing biography, but I’m intrigued enough that I’ll be posting some things about him in this Journal from time to time.

Revision History:

7 comments on “Captain Ward

  1. Fred SchusterNo Gravatar says:

    I have been researching the Michigan family Ward’s for several years and this is not a name I have stumbled upon. Thankyou for sharing the details of this man. I look forward to more insight to Capt. Ward.

    I you have any links to the Ward’s of Armada, Michigan please let me know.

    The Armada Ward’s settled in the area about 1837 when Michigan was still a territory and virgin land.

    You didn’t mention the last two brothers in the exerpts. Do you have their names?

  2. Jeff O'DenNo Gravatar says:

    Hi,

    Would you know where I could find a drawing or photograph of Eber Brock Ward?

    I am working on a documentary about Michigan’s only black regiment during the Civil War and discovered that black soldiers in that regiment, the 102nd U.S. Colored Troop, named their training camp in Detroit “Camp Ward” after E.B. Ward.

    Any assistance would be appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Jeff

    • Paul TaylorNo Gravatar says:

      Jeff –

      Having “Camp Ward” being named after E.B. Ward makes sense. May I ask where you learned that from?

      Thanks,
      Paul

  3. bart wolosonNo Gravatar says:

    I have seen reference to the “Camp Ward” connection to Eber Brock Ward, but do not have good origin. It is likely that he financed the 102nd. He was an active abolitionist and gave $10,000 to the “Free Kansas” movement in 1856. He was active in raising the Mich. 24th in late 1862, and he paid for fortification of the Detroit (down)River coming into Detroit to protect from invasion from Canada. He hired blacks including escaped slaves on his vessels. In one case the Cook on one of his vessels was sought by southern bounty hunters and he sent the man across the Detroit River to Windsor while he negotiated for his freedom from slavery. The freed slave subsequently made enough money on the Ward Line to buy freedom for the rest of his family. When EB Ward opened the Eureka Iron Works in the late 1850s he hired Irish imigrants and blacks for the hard labor paying $2 a day when ordinary labor rate was about $1 per day. Whites in Detroit vehemently protested against his hiring the blacks and he retorted in a blast in the Detroit press (where he also was a major shareholder) that he would hire anyone he wanted, white, black, horse or mule! – perhaps our first “equal opportunity employer”. There is recorded, a negro folk song that was still sung well into the 1900’s with the refrain “workin’ on the Ward Line”. The black population of Detroit in 1860 was 2.7% or about 1300 population. Eber Ward was their dominent employer and benefactor; it is no wonder that 102nd would have honored him with “Camp Ward”.

    Please respond with origin of “Camp Ward” .

  4. Doug SeitzNo Gravatar says:

    Good morning. My name is Doug Seitz and I am a direct descendant of EB Ward through his oldest son, John (who didn’t exactly die nobly). I inherited a substantial trove of information and photos that contain some original letters from EB to his sons. John had a daughter before he was killed who married into the Seitz line).

    I would be happy to share information and photos if that would be helpful. I don’t think that we have any photos of Camp Ward and we were fascinated with your reference to it as we have not yet found anything in our documents.

    Thank you for your expanding my understanding of my ancestry and adding additional information that my daughter is using for her National History Day presentation on EB Ward. Please do not hesitate to contact me if we can collaborate on expanding our mutual exploration of Detroit’s history.

    Thank you.

    • Carolyn CarterNo Gravatar says:

      Mr. Seitz.

      Do you have an ameil address, where I can reach you, mine is kemetdesign@aol.com. I’d like more information about Captain Ward, I am conducting research on the Michigan Central Railroad.

    • bart wolosonNo Gravatar says:

      to Doug Seitz
      JUST NOTICED your blog from 2013 – right after mine from a year earlier. I have lots of info on EB Ward to share and would be most interested in your original documents.

      As i recall, your ancestor John, was murdered by the brother of the minor he was accused of raping – and he disappeared thereafter? Was the “fix” on for John or was John murdered with the OK from EB??

      His re-marriage to Kathrine Lyon was undoubtedly caused for his lack of a compentent heir after John’s murder. Please contact bart woloson: bartw@aol.com

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