Michigan Transportation History

George Hendrie

Public TransitPersonMichiganDetroit

Clarence Burton called George Hendrie the "Father of Detroit Street Railways."[1]

"The city owes to his enterprise and progressive ideas much of her advancement to her present proud position as a great industrial center and as one of the most attractive places of residence to be found in the United States." "... he has at all times stood as a high type of loyal and useful citizenship, meriting to the full the confidence and good will of the community." [1]

George Hendrie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, February 9, 1835 (Feb. 9, 1834 [2]). His parents were John and Elizabeth (Strathearn) Hendrie. He attended Glasgow high school until the age of fifteen, thereafter was hired by the Glasgow and South Western Railway [1850]. (That he attended high school and did not become employed until 15 indicates high social standing.) He did not work for the G&SWR long, as later in 1850, he joined the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway (E&G). Later, he was employed in the offices of James and George Burns, owners of both the E&G and a couple of steamship lines operating in the Irish Sea and in transatlantic service. [1]

Business Enterprises:

Street Railway Concerns

In 1858, George Hendrie emigrated to Canada settling in Hamilton and establishing the Hendrie and Shedden Cartage firm with his brother William Strathearn Hendrie?. A year later (April 1859 [2]) he moved to Detroit (but still maintained his firm in Hamilton). In Detroit, he started the cartageCartageBusiness firm Hendrie & Co., which Burton claimed was the first cartage company in the U.S. Hendrie secured contracts with the Great Western Railway? and the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad?. [1]

In 1866, Hendrie purchased a seven-year lease of the Detroit City Railway. (Burton is not clear what happened in 1873 when the lease was up.) In 1876, he purchased the company and its franchises. Throughout his ownership of the city railway he made continuous improvements so that by the end of the 1880s the street railway "was acknowledged to be probably the best in this country" (409). [1]

The Detroit City Railway operations to 1880s [1]:

Jefferson Avenue, from Third street to Elmwood avenue;
Gratiot Avenue, from Woodward avenue to Duquindre street railroad crossing;
Michigan Avenue, from Woodward avenue to Woodbridge Grove, now Trumbull avenue; and
Woodward Avenue, from Jefferson avenue to Brady street.

The total mileage of operated lines was about six and one-half miles.

In 1888, Hendrie organized the Hamtramck & Grosse Pointe Railway? Company (H&GPR) and served as its first president. He incorporated the line on May 28, 1888 (Graydon M. Meints notes that incorporation occurred on November 2, 1887). Burton claims that the H&GPR bought the Hamtramck Street Railway Company?, but Meints notes that the HSR was purchased by the Detroit City Railway on November 1, 1881. [1]

In 1890, the Hendries may have organized the Grand River Railway? Company in order to acquire the Grand River Street Railway? Company (GRSR). The GRSR was incorporated on February 12, 1869, but had began operations earlier on October 23, 1868. It was possibly transferred to the GRR on January 17, 1890 (but this was before the GRR was organized). In any case, the GRSR was reorganized as the GRR on November 29, 1890, the same day that the GRR was incorporated. Less than a year later, on October 1, 1891, the GRR was sold to the Detroit Citizens' Railway?. (Meints, MRRC (1992), 83)

In 1891, Hendrie sold the DCR's original systems and extensions to the Detroit Citizens' Street Railway? Company perhaps because, as Burton noted, there was great demand and interest in electrifying the line and "Mr. Hendrie's interests were always with horse transportation, and he felt that new methods demanded new men." [1] Burton places a lot of emphasis on the fact that "Mr. Hendrie has always been a great lover of horses" noting that "In his younger days he was an enthusiastic rider and driver, and later he has interested himself in the breeding of blooded stock from the large draft horse to the fleet-footed trotter and thoroughbred. His extensive breeding farm, at Royal Oak, has afforded one of his favorite recreations as has his stable of thoroughbreds, which has been quite successful on the turf. Mr. Hendrie is one of the few who still remain true to the horse in these days of automobiles." [1] This is quite true, to be sure; Hendrie even sponsored a thoroughbred trophy known as the Hendrie Trophy.

However, 1891 was the first year of Hazen Pingree's second term as Detroit Mayor. Pingree had won election vowing to fight the corrupt interests Detroit and the street railway interest was his biggest challenge. Pingree had forced concessions from Detroit's privately owned electric and gas utilities by constructing municipally-owned competitors and was attempting to do the same in the field of street railways. The sale of the DCR is more likely because Hendrie did not want to fight Pingree over regulation or competition. Hendrie sold the line to Tom L. Johnson.

However great Hendrie's love of horses, it did not keep him from subsequent business opportunities in electric transportation. In 1892, Hendrie promoted the founding and construction of the Wyandotte & Detroit River Railway? (W&D). Thus, Burton's comments about Hendrie being "always with horse transportation" are incorrect as the W&D was promoted from the start as an electric railroad. (Meints, MRRC (1992), 153) Burton even contradicts himself later by claiming that Hendrie "was the one who initiated the development of interurban electric transportation as touching Detroit and Michigan." [1]

In 1895, Hendrie organized the Detroit & Pontiac Railway.[1] & [2] (Meints notes that the D&P was organized on January 28, 1897.)

Steam Railroads

In 1878, in company with James A. McMillan, John S. Newberry, Francis Palms, William B. Moran?, William Strathearn Hendrie? and others, George Hendrie effected the organization and incorporation of the Detroit, Mackinac & Marquette RailwayRailroad Company. They immediately began construction of a line between St. Ignace and Marquette. In this work the Hendries were the construction contractorsContractor. Incidentally, George Hendrie became largely interested in other enterprises growing out of the construction of this important railway line and assisted materially in the development of the magnificent natural resources of the upper peninsula. (The line went bankrupt in 1886; Meints, MRRC (1992), 65) [1]

Other Business Activities

Presidencies: Detroit & Buffalo Steamboat Company? [1] & [2], Detroit Omnibus Line Co. [2], Michigan Avenue Land Co. [2], Eureka Land Co. (formerly Eureka Iron and Steel Co.) [2];
Vice Presidencies: Commercial National Bank?; [1] & [2]
Directorships: Detroit Savings Bank, Wyandotte Savings Bank?, Union Trust Company?, Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company?. [1] & [2]

In 1882, he was recognized as the President of the Detroit Car CompanyRolling Stock and the Detroit Car Loan Company.1


In 1881, in company with the William B. Moran? and others, Hendrie purchased a large tract of marsh land lying between the Detroit water-works plant and Grosse Pointe. They secured from the government a permit to drain the lands and eventually succeeded in reclaiming about twenty-five hundred acres.

Also, Hendrie was the most enthusiastic promoter for the purchase and development of Belle Isle as a city park. According to Burton, "In 1879, in the face of much opposition, he, with eight others, was successful in securing an appropriation for the purchase of the island by the city. It was then a desolate forest tangle," but it cleaned up nicely. [1]


Hendrie was a Cleveland Democrat. When the populists took control of the party in 1896, Hendrie thereafter "voted independently," which probably means that he voted Republican.


He was a member of Christ Church, and a member of St. Andrew's Society (served a term as president), Knights Templar Mason (Detroit Commandery, No. 1). He was also a member of the Detroit, Fellowcraft, Yondotega, Detroit Driving, and the Country Clubs. [1] & [2]


Hendrie married Sarah Sibley Trowbridge? on October 31, 1865. Sarah Trowbridge was the daughter Charles C. Trowbridge, a Michigan pioneer who was active in the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad? and the Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad. They had eight children (Strathearn Hendrie, Katharine Sibley, Charles Trowbridge, Jessie Strathearn, George Trowbridge Hendrie, Sarah Whipple, William, and Margaret). [1]


Unless otherwise noted, all information for this article can be found in

1. Clarence Monroe Burton, s.v. "George Hendrie," Compendium of History and Biography of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan (Chicago: Henry Taylor & Co., 1909), 408-410.

2. Albert Nelson Marquis, s.v. "George Hendrie," The Book of Detroiters: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Detroit (Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co., 1908), 221.


1. Detroit City Directory for 1882 (Detroit: J. W. Weeks & Co., 1882), 344

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "George Hendrie," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on January 01, 2020, at 08:46 PM EST

Page last modified on January 01, 2020, at 08:46 PM EST