Michigan Transportation History

John B. Corliss

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John Blaisdell Corliss was a lawyer, Detroit's City Attorney, member of Congress, and business executive for many Detroit and Southeast Michigan firms.

Youth and Personal life

Corliss was born in Richford, Vermont, on June 7, 1851.1 He attended the Fairfax Preparatory School for his primary schooling and graduated from Vermont Methodist University at Montpelier with a bachelor's degree in 1871. Afterwards, he was hired into to a Vermont law firm where he stayed for about two years. In 1873, he re-located to Washington, DC, to enroll in the law school of Columbian College from which he graduated in 1875. After graduation he moved to Detroit.

In 1876, Corliss married Elizabeth Nancy Danforth (the daughter of William Cullen Danforth, county judge) of Barnard, Vt.2 Following Elizabeth's death, Corliss entered a second marriage, with Dorothy Montgomery?, in 1917.

Corliss belonged to the Michigan Club of which he was sometimes a director. Corliss was a life-long Scottish Rite Mason, achieved a prominent rank within the organization of Detroit and was responsible for many of its accomplishments, including the founding of the Masonic Temple Association.3

Career in Law and Politics

John B. Corliss (1896) (U.S. House of Representatives Photo).

Once in Detroit, Corliss passed the Michigan bar and opened a law practice. By 1882, he entered politics, being elected city attorney, an office he held until 1886. His principal accomplishment as city attorney was a rewriting of the city charter which the Michigan Legislature approved in 1884. Another interesting connection is that Corliss nominated Hazen S. Pingree for governor at the 1892 state Republican convention.4

Corliss was elected to Congress in 1894 from Michigan's first district (Detroit). He was re-elected from that district four times (serving until 1903). Corliss served on various committees in Congress, and chaired the Committee on the Election of President, Vice President, and Representatives. In 1902, he lost his re-election bid and returned to Detroit to again take up his position as the lead partner in his firm of Corliss, Adruss, & Leete?. While Corliss was never again active in state or national politics, he was active in advancing in the legal profession and achieved (by 1920) a chair on the executive committee of the American Bar Association.5

Business Career

In 1884, Corliss and other investors bought the Detroit Journal? from Jesse H. Farwell. Corliss struggled with the editor of the Journal, Lloyd Brezee (who apparently was a Cleveland Democrat) and eventually ousted him, thus turning the Journal into a Republican newspaper. Unfortunately they were unable to make their paper profitable and sometime by the end of the decade, the investors sold their interest in the paper to William H. Brearley?.6

Corliss also invested in utilities and railways. In 1886, Corliss was one of the founding organizers of the Detroit Natural Gas Company. Three years later, Corliss along with A. R. McLaughlin? won the contract to construct the Ann Arbor Street Railway?. They completed the line and opened it on September 30, 1890. Corliss & McLaughlin were only the construction contractors, and they sold the line to Henry P. Glover and H. T. Morton? on January 30, 1891.7 Corliss also invested in the Jackson Street Railway. The Jackson, Michigan, company declared bankruptcy in 1897 and was sold at auction in September 1900.


Corliss died on December 24, 1929, at his home in Detroit. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.


1. He had one famous relative, George Corliss, who was his second cousin once removed.

2. Grenville M. Dodge and William Arba Ellis, Norwich University, 1819-1911: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, vol. 3 (The Capitol City Press, 1911), 638.

3. See the WP article for more elaboration on Corliss' Masonic accomplishments. WP seems to take a fascination with esoteric organizations such as the Masons. Over 37% of Corliss' WP Biography (by words) is devoted to Masonry as if it were the most notable accomplishment of Corliss' life.

4. Kalamazoo Gazette, July 29, 1892, p. 10.

5. American Bar Association Journal 6 (1920), 130.

6. George B. Catlin, "Adventures in Journalism: Detroit Newspapers Since 1850," Michigan History Magazine 29 (July-September 1945), 368-370.

7. Samuel W. Beakes, Past and Present in Washtenaw County, Michigan (Chicago: S. J. Clark, 1906), 713-714.


By Corliss

History of Scottish Rite Masonry Valley of Detroit, Michigan. Detroit: by the author, 1920.

Encyclopedic Entries

Entry in Detroit Illustrated: The Commercial Metropolis of Michigan (Detroit: H. H. Hook, 1891),here.

"Corliss, John Blaisdell," Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress.

Clarence M. Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller, The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, vol. 3 (Detroit: S. J. Clarke, 1922), 588.


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

R. D. Jones, "John B. Corliss," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on January 01, 2020, at 08:26 PM EST

Page last modified on January 01, 2020, at 08:26 PM EST