Michigan Transportation History

William Ker Muir

Public PersonRailroadDetroitMichiganScottishCanadian William Ker Muir was a railroad executive in Detroit.

Muir was born March 20, 1829, in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. He found work at an early age in the ticket office of either the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway or the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway. In 1852, he met Charles John Brydges, who was just off to become managing director of the Great Western Railway of Canada which was then under construction. Bridges offered Muir the superintendency of the railroad, a position that he immediately accepted. He was twenty-three years old.

Career in Railroads

In October, 1852, Muir arrived in Canada and began to work on the Great Western, which began opening in stages between Niagara Falls and Windsor in 1853. The whole line through upper Ontario was opened in 1854. During the mid-1850s, the GWR started investing in Michigan railroads, especially the Detroit, Grand Haven, & Milwaukee Railroad? (DGH&M)Detroit and by 1857 needed a competent general manager to complete construction of the line. Muir accepted this position and moved to Detroit. Muir was responsible for finishing the DGH&M to Lake Michigan and outfitting the line for operations, which included steamship operations to Milwaukee. Between December 1865 and 1867, Muir had a diversion as the assistant general superintendent of the Michigan Central Railroad. In 1867, he returned to the Great Western as the general mananger. Here Muir oversaw the conversion of the GWR to standard gauge (from the five-foot-six-and-a-half-inch gauge) and improved the road's eastern and western connections. He subsequently served (in 1870) as superintendent of the Canada Southern Railway? (on which he started construction). After he retired from railroad work he served as president and general manager of the Eureka Iron and Steel Works?SteelIronManufacturerBusiness, and as president of the Star Line of steamers.Shipping In 1882 he was the superintendent of George Hendrie's Detroit Omnibus operation.


Muir was a member of the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church? of Detroit. He was elected president of Detroit's St. Andrews Society?. As a progressively minded citizen he served on Detroit's poor commission, where he fed, housed, and cleaned-up tramps around the Woodbridge Street Station, an action for which he was drew the ire of the poor commission and in consequence of which he resigned. He was a long-time advocated of a bridge to Canada and was hailed as "a man of supreme executive capacity."


Muir married twice. First to Eliza Steele and together they had four daughters: Jennie Howie, Nellie Hogarth (who married Henry Russel), Isobel Ker (who married Wetmore Hunt?), and Eliza Steele (who married Bethune Duffield?). Muir's second wife was Christina Hendrie? of the John Hendrie? family, and who was a sister of George Hendrie. Together they had two children: William Howard and Christina Hendrie?.

Muir died June 23, 1892, in Detroit. He was buried in Hamilton, Ontario.

The W. K. Muir Fountain on Belle Isle was built in his honor. It was later taken out.

Muir had four brothers, three of whom James Howie Muir? (1835-1906, who was the secretary of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad?), Thomas McComb Muir? (1839-1920), and Alexander Howie Muir? (1844-1892) also moved to and died in Detroit.


Ball, Linda. "Grosse Pointe, Wayne County, Michigan - Biography of Residents," Michigan Roots, undated page but last accessed October 2019.

Debbie Axtman and Linda Ball, "Grosse Pointe, Wayne County, Michigan - Biography of Residents]]," American Local History Network, Michigan — a geocities site that has gone dark.

Clarence M. Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller, eds. The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, vol. 5 (Detroit: S. J. Clarke, 1922): 260.

Carlisle, Frederick?, comp. Chronography of notable events in the history of the Northwest territory and Wayne County. Detroit: O.S. Gulley, Borman & Co., Printers, 1890.

Frederick Carlisle was a researcher with the Wayne County Historical and Pioneer Society (Mich.).

Leake, Paul. History of Detroit: A Chronicle of its Progress, its Industries, its Institutions, and the people of the fair City of the straits. 3 volumes. Chicago, New York: The Lewis publishing company, 1912.

Muir's biography is found in volume III, p. 920.

Obituary, Detroit Free Press, June 24, 1892.

This obituary can be found reprinted in many of the above sources.

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

R. D. Jones, "William Ker Muir," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on March 30, 2020, at 07:55 PM EST

Page last modified on March 30, 2020, at 07:55 PM EST