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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Cassleman's Best Kept Secret

by John R. Cassleman III


Probably Cassleman approached General Motors in an effort to turn their attention towards Grand Rapids as a potential location for one or more of their new plants, although there is no documentation to confirm it. On October 5, 1935, what was described as, “an initial survey of the community,” was made by GM, meaning they were reviewing the information Cassleman had submitted to them about potential sites and the benefits of the community and its workforce. He remarked about it later, “The larger corporations do not locate industries as a result of pleasant conversations of committees of welcome or out of enthusiasm of organization officials. Facts, accurate and detailed, speak louder than brass bands and civic celebrations.” 

The Industrial Commissioner was very capable of presenting the facts in a convincing manner to this golden opportunity for metropolitan Grand Rapids. The Industrial Commissioner had concealed the project from everyone except his close friend George Tilma, George W. Welsh, and GM officials with the assignation: Docket 1112. To those he enlisted to work on the many facets of this huge project, they only knew they were working on another one of Cassleman’s “dockets,” this time, number 1112. Carlton Cady, a reporter for the Grand Rapids Herald, subtitled a column he wrote for the Oct. 23 edition of his paper. “Here’s the Story Behind Docket 1112: A Study in Facts.” Cady was telling his readers that if you’d worked on something for Cassleman called “docket 1112” you will realize for the first time as you read this that you were involved in and assisted Cassleman’s efforts to get GM to build here. 

The primary reason he concealed it in this manner was that General Motors had sworn these three men to absolute secrecy and warned that if any rumors about it were to surface and reach the notice of GM officials, negotiations would be called off and the project would end immediately and for good. Rumors, in fact, did develop, but fortunately, not the kind that would jeopardize the project. One of them especially, Cassleman did nothing to discourage. When someone noticed that boring rigs were drilling for soil samples at the abandoned Picric Acid plant on Clyde Park Ave in the dead of night, a rumor started that a major oil find had been discovered there.. Cassleman let that one fly, and he sent rigs to sites that had already been rejected for consideration just to confuse the issue even further. 

Perhaps that relationship helped in 1944 when General Motors again favored metro Grand Rapids with a large facility on Burlingame Ave. in Wyoming which most knew as the Diesel Equipment Division plant. There was another in 1954 when GM converted the massive, former Haskelite Company plant on Alpine Ave. to an upholstery manufacturing facility for its Chevrolet Division. By 1970, close to 10,000 men and women worked in those factories making GM the largest employer in the Grand Rapids area.


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