Celebrating Michigan Rich Cultural Heritage
The Way We Worked: Rogers City

The Way We Worked: Dowagiac

The Way We Worked, a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition coordinated in Michigan by the Michigan Humanities Council, will be on display in Dowagiac at the Dale A. Lyons Building on the campus of Southwestern Michigan College from Nov. 6 - Dec. 14, 2012.

“Dowagiac is excited to be chosen as a host site for The Way We Worked, said Steve Arseneau, museum director, City of Dowagiac. “The city’s strong industrial history and agricultural past help make the exhibit a natural fit for Dowagiac. I look forward to supplementing the Smithsonian exhibition with artifacts from our local work stories.”

Admission to The Way We Worked exhibition is free of charge.

Adapted from an original exhibition developed by the National Archives, The Way We Worked draws from the Archives’ rich photographic collections to tell the story of work in American culture. Why, where and how we work? What value does work have to individuals and communities? What does our work tell others about us?

The exhibition uses graphics, audio components, photo flipbooks, film and numerous artifacts from history to share the story of our national workforce. In addition, Dowagiac will provide supplemental programming on the history of the local workforce. Visitors will also have the opportunity to take an interactive approach through Stories on Main Street โ€“ a website and accompanying phone application that make it easy to record and share small town memories.

About Work in Dowagiac

Dowagiac, located in Cass County, has a rich industrial history highlighted by the stove and furnace industry that dominated the city from the 1870s to 1960s. Founded in 1848 when the Michigan Central Railroad came through, Dowagiac’s slow growth in its early decades accelerated after P.D. Beckwith founded the Round Oak Stove Company in 1871. Round Oak went on to become one of the largest stove companies in the United States and by 1930, Dowagiac had four major furnace companies, leading to its nickname as The Furnace City of America. Dowagiac also had one of the largest grain drill factories in the county around 1900 and had diverse industries into the early part of the 21st century.

Dowagiac Quick Facts

  • Dowagiac is home to the oldest continuously operated lumber business in Michigan โ€“ the Judd Lumber Company, which was founded in 1859.
  • Because of the Michigan Central Railroad, Dowagiac became a hub for the shipment of wheat in its early days. Legend claims that at harvest time, Dowagiac was moving more wheat than Chicago in 1860.
  • Four furnace companies were running at full strength in Dowagiac in 1930, leading to the title of Furnace City. The companies were Round Oak, Rudy, Premier and Dowagiac Steel Furnace.
  • In 1912, the Dowagiac Drill Company (producer of grain drills for planting seeds) paid an actor named Harry Adonis to push a wheelbarrow from Dowagiac to San Francisco in a publicity stunt.
  • Two highly noted aviators are from Cass County: Leigh Wade of nearby Cassopolis was one of four pilots on the first Around-the-World flight in 1924. The aviators flew open cock-pitted airplanes on a perilous 175-day journey. Test pilot Captain Iven C. Kincheloe, graduate of Dowagiac High School, set the altitude record in 1956 โ€“ he was the first person to reach the edges of outer space and achieve weightlessness in flight.


John Beck is serving as Michigan’s exhibition scholar, acting as the lead academic consultant for host communities and the Council. Beck is an associate professor in the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University, and co-directs the “Our Daily Work, Our Daily Lives” program, which explores and presents the culture of workers in the workplace.

The Way We Worked has been made possible in Michigan by the Michigan Humanities Council - with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and CMU Public Broadcasting. The Way We Worked is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils across the country. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.

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TWWW: Dowagiac

Venue Information

Dale A. Lyons Building
Southwestern Michigan College

58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac

Exhibit open Nov. 6 - Dec. 14, 2012

Related Events

Nov. 9 from 4-7 p.m.
Public Reception

Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Theater of Dale A. Lyons Bldg
The Women of Heddon, presented by Joan Lyons of the Heddon Museum and former employees.

Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Theater of Dale A. Lyons Bldg
The Way We Worked,, presented by John Beck, MSU and state historian for exhibit

Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Theater at Dale A. Lyons Bldg
Dowagiac: The Furnace City, presented by Steve Arseneau, museum director for City of Dowagiac

Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Theater at Dale A. Lyons Bldg
Beyond a Promise: Working at Studebaker, presented by Andrew Beckman of the Studebaker National Museum

*All photos courtesy of Museum at Southwestern Michigan College

Michigan Humanities Council

119 Pere Marquette Drive, Suite 3B, Lansing, MI 48912

p: 517-372-7770 ยท f: 517-372-0027


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