Born in Detroit on November 23, 1864, Henry Bourne Joy was the son of Michigan Central Railroad president James F. Joy, who was involved with the great railroad push to Missouri, and hired Abraham Lincoln to assist him with mergers.
Joy began his career as an office boy with Peninsular Car Company (a Detroit company controlled by his father), working his way up to becoming assistant treasurer. He left to try his hand at mining in Utah, but returned to Detroit to become treasurer (and later director) of the Fort Street Union Depot Company. Joy also held various positions at the Detroit Union Railroad Station and Depot Company (treasurer, vice president, president, and director), becoming president after his father’s death in 1896. He was later treasurer and director of the Peninsular Sugar Refining Company.
He also took time to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War and the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWI. (Not many people step down from being President of a major car company (Packard) to enlist in the Army, but he did so, and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.)
In 1902, on a trip to New York City, Joy happened to see two Packards chase down a horse-drawn fire wagon. Intrigued, Joy bought the only Packard available in the city. Joy loved the car, and, impressed by its reliability, he visited James Ward Packard at his Warren, Ohio headquarters. Packard told him he and his brother William Dowd Packard needed more capital. Joy enlisted a group of investors that included his brother-in-law, Truman Handy Newberry. On October 2, 1902, the Ohio Automobile Company became Packard Motor Car Company, with Joy’s investors obtaining majority ownership.
Henry Bourne Joy, the Packard Co.’s president, tooling around in the snow in a 1912 Packard 6 Runabout.
The company moved to Detroit, where Joy engaged Albert Kahn, then a young architect with novel ideas, to design and build the world’s first reinforced concrete factory on East Grand Boulevard. The company prospered under Joy’s leadership; he became the president in 1909 and chairman of the board in 1916.
During this time, Packard gained a reputation for technology and luxury. Joy steered Packard into innovative motor truck developments, and the creation of a V-12 engine. Joy began investigating airplane engines with Packard engineers, a research program that culminated in the renowned Liberty Motor.
Joy’s interest in aviation led the company to continue developing aircraft for use in World War I combat in Europe. Packard acquired a large tract of land on Lake St. Clair, near Mt. Clemens, Michigan at the behest of Joy, who wanted a place to test the airplanes with the Liberty engines. The air field was at first named Joy Aviation Field and assisted the government with manufacturing and testing aircraft. After World War I the government acquired the field, renaming it Selfridge Air Base, for Thomas Selfridge, the first person killed in an airplane. The street leading to Selfridge is still called Joy Road.
Henry Joy served at Packard until 1926 (with a temporary interruption to serve in WWI).
His belief that the national prohibition of alcohol would lead to a safer, healthier and better society led him to be very active in the Anti-Saloon League. However, after the social experiment was implemented he saw first-hand some of its negative consequences. For example, Treasury agents twice came onto his land and destroyed the property of his elderly watchman looking for illegal alcohol. Then a fisherman boating near Joy’s house was fatally shot by an agent because he couldn’t hear over the noise of his motor the demand of the agent that he stop and be searched for contraband beverage. Joy’s testimony to the United States Congress contributed to the success of the movement for the repeal of prohibition in 1933.
In 1913, Joy became one of the principal organizers and president of the Lincoln Highway Association, a group dedicated to building a concrete road from New York to San Francisco. The effort, which was heavily promoted by his vice president, Carl Graham Fisher, succeeded, and a monument to Joy along the Lincoln Highway at the Continental Divide was dedicated on July 2, 1939. Henry Bourne Joy actually died on November 6 , 1936 in Laramie, WY.
George Bulanda, “The Way It Was: Packard Motor Car Company, 1912“, Hour Detroit, January 2018