Looking Back: Facts Regarding the City of Birmingham

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 18, 2016


This pamphlet, titled “Facts Regarding the City of Birmingham,” from the Birmingham Museum’s collection, was published by the city of Birmingham in September 1939.

The pamphlet was distributed to residents, and it provided phone numbers and information for city management, departments, cultural institutions and city history. Birmingham had technically been a village until only shortly before the pamphlet was published, when the municipality took the big step to incorporate as a city.

At that time, Detroit was the fourth-largest city in the United States — it is now the 18th — and Birmingham’s population was estimated at between 11,000 and 12,000, about half of the city’s population today.

Birmingham was a burgeoning city, and just like today, each city department kept records for each year to compare to previous years. The statistics and figures in the pamphlet are from the previous year, 1938. They include some especially important details, such as:

• The Clerk’s Office reported that there were exactly 40 deaths and 40 births in the city.
• The Department of Public Works reported that the city had 90 miles of roads, 29 of which were paved.
• The city boasted 290 streetlights to light those roads.
• The Building Department recorded that 84 new residences had been built.
• The Police Department received 1,679 calls. This was before “911” became the standard emergency number in the United States, so residents would dial “1000” instead.
• The Fire Department received 205 calls. The Fire Department’s phone number was 1725.
• The Department of Public Health reported 297 cases of chickenpox.
• The Water Department estimated water use at 125 gallons of water per person per day.
• The city owned eight voting machines for the 4,700 registered voters of the city.
• The Baldwin Public Library had 19,133 books, and approximately 76 percent of the city’s population were registered borrowers.

— Caitlin Donnelly, museum assistant at the Birmingham Museum