A longtime auto supplier promotes hands-on research and engineering skills from an elaborate museum in Auburn Hills.
Glenn Reid never reached the stature of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, but the owner of Flexible Products Co. in Auburn Hills shares one notable trait with the man who put the world on wheels: a penchant for collecting historical artifacts from the Industrial Revolution.
While the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, along with neighboring Greenfield Village, offered Ford unprecedented room for displaying century-old vehicles, trains, factories, and laboratories, Reid’s Museum Bronze in Auburn Hills houses more than 3,000 model steam engines, planes, ships, tractors, and race cars (most of which are still operational). He also owns several classic cars and a 1931 caboose filled with miniature cars, trucks, soldiers, and other items.
“I wanted a place where kids and adults could learn about engineering in a hands-on way,” says Reid, founder of the Reid Family Foundation, which manages the museum. “Once I got started, I couldn’t stop.”
During a recent tour, the 80-year-old Reid showed off dozens of model trucks from Budweiser, Campbell’s soup, Pepsi, and other consumer product companies. There are also scale models of Ford’s Tri-Motor airplane from the 1920s and the Wright Flyer, the plane in which Orville Wright made the world’s first recorded flight on Dec. 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
An industrial engineer, Reid worked for various divisions of General Motors, and spent some time at the automaker’s Argonaut research building in Detroit’s New Center (the Argonaut was donated and redeveloped into the Center for Creative Studies’ A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in 2008).
“When I was around 11 years old, my first job was as a clerk at the Abbott Magic Shop on Adams, right behind the Detroit Athletic Club,” Reid says. “I also was part of Blackstone the Magician’s opening act. I didn’t get paid anything, but I came on stage and held a cage with a canary inside. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, but I had a wire inside the arm of my jacket and, when the wire was pulled, the cage and bird would disappear into my sleeve.”
Growing up in Detroit, Reid understood the power and reach of the Big Three automakers. He also experienced, firsthand, the boom-and-bust cycle of the industry, even after more than a century of progress.
In 2008, the global financial meltdown contributed to an 80 percent drop in Flexible Products’ offerings — essentially molded rubber products like chassis isolators. As a result, Reid laid off around 125 workers, cut back on spending, and curtailed R&D activities.
Because the company wasn’t saddled with debt, it pulled through the downturn and now counts GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and numerous suppliers as customers. In 2010, the company, with 290 employees, posted $57 million in revenue. Reid predicts that by 2015, the company is on pace to record more than $100 million in sales.
“We bought some other manufacturing buildings right down the street, so we’re close to expanding our operations,” says Sheri Reid Grant, Reid’s daughter and executive director of the Reid Family Foundation. “That’s why the museum is so important. We want to teach children to embrace math, science, and engineering. We can’t let all of our manufacturing jobs go overseas.”