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T.B. Rayl of Detroit, Michigan

Company History

The firm began business in 1872 by partners Thomas B. Rayl and Dudley W. Smith.

Rayl and Smith 1872 - 1908

The store in 1883; click for more detailed view

The Polk directories of Detroit for 1875/76 are missing, but that for 1877 contains this listing:

Rayl, T.B. & Co. (Thomas B. Rayl, Dudley W. Smith) Hardware and House-Furnish Goods. 114 Woodware Ave.

The numbering on Woodward Ave. begins at the Detroit River. 114 Woodward Ave. would have placed the company about five blocks from the river, in the heart of the financial, commercial and district at that time.

The above listing continued for several years. By 1905, the listings are more explicit:

1) Rayl, Thos. B. Pres. The T. B. Rayl Co., h[ome] 541 2nd Av.
2) Rayl, T. B. Co. The, Thomas B. Rayl Pres., Alexander Paton, Vice Pres., Dudley W. Smith, Sec. and Treas, Hardware, 112-114 Woodward Ave.

Smith 1908-1933

The 1908 listings:

1) Rayl, Thos. B., died Apr. 25,1908 (aged 70) [See Personal History]
2) Rayl, T.B. Co., The, Dudley W. Smith Pres., Alex Paton V-Pres, 112-114 Woodward Ave.

In the same volume in the 'Business Directory' they are listed under the 'Hardware' heading as also selling 'Stoves and Tinware'.

By 1913, they had added 'Builders Supply' to their 'Hardware' heading and in the same year had a full-page display advertisement in various type styles and sizes:

Established in 1875
Detroit's Representative Hardware Store
Practitioners in Hardware in all its Branches
Tools and Shop Supplies
Builders' and Roofers' Supplies
Gas and Electric Stoves
Housekeepers Kitchenry
Recreation Goods
Photographic Supplies, Etc.
"There Really Isn't Any Better Place"
112-114-116 Woodward Avenue

The display ad and the ordinary listing continued as before through 1917, the last year of Polk's publication of the Detroit City Directory. In 1916 this change in the display ad occurred:

40 Years at 112-114 Woodward Ave.
Now at 3 Grand River East
Factory Supplies
House Furnishing Goods
Laundry Supplies
Builders' Supplies
Juvenile Vehicles
Sporting Goods
Boy Scout Headquarters
"There Really Isn't Any Better Place"

In 1917 , there was the addition of 'Charles A. Bachman, Sec. and Treas.' and a new address, '3 Grand River Ave. E. and 72-74 Congress W.'

In a newspaper account (1925 Dec 4) noting the 50th anniversary of the firm:

President Smith said that the first year the company started the total business was $40, 000, which was thought a tremendous showing. Since then, he said, the business has gained steadily and the firm has been compelled to move from Woodward avenue and Congress street to the present location at Grand River and Woodward avenues, although a location on Congress street West is still maintained.

The Rayl company was the first in Detroit to sell roller skates, bicycles and wire nails (which were made in France).

Dudley W. Smith died Dec. 2, 1933 (see Personal History).

After Smith 1934 - 1957

The Polk listing for 1933 shows the following officers:

Rayl Company, The (T.B. Rayl's) John A. Brown Pres-Genl Mngr, Burlin H. Ackles, V-Pres, Charles A Bachman Sec-Treas, Hardware, Household Appliances and Sporting Goods, Wholesale and Retail, 1233 Griswold. Wholesale Dept., Factory Supplies and Machinery, 228 W. Congress.

Polk did not publish Detroit directories from 1935 to 1956.

In the interim, the listings in the telephone directories for the years 1950 to 1955 show them at a new address, still in downtown Detroit:

Rayl's, T.B., Hardware & Sports Store
Everything in Hardware, Tools and Household Needs
Headquarters for all Sports Equipment
1149 Griswold

Polk's directory for 1956 has these listings:

1) Rayl Company, The (T. B. Rayl's), H. Ross Mack, Chairman of the Board, Dudley R. Campbell, Pres.-Treas., Donavan Crawford, Exec. V-Pres., Ralph Boeberitz, Sec. Hardware, Housewares and Appliances and Sporting Goods, Wholesale and Retail. 1149 Griswold at Ste 26 Wholesale Industrial Supplies and Builders' Hardware, 228 Congress
2) Rayl's Suburban (formerly Robertson Hardware) at 27740 Grand River [with the same officers with exception of "Exec V-Pres., Earl Decker" in place of Boeberitz]

Polk's 1957 directory:

Rayl Co., The, M. Swartz, Pres., D. Crawford, Exec. V-Pres, M. Lebowitz, Sec., L. Swartz, Treas., Sporting Goods, 1149 Griswold

In the 1958 or subsequent directories, there are no listings for the company under any of the variations of the name.

Personal Histories

Thomas B. Rayl

Thomas B. Rayl, illustration with obituaryFrom the news account of his death, 28 April 1908, under the headline "T.B. Rayl, Pioneer Hardware Man, dead":

Thomas B. Rayle[sic], for more than 30 years in the hardware business in Detroit, died early Sunday morning at his residence, 45 Martin Place. Death was due to a complication of diseases, Mr Rayle having been ill for more than four years. He was born in Wooster O[hio], in 1838.

In his early youth he engaged in the hardware business, working himself upward from a boy to a partnership in the business. In 1872 he came to Detroit and with Dudley W. Smith organized the T. B. Rayle[sic] Co. The company has occupied the store at Woodward avenue and Congress street since its organization.

Mr. Rayle was married in 1864 to Miss Amelia A. Davis, who died in 1894. In 1896 he was married to Mrs. Janet Paton Fisher, who survives him.

The funeral will be at 2:30 Tuesday afternoon. Services at the residence will be conducted by Rev. Marcus Scott of the Central Presbyterian church, of which Mr. Rayle was a member.

Dudley Smith



The information and photocopied items have been culled from the records and holdings of the Burton Historical Collection contained in the Detroit Public Library. The major sources of information are the Burton's collection of the Detroit City Directories, most of them published by the R. L. Polk Co., the Detroit Telephone Directories and loose collections of photos and newspaper clipping in what the Burton calls "Reading Room Files".

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