Walter Briggs Sr.

Walter Owen Briggs Sr. (February 27, 1877 – January 17, 1952) was an American entrepreneur and professional sports owner. He was part-owner of the Detroit Tigers in Major League Baseball from 1919 to 1935, and then sole owner from 1935 to his death in 1952. Briggs also helped found the Detroit Zoo in 1928, and personally paid for many of its first exhibits.[1] He was also a patron of Eastern Michigan University and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.[2]


Briggs was born on February 27, 1877 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to Rodney D. Briggs and Ada Warner.[2] He grew up a Detroit Tigers fan. In his early youth he worked at the Michigan Central Railroad and later opened Briggs Manufacturing Company in 1908, which specialized in the manufacturing of automobile bodies for the auto industry and later diversified into plumbing fixtures.[3]

After the death of Tigers' part-owner Bill Yawkey in 1919, surviving partner Frank Navin arranged for Briggs to buy a 25 percent stake in the club. He later bought enough stock to become a full partner with Navin, though he stayed in the background while Navin was alive. After Navin died in 1935, Briggs became the sole owner of the franchise.[4]

Walter O. Briggs House, "Stonehedge", in Boston-Edison Historic District, Alpheus W. Chittenden and Charles D. Kotting, architects

As owner, among Briggs' first actions was completing major renovation and expansion plans to Navin Field. He double-decked the grandstand and converted the park into a bowl. It reopened in 1938 as Briggs Stadium, with a seating capacity of 58,000.[5] The stadium was later renamed Tiger Stadium.

Briggs was noted for fielding a well-paid team that won two American League pennants (1940, 1945) and a World Series championship in 1945 under his ownership.[6] He had a reputation for being somewhat prejudiced against African-Americans, in part because he refused to sign black players (though he allowed blacks to work at his factory)[7] and would not allow black fans to sit in the boxes at Briggs Stadium. The Tigers did not field their first non-white player until 1958, six years after Briggs' death—making them the second-to-last team in the majors to integrate (ahead of only the Boston Red Sox).

Briggs died at age 74 in Miami Beach, Florida on January 17, 1952.[1]


His son, Walter Briggs Jr., briefly inherited the Tigers before being forced by the court to sell them in 1956.[8]

His daughter, Jane Briggs Hart (1921 – 2015), was an aviator and widow of the late United States Senator Philip A. Hart. Janey Hart earned her first pilot's license during World War II, and later became the first licensed female helicopter pilot in Michigan. In the early 1960s, Hart was chosen to participate in the Lovelace Foundation's Woman in Space Program, a privately funded project designed to test women pilots for astronaut fitness by subjecting them to the same physical tests developed by NASA for astronauts. At the age of 40, Hart became one of only 13 women (later dubbed the Mercury 13) to qualify. In 2007, Hart was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. Janey Hart was born in Detroit, Michigan, on October 21, 1921, to Walter O. Briggs and Jane Cameron.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Walter O. Briggs Dies At Age Of 74. Owner of Detroit Tigers Ball Club Was Head of Auto Body Manufacturing Company. Succumbs In Miami-Home. Began as Rail Yard Worker in Michigan at 10 and Became Industrial, Sports Leader". New York Times. January 18, 1952. Retrieved 2014-08-17.
  2. 1 2 "Walter Briggs Sr.". Coachbuilt. Retrieved 2014-08-17. Walter O. Briggs was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan on February 27, 1877 to Rodney D. Briggs and Ada (Warner) Briggs. ...
  5. Tiger Stadium at
  6. Walter Briggs Sr. obituary at
  7. | Michigan History
  8. "Scoreboard". Time magazine. May 6, 1957. Retrieved 2014-08-17. Tossed out at home: the Detroit Tigers' Walter ("Spike") Briggs Jr. A man with a tiger by the tail ever since he inherited the team from his father, Spike tried hard not to let go. When the courts ordered him to sell, he talked the new owners into keeping him on as executive vice president and general manager, but last week his resignation was 'accepted.' Said Spike: 'It was a semi-force play.'
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