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The following text is from The Cyclopedia of Michigan: historical and biographical, comprising a synopsis of general history of the state, and biographical sketches of men who have, in their various spheres, contributed toward its development.
Collection: Michigan County Histories and Atlases


FRANK E. KIRBY, of Detroit, during his career as a citizen of Michigan, has earned and won such achievement as is worthy of record in its historical archives. Without a peer in his adopted state as a marine engineer, architect and designer, he has alone acquired national repute and fame for that genius which he has exemplified in a special vocation of such great import to the progress and development of commerce upon "America's great inland seas," and the industries of many of our commonwealths girting the same. In every fresh-water port of the country the name KIRBY is evidenced in the versatility of character, fertility of resource, and diversity of style, which has found expression in the numerous craft there afloat, attesting the triumph of his inborn originality, power of invention, and consummate skill. The subject of this sketch was born at Cleveland, Ohio, July 1, 1849. Both on the paternal and maternal side he is descended from the Puritans of the seventeenth century; his father, Stephen R. Kirby, and his mother Martha A. Johnson, being lineal descendants of English families who emigrated to America at about the year 1670, and settled in Massachusetts and Connecticut.


His preliminary education fitting him for the practical work which he has so successfully performed, and in which he has distinguished himself in later life, was gained in the public schools at Cleveland, Ohio, and at Saginaw, Michigan, supplemented with a course at the Cooper Institute, in New York City. His first professional venture was made when quite young, by joining the engineering staff of Allaire Works, New York, then engaged in constructing machinery for ships of war. After a brief connection with the Morgan Iron Works, he, in 1870, came to Detroit, and with his elder brother, Mr. F. A. Kirby, superintended the establishment of the iron ship-yards at Wyandotte, for the late Captain E. B. Ward. With his brother he conducted an extensive business in Detroit as a consulting engineer, until 1882, when he joined the Detroit Dry Dock Company, which, since the purchase of the Wyandotte Yards, in 1877, controlled the most complete and perfect establishment of its kind on the lakes, employing hundreds of men to put into tangible form the ideas conceived in the fertile brain of our subject, and who, as its chief engineer and designer, long contributed to this company's unbounded success and commanding position. Nearly one hundred of the largest  craft upon our grand rivers and noble lakes are of his architecture and design, marvels of their kind and monuments to his ingenuity and skill. The floating palaces of the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company those superb passenger vessels plying between Mackinac Island, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo, models of marine swiftness, comfort, and elegance with the mammoth freighters, flying the Stars and Striped from their mastheads, are examples in which the companies who own them, the designer who designed them, and the public who patronize them, have a just admiration and pride. The great ice-crushing railroad ferry steamers, Ste. Ignace and Ste. Marie, which ply between Ste. Ignace and Mackinac City with whole trains of loaded cars, are products of Mr. Kirby's inventive genius and skill. The building of these vessels solved the enigma of railroad connection with the upper peninsula of Michigan, their peculiar construction enabling them to force their way through the heaviest ice that forms in the Straits of Mackinac, and which before had formed an insurmountable barrier and defined the ingenuity of man.


 The Frank E. Kirby, known as the "flyer of the lakes," and one of his earliest designs, built for the Detroit and Sandusky route, was named in his honor. Mr. Kirby has devoted much of his time to careful study and extensive travel in the perfecting of his profession. In 1872 he visited the great engineering and shipbuilding establishments of Europe, and again, in 1866 and 1889, attending the Paris Exhibition, extending his trips to Italy and Switzerland. He spent the winter of 1893-4 in again visiting the engineering works of Great Britain and Belgium, and in 1895 toured Russia, Austria, and Germany. He is a member of the American Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers; member of the Naval Institute of Naval Architects of London, England; and member of the Institution of Naval Architects and Engineers of Scotland. Mr. Kirby served as a member of the Detroit Board of Water-Works Commission from 1892-1896; but has no predilection for political preferment, being ardently devoted to his profession. He is a republican in politics, and a member of the Michigan Club. He was married October 9, 1876, to Miss Mary F. Thorpe, one child- a son who inherits the genius of father and grandfather in a remarkable degree-being born of the union thus made. Mr. Kirby has demonstrated, and his life illustrates, that "wealth can not insure success; genius cannot command it; it is to be attained, and comes as a natural gift." He has the respect and confidence of a large and influential circle of social and business associates, who admire him for his ability and probity, and for his many noble qualities of mind and heart. In the war with Spain the government called for Mr. Kirby's services as an expert in the selection of vessels for transports, and the outfitting of the same, and in the carrying out of his work in this connection he rendered aid of inestimable value.