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Keeping Marquette on the move — The Flanigan brothers

Flanigan Brothers delivery in 1930, Martin Flanigan on left, Joe Flanigan on right. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — John Joseph Flanigan was born in Tipperary in 1845. His parents emigrated to Canada while he was a child but in 1865, he came to Marquette, initially working as a general laborer. In 1872 he married Maria Doyle, another Irish immigrant (also via Canada) who had been working as a live-in maid. That same year he adopted the business name “Marquette Transfer Lines,” marking the beginning of a company that provided local, national, and international moving, storage, and transportation services for more than 110 years.   

The business began with two teams plus one single horse and some wagons which were kept behind the family home in the 100 block of Bluff Street. 

In winter, the wagons were converted to sleighs. An advertisement in the 1886 city directory noted “A hundred times a day, when the annual throng of summer visitors appears, may be seen persons vainly hunting an expressman to carry a trunk, heavy package, or what-not to some distance… How often have we given up the search from its sheer futility. To obviate this difficulty, a Marquette Transfer Line, operated by John J. Flanigan, has its existence.”     

The company prospered along with the town. In 1908 John Joseph turned the business over to his sons, Louis, Joseph, and Martin, who adopted the name “Flanigan Brothers,” and advertised themselves as “the three twins.” A daughter, Marie, also worked for the company. In 1910 they bought the first delivery truck in Marquette. It had an open platform with removable sides and, as the Detroit salesman who sold it noted, “two cylinders, because if one goes out, you can always get home on the other.” With that truck they could haul as many as 150 trunks at a time from the railway station to the first NMU dorm on Kaye Avenue.   

Like many successful businesses, they continued to grow and search for new ventures. In the early 1900s they added additional equipment, including a full set of funeral carriages, and bought out several other livery services. 

One of the biggest expansions came in 1919, when the company bought the Peninsula Transit Company and began running buses, first between Marquette, Ishpeming, and Negaunee, and then later as far as Munising, Escanaba, and Houghton.  The bus service was quickly successful, providing more than 100,000 rides in its first five months of operation. 

The company had always had a mutually beneficial relationship with various governmental bodies, regularly providing hauling services not just for the college, but for the city and library (and much later, the air force base) as well, but the relationship was especially valuable in 1924, when a competitor wanted to open another local bus line. The Michigan Public Utilities Commission decisively shut it down, noting that “the law does not mean much if it permits one man to interfere in the established business of another.”   

The last major expansion occurred in the early 1930s when the company was one of the first to affiliate with what was then called the Aero-Mayflower Transit Company. As part of the Mayflower Van Lines system, they were able to provide not only national, but even international moves.   

In 2002, an article in the History Center’s publication Harlow’s Wooden Man, described some of the firm’s notable moves, including transferring the bodies from the old Catholic cemetery on Pioneer Road to Holy Cross Cemetery; moving all the equipment, supplies, and actors during the filming of Anatomy of a Murder; and moving and reshelving in order, NMU’s entire library.   

Martin Flanigan, the last of the “three twins,” died in 1954. His sons, William and Richard, were by then operating the business, and it was Richard who was cited in an official tribute from State Representative Dominic Jacobetti recognizing the company’s centennial in 1972. By that time the company had 15 vans, several dozen employees, and more than 80,000 square feet of warehouse space. 

Flanigan Brothers finally closed in 1984. The handsome warehouse they built at 205 N. Lakeshore Blvd in 1927, though now condos, still proudly bears the Flanigan name. 

If you enjoy these articles, consider becoming a member of the Marquette Regional History Center. In addition to its many other benefits, membership includes a subscription to Harlow’s Wooden Man.

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