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Two Pyramids Are Twice as Good as One

by Kevin Chapo, GIS Specialist

Please join us in bidding farewell to Kevin Chapo as he goes on to pursue other opportunities. Enjoy Kevin’s musings on a century-old proposal to build a stone pyramid in the city of Detroit.


An interesting article about Detroit surfaced during D3’s hours laboring through old academic texts. In 1908, an engineer mused about the requirements to build a complete, full-scale replica of the Giza’s Great Pyramid in Detroit. The idea was proposed by E.S. Wheeler of the Association of Engineering Societies, who gave the following as the justification behind his presentation:

Now when any of you prepare a paper for this society it is informed with the best theories, latest results, numberless experiments, crucial tests, exact weights and measures, and your own final conclusions. To listen to and grasp such a paper require alert faculties and close attention. Sometimes it makes me dizzy, and I get behind and am dissatisfies because my wits are not nimble enough to keep up with the theme and its logic and my memory is not comprehensive enough to retain the results. I remember that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”; there that we may have some play mixed with our busy days, I have prepared a whimsical paper that will not require close attention or logical analysis, but rather the free use of fancy and imagination, and while it may bore you to listen to it, it will not tire you to understand it. – E.S. Wheeler, “Plans, Specifications, and Estimates of the Cost of Building in Detroit an Exact Duplicate of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh”

In the spirit of completely impractical analysis, here are the details for Mr. Wheeler’s plan.

The twelve-acre site was to be built on Fort Street between Griswold and Cass, home to Cadillac’s village in 1702 and site of the fort attacked by Pontiac in 1763. Today, this would be sitting atop the Levin courthouse, the Penobscot building, and a chain sandwich restaurant. The cost in 1908 of the pyramid, which would have been 485 feet tall and 706 feet on a side, was $36,000,000. (Wheeler mentions for comparison that it cost $8,000,000 at the time to build the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.) Adjusting for inflation for today, the cost of the pyramid would be $926.5 million. But while the distinguished E.S. was aware of the vast cost, he was very optimistic on the speed in which we could build them with the vastness of the country’s resources:

Finally, if a day’s work is worth a dollar and a half, it would require 24,000,000 days’ work to build a pyramid. The population of the United States is about 80,000,000. It is reckoned that one in five is able to do a day’s work; therefore there is available 16,000,000 days’ work each day; it would take a day and a half to build a pyramid. If the United States should stop all other work and devote itself entirely to building pyramids, as was probably the case in Egypt, it would, after it got fairly running, be able to turn out two every three days. – E.S. Wheeler, Id.

Extrapolating this equation for the current national population of 312 million would give us the ability to produce 2.6 pyramids a day, advancements in construction techniques notwithstanding. Get to work, Detroit!

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