David Emil Henieman, born in Detroit on October 17, 1865, was the son of Emil and Fanny Butzel Heineman, prominent Jewish Detroiters who ran a clothing store within Detroit’s Russell House on Campus Martius, and were very involved in the community.
David attended Detroit High School, graduating as class president in 1883. He then attended University of Michigan where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a law degree. After graduation, he traveled throughout Europe – a custom of the wealthier class in those days – and became greatly influenced by the “European park movement,” verdant parks built within city centers that were accessible to all. He was especially enamored with the aquarium of Naples, Italy and came home determined to bring such a facility to Detroit.
Upon his return, he became an attorney for the city, and then in 1899, was elected State Representative. That same year, Rep. Heineman introduced a bill in the Legislature to provide funding for an aquarium and horticultural building to be built on Belle Isle. The bill passed and $150,000 was set aside for building and stocking the joint attractions. Construction began in 1901 with Albert Kahn, the renowned Detroit Jewish architect, winning the competition to design the building. The aquarium opened in 1904.
Heineman is also known as the designer of the City of Detroit’s official flag, designed by him in 1907 and flown for the first time on June 12, 1908 (the flag became official in 1948). Heineman is also recognized as the community leader who made possible the land for the Detroit Public Library and secured $750,000 from Andrew Carnegie to build the building. He founded the Scarab Club and was a member of some twenty clubs and societies including the Masonic order, Blue Lodge, University Club and Detroit Boat Club. Heineman passed away in 1935, he never married.
Learn More: Belle Isle, Belle Isle Aquarium, Albert Kahn, Flag of the city of Detroit, Detroit Public Library, Fannie and Emil Heineman