Founded in 1919 by Tenny Blount with the help of Rube Foster, owner and manager of the Chicago American Giants, the Detroit Stars immediately established themselves as one of the most powerful teams in the West. Foster transferred several of his veteran players to the team, including player-manager Pete Hill and legendary catcher Bruce Petway. Left-hander John Donaldson, Frank Wickware, Dicta Johnson, and Cuban great José Méndez took up the pitching duties, and Texan Edgar Wesley was brought in to handle first base, a job he would hold for several years.
The Stars became a charter member of the Negro National League (NNL) in 1920. New outfielder Jimmie Lyons enjoyed a brilliant season at bat, and Detroit came in second with a 35-23 record. The next season Lyons was transferred to the American Giants, and the team slumped to 32-32 and fourth place. This would be their low point for some time. For the rest of their tenure in the NNL, the Stars were consistently good (finishing under .500 only twice), but not brilliant (finishing as high as second place only twice).
The mainstays of the Detroit Stars during the 1920s were Hall of Fame center fielder Turkey Stearnes, who ranks among the all-time Negro league leaders in nearly every batting category; Hall of Fame pitcher Andy Cooper, a workhorse southpaw; pitcher Bill Holland; and first baseman Wesley, who led the league in home runs twice and batting average once. Pete Hill left after the 1921 season. Bruce Petway took his place as manager until 1926, when Candy Jim Taylor briefly held the position. Bingo DeMoss, yet another Rube Foster protégé, took over in 1927, and finally led the team to its first postseason berth in 1930. The Stars won the second-half season title, only to lose the playoff series to the St. Louis Stars.