The Dodge Boys,
the story of two small-town machinists who became enormously successful automobile manufacturers in the early years of the Michigan auto industry
is a brand name of automobiles and light to heavy-dutytrucks. From 1914 to 1927, the company was named the Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicle Company. The Chrysler Corporation acquired the Dodge company in 1928.
The word ‘dependability‘ is common enough today, but it you wouldn’t have found it in the dictionary before 1914. That was the year two brothers from southwest Michigan introduced a car line that became so well known for its reliability that it inspired legendary advertising copywriter Theodore McManus to coin the term.
William Dodge (ca. 1604-ca. 1690), a native of Somersetshire, in England’s West Country, came to America on the Fleet, landing in Salem, Massachusetts, some fifteen miles northeast of Boston, on 10 July 1629. John and Horace Dodge were the seventh generation of Dodges in America.
John and Horace Dodge established a machine shop in Detroit in late 1900, operating under the name ‘Dodge Brothers’. They started as a general-purpose machine shop, but soon made the first of several crucial decisions that enabled them to become successful manufacturers and wealthy man.
By late 1900, they supplied engines to the Olds Motor Works, the first substantial automobile manufacturer of any note in Michigan. Six months later, they were manufacturing transmissions for Olds. In 1902, the Dodge Brothers were approached by Henry Ford, who was looking for help in financing his own automobile company. Dodge Brothers helped finance the start of the Ford Motor Company as well as manufacturing parts for early Fords, the Ford’s and the Dodge Brothers’ mutual financial benefit. Through 1913, nearly all Ford running gear (chassis, suspension, brakes, engines, transmissions, etc.) were built by Dodge.
Although Henry Ford never acknowledged their contribution, the Dodge Brothers played a pivotal role in the success of his cars and his company. After some early hiccups, they gave Ford a steady supply of high-quality, reasonably priced parts and components. They worried about their near-total dependence on Ford, recognizing that he would eventually manufacture all of his own components. The Dodge brothers must have recognized their uncertain future as Ford’s supplier.
John and Horace Dodge made their own automobiles from November 1914 until their deaths in 1920. Dodge automobiles were mid-priced vehicles that incorporated sturdy design and construction along with some innovative features. Dodge Brothers, for example, was the first American automaker to use all-steel bodies exclusively. They also introduced a series of light-duty delivery trucks built on their automobile chassis.
Edward G. Budd (1870-1945) proposed a car made entirely of steel: the original idea had steel sheet shells welded together. Anyway, the stamping technology of that time was not very advanced and didn’t enable to form sheets with complex curves, so many reinforcing members and a high number of welds were necessary.
Anyway Budd’s idea was the base for the future development of the steel unibody. This solution was used on the Dodge Brothers (1914), the first high-volume (thousands of units) all-steer car.
In 1914, most automakers used either wood or metal/wood composite bodeis, reflecting the manufacturing heritage of the body suppliers. Automobile body manufacturers such as Fisher and Wilson were originally makers of horse-drawn carriage bodies. The Dodges allied themselves with a Philadelphia manufacturer, Edward G. Budd, to outfit their entire production with all-steel bodies and enjoyed a long, if sometimes rocky relationship with this supplier.
John and Horace Dodge achieved remarkable succes as manufacturers of automobile components and complete cars. Their formula for succes was quite simple – they had complementary skills, interests, and personalities, while they genuinely understood and liked each other. They remained honest and fair to their customers and employees alike. Their company survived and prospered after they died, and it later became a core component of the Chrysler Corporation.
After John and Horace died in 1920, Dodge Brothers continued to operate successfully under the direction of Frederick J. Haynes and other managers whom John and Horace Dodge had groomed to run the firm. The company remained under Dodge family control until 1925, when John Dodge’s widow, Matilda Rausch Dodge, and Horace’s widow, Anna Thomson Dodge, sold the business to the New York investment banking firm of Dillon, Read & Company for US $ 146 million, said to be the largest cash transaction in history up to that time. They ran Dodge Brothers for three years without much success and then sold the business to the Chrysler Corporation on July 31, 1928. The Dodge brand has survived to this day, and Dodge remains a flagship division of the DaimlerChrysler Corporation.
Horace Elgin Dodge
(May 28, 1868 – December 10, 1920) was an American automobile manufacturing pioneer.
Born in Niles, Michigan, where his father owned a foundry and machine shop, Horace Dodge and his elder brother John were inseparable as children and as adults.
In July 1896, Horace Dodge married Anna Thompson, a Scottish immigrant born in Dundee. Horace was twenty-eight and she was twenty-five when they married. The couple had a daughter, Delphine Ione, in February 1899 and a son, Horace Jr., in August 1900. Thompson would later marry actor Hugh Dillman after the death of Dodge.
John Francis Dodge
(October 25, 1864 – January 14, 1920) was an American automobile manufacturing pioneer.
Born in Niles, Michigan, where their father owned a foundry and machine shop. John and his younger brother Horace were inseparable as children and as adults. The origins of the Dodge family lie in Stockport, England, where their ancestral home still stands.
In September of 1892, John Francis Dodge married Canadian Ivy Hawkins (1864-1901), when they were both twenty-eight. They had three children: Winifred (1894-1980), Isabel Cleves (1896-1962), John Duval (1898-1942). Following Ivy Dodge’s death from tuberculosis, he married Isabelle Smith (a close friend of Horace’s wife, Anna) in Walkerville, Ontario on December 8, 1903. They separated in 1905 and divorced on 29 October 1907 following which he married Matilda Rausch (1883-1967) on 10 December, with whom he had three more children: Frances Matilda(1914-1971), Daniel George (1917-1938), Anna Margaret (1919-1924).
In 1908 he and Matilda purchased Meadow Brook Farms in Rochester, Michigan where their eldest child Frances would develop a love of horses that led her to acquiring Castleton Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, turning it into one of the leading horse breeding operations in the United States. Daughter Isabel would establish Brookmeade Stable that would become a major participant in Thoroughbred horse racing which owned several Champions including U.S. Racing Hall of Fame horses, Cavalcade and Sword Dancer.
The Dodge family could trace its roots in America back to 1629, and the boys’ grandfather, Ezekiel Dodge (the fifth generation of Dodges in America), had run a successful machine shop in Niles since the 1860s, catering to the fishermen and sailors who worked the St. Joseph River. Ezekiel Dodge passed on his skills to his son Daniel, who took over the business, but times had changed by the time John and Horace were born. The family worked hard to scrape by and Daniel taught the machinist’s trade to his own two sons.
The boys had already begun working in the shop when the family began moving, first to Battle Creek, then to Port Huron and finally to Detroit in 1886. In Detroit, John and Horace took jobs at a boiler maker plant, the Murphy Iron Works, where they did rough machining from late 1887 until 1892. Then they went to work as machinists at the Dominion Typograph Company across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. The work there involved precision machining, which was new to them.
At some point while he was working there, Horace Dodge devised an improved bicycle bearing, which incorporated an enclosed mechanism by which the bicycle axle rode on four sets of ball bearings. His innovative design had the advantages of being dirt-proof and offering a smoother ride with less effort.
After Horace Dodge invented and patented an improved bicycle bearing in 1896, John and Horace Dodge established a partnership with Fred Evans, who had worked for Dominion Typograph. They leased the Dominion Typograph building and manufactured the Evans&Dodge Bicycle there from 1896 until 1900. Sometime in 1900, the Dodges sold their interests in bicycle manufacturing and returned to Detroit to set up their own machine shop in the Boydell Building under the name ‘Dodge Brothers, Machinists & Engineers, Manufacturers of Special Machinery, and Machinery Repairs’ at 133-137 Beaubien Street. At that time, John Dodge was nearly thirty-six and Horace was thirty-two.
Once the Dodge brothers began making automobile components for Ransom Olds and Henry Ford, they specialized almost exclusively in automotive work, but until that happened, they took on olmost any work offered to them.
Business with ‘Oldsmobile’ and ‘Ford Motor Company’
Their first major automotive customer was Ransom E. Olds (an important early automotive pioneer in the U.S.), who hired them in 1901 to produce engines for his famous lightweight ‘curved-dash’ Olds runabout upon which they built a solid reputation for quality and service. Olds add 2,000 transmissions to his order the following year, making the brothers major players in automotive industry.
The Dodge brothers’ operations quickly outgrew the Boydell Building, and in late 1902 or early 1903 they moved into a new machine shop they had built at 232-240 Monroe Avenue in Detroit, only two blocks away.
While they were building engines and transmissions for Oldsmobiles, another would-be car manufacturer approached the Dodges. Henry Ford needed a production source for his new car. More important, Ford needed a source that would take a piece of the company instead of cash. In a deal that included a share position in the new Ford Motor Company, John and Horace take Ford’s offer of ten percent of the Ford Motor Company’s stock. On February 28, 1903, Henry Ford hired the Dodge brothers to supply chassis and drivetrains, giving each brother fifty shares of stock.
Dodge Brothers supplied everything except the body, wheels and tires for the new Fords. While the Dodge brothers risked everything they owned to make the Ford car, Henry Ford risked very little to start the Ford Motor Company. From that point until they introduced their own automobile in 1914, the Dodges worked exclusively for Ford, and they held stock in Ford Motor Company until 1919. The fortunes of the Dodges and Henry Ford remained intertwined for more than fifteen years.
By 1910, John and Horace Dodge were wealthy men, thanks to their work for Ford Motor Company and their ownership of Ford stock.
By June 1, 1910, John Dodge and his brother were so successful, the Dodge Brothers Monroe Avenue plant quickly became woefully inadequate – although it was the largest and best-equipped machine shop in Detroit – they built a new plant in Hamtramck, Michigan. This would eventually become the five-million-square-foot Dodge Main, one of the largest automotive assembly plants ever built.
The Dodges also built a quarter-mile test track of creosoted planks, including a hill climb, at the northern edge of the plant. While other automakers still ‘road-tested’ their cars on city streets, Dodge Brothers built the first dedicated test track in the industry.
The machinery and equipment used at the Dodge Brothers plant during its operation as a parts supplier was elaborate, modern, and, in a few instances, innovative.
Despite the large size of their operations and their tremendous success, the Dodge Brothers were also known for being fair and reasonable in their relationships with their employees and others.
The Dodge Brothers treated the competitors fairly as well.
For ten years the Dodge brothers business were Ford Motor Company suppliers, and John Dodge worked as vice president of the Ford company, but they became increasingly unhappy with Henry’s decisions. In the early years, the Dodge brothers had regulary offered ideas and new developments for Ford cars, but with the Model T, everything changed. The Model T, with all of its shortcomings, was Henry Ford’s baby and he would hear no criticisms. Henry’s Ford rigid refusal to consider improvements to the Model T further encouraged the Dodge brothers to strike out on their own. John left Ford in 1913 and in 1914 he and Horace formed Dodge Brothers Inc. to develop their own line of automobiles that would incorporate the improvements they had offered to Ford.
They stopped being the largest supplier of parts and components in the automobile industry, entirely dependent on the Ford Motor Company, and became an independent manufacturer of their own nameplate. They were remarkably succesful at their new endeavor, and their company, along with their fortunes, grew even larger.
The new Hamtramck plant was retooled and the first Dodge Brothers Touring car, later named ‘Old Betsy’, rolled off the assembly line on November 14, 1914. The car was thirteen feet long and six feet, nine inches high. It had a 110-inch wheelbase and weighed 2,200 pounds. The Dodge was powered by a 35-horsepower, 212 cid, four-cylinder engine driving the rear axle through a three-speed transmission. It had electric lights and horn and a starter generator with battery, features not available until later on the Model T, which had to be crank-started until 1919. From the beginning, Dodge were built to be rugged and reliable with features like Budd all-steel bodies supplied by the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia. The Dodge Brothers car also came aquipped with a speedometer, a feature not found on the Model T Ford.
At the introduction of the first Dodge Brothers car, John Dodge was fifty years old and Horace was forty-six. In contrast, Henry Ford, only a year older than John Dodge, was forty in 1903, the year he introduced his first commercially successful automobile, the Model A Ford.
The combined effects of John and Horace Dodge’s skills as machanics, designers, and manufacturers allowed them at least a good chance to succeed in a highly competitive mid-priced automobile market. Their honest, no-nonsense approach to selling their cars and serving the needs of their customers also helped. Once committed to making their own nameplate, the brothers were remarkably skilled at promoting and selling the Dodge Brothers car. Their company enjoyed great success and quickly became a major player in the American automobile industry between 1915 and their untimely deaths in 1920.
The Dodge Brothers automobile quickly became known as a durable, reliable car that delivered ‘dependability’ to the customer. Their use by the U.S. Army in the Mexican campaign of 1916 and in the First World War only added to their reputation.
They began building motor trucks for the United States military during the arms buildup for World War I and in October of 1917 they produced their first ‘Commercial Car’. At war’s end, their company produced and marketed both cars and trucks.
In 1919, Henry Ford announced his intentions to reinvest all profits in the company in order to built the huge River Rouge complex and gain complete control of every aspect of manufacturing the Model T. The Dodge brothers led a successful stockholders’ revolt to force Ford to pay dividends to his investors. After winning their suit, they sold their shares to Henry Ford for $25 million. After the legal battles ended, Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers had a remarkably cordial relationship, an appropriate finish for a business partnership unlike any other in the American automobile industry.
The Dodges were now hugely wealthy and their car was huge success. Indeed, it was one of America’s favorite brands. But neither brother would live long to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
The story of John and Horace ended tragically in 1920 with their deaths. On 2 January 1920, John and Horace Dodge left Detroit by train to attend the National Automobile Show, which ran for a week starting 3 January at the Grand Central Palace in New York City. Some friends accompanied them to New York, but the Dodges’ wives remained in Detroit. By Wednesday, 7 January, when they were supposed to host a Dodge Brothers sales luncheon, John and Horace had contracted influenza, which quickly developed into pneumonia. By December 1919, influenza was beginning to reach epidemic proportions in the United States, although this was not as serious an outbreak as the influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed half a million Americans. Horace slowly recovered, but John’s pneumonia worsened. Having lungs previously ravaged by tuberculosis only made the struggle more difficult. John Dodge died at 10:30 p.m. on 14 January of 1920, with Horace at his side. He was fifty-five years old.
Chronically ill, that December tenth, Horace also died of complications from his earlier battles with influenza and pneumonia at the age of 52. He was interred with his brother in the family mausoleum in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
None of the children of John or Horace Dodge had any interest in running the business or the ability to do so. The factory closed during the first three months of 1921 because of depressed sales, but then reopened in April with Frederick Haynes clearly in control.
Despite Frederick Haynes’s successful managerial record at Dodge Brothers and an apparent bright future for the company, sometime in early 1925, Horace and John Dodge’s widows sold their automobile business to Dillon, Read investment bankers for $146 million, at that time, the largest cash transaction in the history of the automobile industry. In 1928, Walter P. Chrysler bought the company for his new Chrysler Corporation, paying $175 million. Dodge Brothers, Inc., had the large, modern, and efficient foundries and forges that Chrysler needed. Another feature of the Dodge Brothers business that appealed to Walter Chrysler was its large, efficient systems of dealers and distributors, generally viewed as one of the best in the industry.
It was during this time that the word ‘dependability‘ came into being. Dodge cars buyers frequently wrote to the company, praising the car for being so well built and reliable. The word most often used was ‘dependable’. After ‘dependability’ made its debut in promotional literature, Dodge marketing kept the term inactive use for over half a century.
Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, 204 Mich. 459, 170 N.W. 668. (Mich. 1919), was a famous case in wich the Michigan Supreme Court held that Henry Ford owed a duty to the shareholders of the Ford Motor Company to operate his business for profitable purposes as opposed to charitable purposes.
In 1916, the Ford Motor Company earned surpluses in excess of $100,000,000.00. The company’s president and majority stockholder, Henry Ford, sought to stop declaring dividends for investors, and instead cut prices below the price for which they could actually sell cars, while at the same time increasing the number of persons employed by his company. Ford sais that he wanted to increase the number of people who could afford to buy his cars. He stated:
“My ambition is to employ still more men, to spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatets possible number, to help them build up their lives and their homes. To do this we are putting the greatest share of our profits back in the business.”
Minority shareholders objected, demanding that Ford continue to charge higher prices in order to pay them larger dividends. Two brothers, John Francis Dodge and Horace Elgin Dodge, owned around 25% of the company, and were the largest shareholders next to Ford.
The Court was called upon to decide whether the minority shareholders could prevent Ford from operating the company for the charitable ends that he had declared.
Opinion of the Court
The Court held that a business corporation is organized primarily for the profit of the stockholders, as apposed to the community or its employees. The discretion of the directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to the reduction of profits or the nondistribution of profits among stockholders in order to benefit the public, making the profits of the stockholders incidental thereto.
Because this company was in business for profit, Ford could not turn it into a charity. This was compared to a spoilation of the company’s assets. The court therefore upheld the order of the trail court requiring that directors declare an extra dividend of $19 million.