Text: Martin Aguilar / Photos: Chrysler Press | posted August 15, 2014 14:26
The story of the Dodge brothers
Every brand has its own origin, vision, heritage and story to tell about its beginnings. Before becoming big, a brand, particularly auto brands, has to work its way up the ladder, take risks along in line with a belief that the founding vision will someday become reality.
Take for example the history of Dodge; an automobile brand that has a long history before becoming one of America’s top automobile brands. We trace the story of the Dodge Brothers who, in July of 1914, formed a company that will long be associated with great and iconic automobiles.
The founders of Dodge were John Francis and Horace Elgin Dodge, brothers born on Oct. 25, 1864 and May 17, 1868 respectively. The Dodge brothers grew up at Niles, Michigan, and their father was an owner of a machine shop. In 1886, they move to Detroit and worked for a boiler company for eight years after which the Dodge brothers became machinists for the Dominion Typograph Company in Windsor, Ontario.
Come 1986 Horace Dodge patented an improved ball bearing for bicycles. With this the brothers partnered with Fred Evans to produce a bicycle in accordance to Horace’s invention. Things seemed to fall into right places as they leased the Dominion Typograph plant and manufactured the Evans and Dodge bicycle during 1987 to 1900. Then the Dodge brothers withdrawn their partnership with Evans and took home around USD 10,000 for their share in the venture. With the sum of money that they have, the Dodge brothers decided to have a machine shop in Detroit in 1901.
In June 1901, the Dodge brothers started to supply Detroit’s growing automobile industry with major components. As a testament to their skills, Ransom E. Olds (of Oldsmobile), Detroit’s first automaker, gave the Dodge brother a contract wherein they have to produce 2,000 engines for the Oldsmobile. In 1902, Olds gave the Dodge brothers another contract to manufacture 3,000 transmissions, making them the largest parts supplier and machine shop in Detroit.
Business venture with Henry Ford
John and Horace Dodge agreed to do business with Henry Ford by signing a contract on Feb. 28, 1903. Under the contract, the Dodge brothers have to supply the rookie Ford Motor Company with 650 sets of running gears at USD 250 each. During that time, the running gear meant the entire automobile except the vehicle’s wheels, tires and body. Then in July, the Dodges managed to make their first delivery.
However, Ford Motor Company wasn’t able to keep up in terms of finances with an overdue payment of USD 7,000. The Dodges even handed Henry Ford an additional USD 3,000 in exchange for 10-percent in the Ford Motor Company stock. John Dodge also became the director and vice president of Ford Motor Company. Subsequently, the Dodge brothers remained Henry Ford’s primary supplier until 1914.
Ford expanded its production, same as the Dodge brothers. As a result, Ford increased the required production of 150 machines to 333 a month. The Dodges provide components for the Ford models F, H, K, N and the model T. They manufactured every part of the Ford vehicle except for the buckboard wooden seats and the rubber tires.
Working for Henry Ford for almost 10 years, the Dodge brothers realized that sooner or later Ford can stand on its own and they also worried their dependency to the company. Plus, the Dodge brothers also had a dream to build their own car. So, the Dodge brothers gave Henry Ford a notice that they would stop producing components for him in July 1914.
The birth of the Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicle Company
With the reputation for quality workmanship and experience in the business, the Dodge brothers focused on producing their own vehicle. In 1914, John and Horace Dodge spent all their time in designing their first automobile.
The first Dodge automobile was manufactured in Nov. 14, 1914 and it was incorporated with some of Ford Model T’s features. It was equipped with a four-cylinder engine that delivers 36 PS versus the 20 PS produced by the Ford Model T.
The Dodge 4 was an automobile accepted by the American army due to its toughness. It was used in General Pershing’s battles in Mexico during 1914 and in World War I as trucks, ambulances and staff cars.
By 1915 the Dodge brothers and Henry Ford were not in good terms because the latter refused to pay dividends to his stockholders. This forced the Dodge brothers to file a lawsuit against Ford. The court’s verdict was good news for the Dodge brothers as Ford was forced pay dividends once again in 1917. In the end Ford wanted to have a complete control of the company so he bought the Dodge brothers’ remaining 10-percent share in July 1919 for USD 25 million.
Aside from the USD 25 million, the Dodge brothers also received USD 5.4 million in dividends over the years and earned another USD 2 million from their Ford contracts. Thus, the total sum was USD 32 million on their initial investment of USD 10,000 in the Ford Motor Company.
All is well as Dodge started to become a popular motor vehicle brand. Dodge was the company who introduced the all-steel bodywork and their cars were priced at USD 785.
The sudden loss of the brothers
The Dodge brothers died unexpectedly in 1920, John at the age of 55 and Horace at 52. Both of them contracted influenza in January 1920 while at the National Automobile Show in New York City.
Following the sudden death of the Dodge brothers, their company continued to operate smoothly under new management. Since the sons of John and Horace had no interests in the business, the Dodge brothers prepared Frederick J. Haynes who was their longtime plant manager to become the president and CEO of Dodge Brothers. Haynes became president in January 1921 and continued the tradition of engineering improvements to Dodge vehicles.
The sales of the Dodge brand ran relatively well behind Ford and Chevrolet. They were third in the industry in terms of sales during 1922 to 1924 and the company earned profits every year. Despite the success of the company, the Dodge widows, Matilda and Anna, decided to sell the enterprise in Jan. 1925 without releasing an official explanation regarding the issue.
Up for grabs
With the decision to sell the company, Dodge Brothers were up for grabs. General Motors and Dillon, Read & Company were the two contenders to buy the Dodge Brothers. GM offered USD 124 million in cash or a combination of USD 50 million in cash and USD 90 million payable over nine years. On the other hand, Dillon, Read & Comp. offered USD 146 million all in cash.
So, the Dodge widows accepted Dillon, Read & Company’s offer on April 30, 1925 and the banking firm issued a single check for USD 146 million. Dillon, Read & Company owned Dodge Brothers for only 3 years, passing the acquisition to Chrysler Corporation on July 31, 1928.
In 1928, the company was sold to Walter Chrysler for USD 175 million. Dodge continued to grow over the years under Chrysler’s management by incorporating new styles and innovations. Along with the said improvements, prices significantly increased by producing bigger engines and more powerful horsepower. In 1933, Dodge managed to sell 86,062 units that allowed them to take the fourth place in sales.
Come 1959, the most powerful car was produced, equipped with a 6.3-liter engine that delivers 345 horsepower. Then, Dodge was introduced in Europe during the 1960’s due to Chrysler’s investments in some automotive groups such as the British Rootes and the French Simca. Lightweight commercial vehicles were sold there under a different badge. The Dodge 50 series was positively received in the UK and became the primary choice for military and utility operations.
Dodge introduced the semi-compact Dart, the Coronet, Polara and Monaco in 1961. These cars became famous along with other cars under the Chrysler Corporation.
The vision of the Dodge brothers has truly become a success despite the many trials like the OPEC oil crisis and even the auto industry crisis in the last decade. Dodge (though parent companies Chrysler and now FIAT) have forged through the problems.
After more than a century, the Dodge name is still one of the most desirable and most iconic in the automotive industry. Today the Dodge heritage is firmly rooted in performance and muscle cars, striking SUVs and pickup trucks, a story that began with a simple bicycle over a hundred years ago.