Dodge: The Early Years
March 18, 2009
The Dodge Motor Company actually had its start as the Dodge Brothers Company began by brothers Horace and John Dodge in 1900. Originally, Dodge did not make automobiles. They made precision engine and chassis components for Detroit’s many automobile firms. Several of their biggest customers included the Olds Motor Vehicle Company and the Ford Motor Company. The Dodge brothers made high quality parts and were quite successful at this venture however, their real dream was to build the cars themselves rather than just the parts. John Dodge was quoted once as saying that he was “tired of being carried around in Henry Ford’s vest pocket”.
By 1914, the Dodge brothers had taken the necessary steps to make that dream a reality. The Dodge Model 30 intended to be an upscale competitor to the Ford Model T; made many features standard that later would be taken for granted. One of the radical changes made was the use of all steel body construction. Most cars produced at the time were still using wood frames under steel veneers. The Dodge Motor Company was also the first to switch to a 12-volt electrical system as a standard component in their vehicles. No other car company made the switch as early and clung to the 6-volt system until as late as the fifties. These and other modifications combined with an already stellar reputation for producing high quality auto parts boosted The Dodge Motor Company into second place for United States car sales as early as 1916.
Dodge would also gain more fame that same year when Dodge automobiles were used in the service with the United States Army’s Pancho Villa Expedition into Mexico. Dodge durability was given quite a test on this trip and passed with flying colors. One such experience on this trip that gained a tremendous amount of newspaper exposure for Dodge vehicles occurred on May of 1916. The sixth Infantry had received a report concerning Julio Cardenas. Cardenas was one of Villas top officers. A little known lieutenant, one George S. Patton led ten soldiers and two civilian guides in three dodge Model 30 touring cars to conduct a raid on a ranch house in San Miguelito, Sonora. During the firefight, the party killed three men, one of whom was indeed Julio Cardenas. Patton’s men then tied the bodies of the dead outlaws to the hoods of the Dodges for the return trip to their headquarters at Dublan where they were met by throngs of United States newspapermen. The reports and pictures quickly made it back to the United States and suddenly everyone had to have one of the cars used to make the highly publicized venture.
The ensuing success was phenomenal and Dodge continued to hold its place in the market until 1920 when tragedy struck the company. That year saw the loss of both of the founding brothers. John Dodge died suddenly of pneumonia in January of that year and his brother, Horace succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in December. It was said that Horace was lost with the death of his brother as the two were very close. Presumably, he began to drink heavily due to grief at the loss of his partner, friend and brother. With the passing of both brothers, ownership fell to their widows who promoted long time employee Frederick Haynes to oversee the company.
The company did flourish for a while under Haynes new leadership and Dodge emerged as a leader in the production of light trucks. This success was not lasting unfortunately and as stagnation in the line became endemic, the public soon lost interest and by 1925, Dodge had dropped to fifth place in sales in the United States. By this time the widows of the two brothers decided it was time to let the company go and made the decision to sell Dodge Brothers Company to a well know invest group Dillon, Read & Co for $146million. At the time, it was the largest cash transaction in history.
The company was later sold to Chrysler in July of 1928 and despite numerous economic downturns and bumps along the way, Chrysler-Dodge has survived intact. The Dodge division of Chrysler still produces some of the most widely recognized and dependable trucks in the world today.
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