News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

Shop Surf Gear at HansenSurf.com
weight-watchers-banner-ads

Historically Speaking: The Dodge Brothers

An American Success Story

By Tom Morrow

Two of America’s great manufacturing pioneers, Horace and John Dodge, were born into a working-class immigrant family, but through ingenuity, they rose to two of Detroit’s leading industrialists. Today, their name appears on America’s roadways as the label of automobiles and trucks.
The origins of the Dodge family lie in Stockport, England, where their ancestral home reportedly still stands. Horace Dodge was born in Niles, Michigan, on May 17, 1868. Their father owned a foundry and machine shop. Horace Dodge and his elder brother John Francis Dodge, born Oct. 26, 1864, were inseparable as children and as adults. Growing into adults, John had the business mind; Horace was a tinkerer of machines.
While John was the sales-minded managerial type, his brother Horace was a gifted mechanic. Using a dirt-proof ball bearing that Horace invented and patented, in 1897, John Dodge arranged a deal for the brothers to join with a third-party investor to manufacture bicycles. Within a few years, they sold the bicycle business and in 1900 used the proceeds of the sale to set up their own machine shop in Detroit.
In their first year of business, the Dodge brothers’ company began making parts for the automobile industry. In 1902 the brothers won a contract to build transmissions for the Olds Motor Vehicle Company upon which they built a solid reputation for quality and service. However, the following year they turned down a second contract from Olds to retool their Detroit plant to build engines for Henry Ford in a deal that included a share position in the new Ford Motor Company. By 1910, John and Horace were so successful they built a new plant in Hamtramck, Michigan.
From 1903 to 1913, the Dodge brothers’ business was a Ford supplier, and John worked as vice president of the Ford company. He left Ford in 1913, and in 1914, he and Horace formed Dodge Brothers to develop their own line of automobiles. They began building motor trucks for the U.S. military during the arms buildup for World War I, and in October 1917 they produced their first commercial car. At war’s end, their company produced and marketed both cars and trucks.
John was mostly business-like. Horace was not. Among Detroit’s elite industrialist society, the Dodge brothers, especially Horace, could be quite argumentative. Because of Horace’s temper and often crude behavior, the red-haired Dodge was seen as socially unacceptable to most of the well-heeled elite of Detroit. Nevertheless, his wealth made him an influential member of the Detroit community and he became active in Republican Party politics in Michigan.
But their rise from humble beginnings to being of the wealthy class was short-lived. Within two years of each other, the brothers died. John and Horace both contracted influenza and pneumonia while in New York City during the Great 1918 Flu Pandemic. John died on Jan. 14, 1920, at the Ritz-Carlton, aged 55. He was interred in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Horace died the following December. In 1925 their widows sold the Dodge Brothers automobile business to Dillon Read, investment bankers, for $146 million (equivalent to $1.3 billion in 2016. In 1928, Walter Chrysler brought the Dodge automotive company into his Chrysler Corporation where it remains today.
After John Dodge’s death, Matilda married Alfred Wilson and adopted two children with him. In 1940, Wilson was Lieutenant Governor of Michigan briefly under Republican Governor Luren Dickinson.
Upon her death in 1970, Horace’s widow, Anna Thompson Dodge, left a sum to the City of Detroit for the construction of the Horace E. Dodge & Son Memorial Fountain. The fountain was designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1978 as part of the city’s Hart Plaza. Horace E. Dodge, Jr. died in 1963 at age 63.
The only sign of what is left of the Dodge Brothers is in the millions with automobiles and trucks driving the streets and highways of North America. The Dodge brothers may be forgotten, but their family name lives on.


To Learn More about Tom Morrow, the author click here
E-mail Tom Morrow at: [email protected]

Activate Search
Historically Speaking: The Dodge Brothers