What comes to mind when you see the names Harry Leland, Henry Joy, and Charles King? For those of us outside of Michigan, probably not much! How about if we add Ransom E. Olds, Horace Dodge, David Dunbar Buick, and Henry Ford? Yup – men who were instrumental in making Michigan the automotive capital of the U.S.
Not being a car aficionado, I didn’t realize there were actually guys named Buick, Olds, and Dodge. (I know – silly, right?) At least I recognize Henry Ford! So just who are these guys and how did they change the course of history and the country’s method of transportation?
RANSOM ELI OLDS founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, MI in 1897. After he sold it to Samuel L. Smith in 1899, it was relocated to Detroit where Olds became the vice president and general manager. In the next few years, he developed the prototypes of 11 vehicles (at least one in steam, electricity, and gasoline power modes) and is the only American automotive pioneer to sell at least one of each of those power modes. He was the first to use an assembly line in automotive production. In 1901, the Olds Curved Dash (see photo) was the first mass produced automobile in the United States. The Oldsmobile line was discontinued by General Motors in 2004.
Fun Fact: Ransom E. Olds developed the REO Speed Wagon in 1915. The popular rock band R.E.O. Speedwagon took that name after one of the members heard about it in a college transportation class.
DAVID DUNBAR BUICK was born in Scotland but emigrated with his family to Detroit when he was two years old. His early foray into inventions included a lawn sprinkler and coating cast iron with enamel which evolved into the first “white” bath. This coating system is still in use today. Buick, however, was not a savvy businessman. He created and lost a number of companies in his quest to create his own line of cars. In 1903 he established the Buick Motor Company, which became the foundation for General Motors Corporation.
He left the company in 1906 with only 1 share, and eventually sold that. His money and companies gone, he died of complications of colon cancer in 1929. David Buick’s lasting contribution to the automotive industry was the invention of the overhead valve engine, which most manufacturers still use today.
Fun Fact: Though he made and lost fortunes and companies, over 35,000,000 cars have been made with the Buick name.
Thanks to the creative “drive,” engine-uity, and “tire”less pursuit of excellence of these and other automotive pioneers, we’re able to enjoy an amazing variety of vehicles for personal and business ventures. (But I have to say I’m glad they now have sides on them. Those open air cars look just a bit chilly!)
Do you happen to be driving a Buick or an Olds?