WW1 Soldiers Leaving Fort Dix in a Dodge Brothers Car

This great National Archives photo is captioned, “Soldiers being mustered out at Camp Dix, New Jersey, 1918,” and the sheer joy captured by the photographer is palpable. Notice also the sidecar in the background, not to mention the unbelievably adorable dog.

Soldiers being mustered out at Camp Dix. New Jersey, 1918. Underwood and Underwood., 1917 – 1919
Courtesy National Archives, identifier no. 165-WW-139C(3)

Much of the automobile is obscured by the bodies of the 16 military men piled on top of it, but if you zoom in on the wheels, they do look like Dodge Brothers caps. That would make sense as the Dodges made many notable contributions to the war effort (see “More on the Dodge Brothers . . . .”). This advertisement, placed in 1918, also touches on some of their achievements:

The second paragraph mentions that the Dodge Brothers organization refrained from making any mention of its activities while the war was in progress. This tone was surely set by the Dodge brothers themselves, Horace and John, who, in addition to being brilliant machinists and manufacturers, were famously tight-lipped. One 1916 Fort Worth Star-Telegram story, “Dodge Brothers Hide Personality Behind Their Car,” reported that getting information from the Dodges was a hopeless task:

Horace positively will not talk. He refers everything to John. And John says, “The public is not interested in us but in what we make. Write about the car if you want to write about something.”

Imagine a time when people just kept their yaps shut.

1917 Dodge Brothers
1916 Dodge Brothers

Old Dealership Building in Wilsonville

I obviously inherited my love for old dealership buildings from my parents, because they snapped this photo the other day while passing through the village of Wilsonville, Nebraska:

Above that amazing arched doorway it reads, J.B. Andre ’07”

I did a little research, and it looks like J. B. Andre moved to Wilsonville from Marshalltown, Iowa in 1903 and opened a blacksmith shop.  This 1907 building would have been ideal for that, and you can almost see the carriages rolling in under that beautiful arch.

It wasn’t long before Andre became interested in automobiles.  One 1908 story noted that Andre was driving a new Mitchell, which, by the way, made a grand total of five automobiles in town.  By 1912, Andre was selling Mitchells.  He then moved on to selling Oaklands, Briscoes and Maxwells.  By 1930, Andre was a Mopar man, advertising Dodge Brothers trucks in the 1930s and new Plymouths and Chryslers into the 1950s:

Finally, Andre signed off on this interesting bit of history that was published November 1, 1929, just days after the great stock market crash:

1952 Chrysler Imperial



The Inception of One-Third of the Big Three

This headline from 1910 caught my eye the other day:

The author of this story was expecting the two companies to start one of the greatest manufacturing wars ever seen, a war that would set the automobile world on end and “create sensations never before anticipated”.  Maxwell did eventually become stiff competition for GM, but certainly not in the way the author of this headline was predicting it would happen.  It all makes for an interesting story about the birth of one of the American auto industry’s “Big  Three”.

The Maxwell-Briscoe automobile came into being when Jonathan D. Maxwell, who had worked for Oldsmobile as an engineer, combined forces with Benjamin Briscoe, owner of a Detroit sheet metal manufacturing plant.  JP Morgan was an investor and the Maxwell-Briscoe became the third largest seller behind Ford and Buick.  This success was due in part to an imaginative sales manager with the decidedly east-coast name of Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey who dreamed up an unending parade of publicity stunts.

The 1910 combine that was mentioned in the headline above became the United States Motor Company (USMC) and involved both Maxwell and a company called Columbia.  Columbia was owned by the Electric Vehicle company.  This was significant, and the reason some were forecasting war, because Electric Vehicle owned the Selden patent.

In the 1870s, attorney George Selden had begun the process of obtaining a patent covering the use of an engine to propel a vehicle, but Selden kept the patent pending so long that it was not granted until 1895.  By this time, many others were creating automobiles and everything Selden claimed was already being used by others.  Regardless, Columbia paid Selden for the rights to this patent for a lump sum plus a royalty for every car produced and claimed the patent covered every gasoline-powered automobile in the country.

Many major manufacturers formed a group called the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), an organization that granted licenses to manufacture automobiles to those paying the royalty fee. The ALAM made it clear that they would not be granting licenses to all applicants, thereby keeping all the business for themselves.  The decision-makers at the ALAM made the strategic error of denying a license to the always-combative Henry Ford, and that’s when the real war began.

Ford taunted the ALAM into suing him.  Ever the master of publicity, Ford successfully portrayed himself as the underdog and made people sympathetic to his position.  Both sides took out pages of advertising to argue their case in the court of public opinion, and the actual court case drug on for years, beginning in 1903 and not ending until 1911.

The dueling advertisements often appeared side by side:

The ALAM won in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York with a judge that admittedly knew nothing about engines.  Ford appealed and the US  Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit saw things differently.  The panel of judges ruled that the Selden patent was limited to the use of a Brayton engine to propel a vehicle whereas the defendants were utilizing the Otto engine, that Selden had simply made the wrong choice and that the defendants neither legally nor morally owed him anything.  They sent the case back to the trial court to be dismissed and even ordered the court costs charged to the ALAM.

1919 Maxwell at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska.

1919 Maxwell brochure drawing

The United States Motor Company collapsed a year after the suit in 1912, and Briscoe left to make a new car (the Briscoe). Jonathan Maxwell reorganized and moved to Detroit where he manufactured Maxwell Fours as well as trucks and buses.  Things went well for a time, but the company was hit hard by the post-war recession.  Enter Walter Percy Chrysler.

Chrysler had started his career in the railroad industry before catching the eye of GM executives.  He went to work for GM in Detroit and was put in charge of the Buick division.  He was an indefatigable worker who operated efficiently, making judicious use of his time.  Before long, Chrysler made Buick into GM’s strongest unit.  When he arrived, Buick was making 40 cars per day, and, when he left 8 years later, 560 Buicks per day was the output.

Chrysler made the move to Maxwell in 1920, and there were many problems for him to solve.  A merger with Chalmers did not work out well, and the Chalmers automobile was phased out.  The Maxwell’s reputation had suffered due to mechanical issues, so it was revamped and rebranded  the “Good Maxwell”.

By 1924, Chrysler was ready to introduce a new car, one named after himself. The new Chrysler had a high-compression six-cylinder engine that cruised comfortably at 70 mph, hydraulic four-wheel brakes, and a reasonable price tag of $1395.   It was an immediate hit with the public that shattered records with 10,000 new Chryslers being produced and sold within the first six months. People lining up to buy Chrysler’s creation included racecar drivers like Joe Boyer and Jimmy Murphy.

It is a household name now, but advertisements at the time had to instruct people how to pronounce the name of the new automobile:


1926 was the last year for the Maxwell as it was re-made into a 4-cylinder Chrysler.


In 1928, Chrysler continued his streak by purchasing Dodge Brothers and also introducing the Plymouth.  So, the author of that 1910 story was sort of correct about Maxwell going to war with GM. It just took a number of years, a name change and the genius of Walter P. Chrysler to get there.


“Men who get very far ahead have some other qualities in addition to ordinary ability, capacity, energy and opportunity.  Some are idea-resourceful.  They possess imagination.  They dare to take a chance and be different.  They are willing to tackle anything.  They refuse to acknowledge defeat until actually licked, and even then they are thinking about their next chance.”

-Walter P. Chrysler


American Motor Car Manufacturers’ Association advertisement. Los Angeles Herald, 26 December 1909, part II p. 4.

Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers advertisement. The San Francisco Call, 24 February 1907, p.46.

“Big Auto War Expected Between Maxwell-Columbia Combine and General Motors Co. of Detroit.” The Los Angeles Record, 26 February 1910, p. 9.

Chrysler advertisement.  The Detroit Free Press, 14 September 1924, p. 47.

Chrysler advertisement.  Richmond Times-Dispatch, 28 June 1925, p. E5.

“Chrysler Six Breaks Record.” The Rutland News, 5 July 1924, p. 1.

“From Engine-Wiper to Motor Car Wizard.” The Spokesman Revie, 6 January 1924, p. 3.

Independent Automobile Manufacturers of America advertisement. The San Francisco Examiner, 29 May 1910, p. 42.

Licensed Motor Car Association of Los Angeles advertisement. Los Angeles Herald, 26 December 1909, part II p. 4.

Maxwell advertisement.  The Tennessean Sun, 20 August 1922, p. 2.

“The New Chrysler Car.”  The Tampa Tribune, 27 January 1924, p. E1.

“Selden Patent Decision Causes Furor in Auto Trade.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 January 1911, p. 3.

“Selden Patents Decision Not Particularly Important.”  Williamsport Sun Gazette,  11 January 1911, p. 5.

“Talks of Plight of Independents.”  Los Angeles Herald, 31 January 1910, p. 8.

“To Test Patent in Supreme Tribunal.” Moline Daily Dispatch, 10 January 1911, p. 5.









More on the Dodge Brothers . . . .

Recent events related to the coronavirus pandemic have put me in mind of the Dodge Brothers, two of the most talented, and historically under-appreciated, car manufacturers of America’s early automobile industry.

John Dodge
Horace Dodge

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the Dodge Brothers, Horace and John, from complications related to another pandemic, the Spanish Flu that caused at least 50 million deaths worldwide.  In January of 1920, the brothers attended an auto show in New York.  While there, they both contracted influenza, and it developed into pneumonia.  John died in his hotel room at only 55 years of age.  Horace, only 52, struggled with health complications until dying in December with cirrhosis of the liver listed as the official cause.

 After the death of his brother, Horace wrote a letter to dealers in which he said, “The passing of my dear brother, Mr. John F. Dodge, is to me personally a great loss, so great that I hesitate to look forward to the years without his companionship, our lives having been, as you all know, practically inseparable since our childhood.” The brothers were very close and supportive of each other and, unlike many family members that go into business together, they stayed that way until the end.

Short articles sprinkled throughout the early newspapers give additional insight into what type of people the Dodge Brothers were.  One story from 1916 relates how John Dodge, now a very wealthy and successful automobile manufacturer, was visiting the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co. plant when he recognized a man, Otto Thrun, that he had worked with years previously.  Dodge greeted the man and shook his hand, whereupon the man addressed him as “Mr. Dodge”.  Dodge replied, “You can’t call me Mr. Dodge any more than you did when we worked side by side.”

1917 Dodge Brothers Closed Car

The brothers were civic-minded and, unlike many of their peers, were active in the community.  John served as water commissioner and as a member of Detroit’s Board of Street Railway Commissioners.  Horace Dodge served as under-sheriff.  At Christmas time, 1917, he was touring the jail with the mayor and sheriff. A man named Dubbs, who was a former patrolman, was being held on manslaughter charges.  When Dodge found out that Dubbs was a former employee at the Dodge Brothers plant, he immediately bonded him out so that he could go home for Christmas.  A story from the next year, 1918, describes how Dodge personally shook every prisoner’s hand (there were about 200 of them) and wished them each a Merry Christmas.  The handshake was particularly welcome as Dodge had a dollar bill concealed in his palm which was pressed into the hand of each man as Dodge left for the next cell.

1918 tourists climbing Sonora Pass in a Dodge Brothers car.

Both John and Horace were very philanthropic, making large donations to a variety of causes such as the Salvation Army, The Detroit Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the engineering college at the University of Michigan and the Protestant Orphan Asylum.  They also donated to many churches.  According to Charles K. Hyde in his book titled The Dodge Brothers:  The Men, the Motor Cars and the Legacy, the brothers also donated to the churches that their employees attended such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Hamtramck Polish Catholic Church. 

Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Dodges very astutely maintained complete ownership of their business so that they never had a board or stockholders to answer to, and they also never borrowed money from banks.  They weren’t just smart businessmen however, they were also just plain smart, and the genius of the Dodge Brothers is effectively illustrated by their contribution to the war effort during World War I. 

Weapons using spring recoils were used during the first part of the war but were constantly out of commission due to broken springs, so the US Government adopted French heavy artillery including the 155 mm howitzer (the Schneider) and the 155 mm gun (the French Filloux).  These weapons utilized a fine, intricate hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism that was more reliable but very difficult to produce. 

It was reported at the time that the Germans had captured many of the French guns but had been unable to replicate the recoil mechanism.  The French factories had only been able to produce five per day.  It was also reported that two large American manufacturers had tried and failed to produce the intricate parts.  It was suggested that, if anyone could succeed, it would be the Dodge Brothers. 

The War Department contacted the brothers in the fall of 1917, and John and Horace accepted the challenge. According to author Charles K. Hyde, John met with Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and a group of French manufacturers.  When they offered to send French machinists to Detroit to teach the Dodge brothers how to manufacture the mechanisms, John responded that he and his brother needed only the blueprints (which consisted of 42 and 71 pages, respectively, for the howitzer and gun mechanisms).  Within 24 hours of reaching an agreement, the Dodges began working on the new plant. It was designed to house 11 acres under its roof and the first section was ready for use by January.  The plant was valued at $10,000,000 and employed 8,000 people. 

The Dodge Brothers also designed and built much of the machinery including 62 new machines for drilling and reaming the borings.  The industry practice had been to revolve the gun barrel while the cutting tool was held stationary.  The Dodges’ design revolved the tools and used six drills at one time. Before long the Dodges were completing 35 recoil mechanisms per day, seven times what the French had been able to produce. Just think how quickly the brothers would be cranking out ventilators, if only they were here today!

1916 Dodge Brothers Car

Read more: The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford


Advertisement. Kopac Brothers. Schuyler Sun, 6 March 1919, p. 8.

Advertisement. Hooper Motor Co. Selma Times, 25 July 1916, p. 6.

“County Prisoners’ Christmas Merry.” Detroit Free Press, 26 December 1918, p. 3.

“Dodge Bros. Aid Niles.” St. Joseph Herald Press, 10 February 1919, p. 5.

“Dodge Brothers Have Big Part in Winning the War.” Oregon Sunday Journal, 12 January 1919, p. 49.

“Dodge Brothers Will Continue Same Policies”. Austin American Statesman, 8 February 1920, p. 8.

“Dubbs Out of Jail for Christmas.” Detroit Free Press, 25 December 1917, p. 5.

Hyde, Charles K. The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars, and the Legacy. Detroit. Wayne State University Press, 2005. Print.

John F. Dodge Dies; Horace Improving.” Arkansas City Daily News, 28 January 1920, p. 6.

Kerby, Frederick M. “America Solves Recoil Problem.” Knoxville Sentinel, 25 October 1918, p. 5.

“Mackay Bill Voted Down.” Detroit Free Press, 10 May 1905, p. 11.

“Men Who Aided Dodge to Rise Grieve at Bier.” Detroit Free Press, 14 December 1920, p. 1.

“Michigan News Brevities.” Lansing State Journal, 19 October 1915, p. 7.

“Performing the Seemingly Impossible to Win War.” Miami Herald, 14 January 1919, p. 10.

“Remembers Old Friend.” Fort Huron Times-Herald, 29 May 1916, p. 5.

“U.S. Industry Solves Problem of Making Recoils for Big Guns.” Bismark Daily Tribune, 7 September 1918, p. 8.

“Vision, Genius of Brothers Made Dodge Name Famous.” Detroit Free Press, 12 December 1920, p. 2.

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 3

John Dodge
Horace Dodge

On November 3, 1916, the headlines of one paper read:

Evening Times Republican

The Dodge brothers, John and Horace, owned 10 percent of the Ford Motor Company stock, and that stock had proved lucrative.  From January of 1914 to October of 1915, special dividends of $34 million had been distributed to shareholders in addition to regular monthly dividends of 5 percent.  With earnings of around $60 million for the year ending July 31, 1916, it looked like even bigger dividends were on the horizon.  It looked that way, that is, until Henry Ford, the Detroit man accused of wild speculation, said otherwise.

Henry Ford

Ford announced that there would be no special dividends issued because profits were going to be used, instead, for business expansion.  Ford had plans to invest in iron ore mines and to build ships to transport the ore to steel manufacturing plants that would also be built and owned by Ford.  The Dodge brothers obtained a temporary injunction blocking Ford’s plans.  They accused Ford of engaging in reckless behavior during unstable post-war conditions and of depriving shareholders of a reasonable return on their investments. 

For his part, Henry Ford denied the allegations of recklessness and said he was only continuing his successful business model of selling a tremendous number of cars at a small margin of profit.  The LA Times quoted him as saying, “They own 10 percent of the stock and I own about 58 percent.  I can’t injure them $10 worth without at the same time injuring myself $58 worth.”

The court proceedings were brimming with showmanship and hyperbole.  The attorney for the Dodges asserted that much of Ford’s success was due to the mechanical and engineering abilities of the Dodge Brothers and questioned whether Henry Ford was “inventive genius or inventive crank.”  He also stated that Ford’s goal was to crowd out all competition, and if he would only admit that purpose he would go to jail. Ford accused the Dodge Brothers of just being jealous competitors.  He said the brothers tried to force him to buy them out and threatened to harass him until he did.  During the court proceedings, Ford shook his finger at the Dodges’ attorney and said “If you sat there until you are petrified I wouldn’t buy the Dodge stock nor would I buy that of any other stockholder.”

The court eventually sided with the Dodges, and that judgment was mostly affirmed by the Michigan Supreme Court.  Ford was ordered to issue dividends in the amount of $19,275,385 with the Dodges getting 10 percent of that.  Also, despite the finger shaking, Ford did buy back the stock owned by the Dodges in July of 1919 for $25 million.  The long-standing Dodge-Ford relationship had finally been severed.

Sadly, tragedy was about to strike the Dodge brothers.  In January of 1920, Horace and John attended an auto show in New York.  While there, they both contracted the influenza which had been a world-wide epidemic, and it developed into pneumonia.  John never left New York, dying in his room at the Ritz-Carlton.  He was only fifty-five years old. Horace continued to struggle with health complications until he died in December of that year with cirrhosis of the liver listed as the official cause.  He was only fifty-two years old at his death.

According to author Charles K. Hyde in The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars and the Legacy, Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers maintained a remarkably cordial relationship after the lawsuit.  It was well known that Ford was capable of carrying a grudge.  For instance, looking back at all he had achieved, Ford once said that he considered his “outstanding achievement” to be defeating George Selden (in the the automobile patent court fight).  He did not appear to retain any animosity toward the Dodges, however, and was reportedly very upset when he received the news of John’s death.  He attended John’s funeral and both he and his son, Edsel, served as honorary pallbearers at Horace’s funeral.

Unlike many of the showmen in the early days of the automobile industry, the Dodge brothers were not interested in self-promotion.  Perhaps that’s why John and Horace Dodge are not names as well-known as Henry Ford and others, and why there haven’t been numerous books written about them.  Their goal was simply to build a quality product “that speaks for itself,” their company motto.  The Dodge brothers made enormous contributions to the automobile industry and should be remembered accordingly.  This ad was published shortly after the death of Horace Dodge, and it is a fitting tribute, short and sweet, and one that surely would have had their approval:

The Indiana Gazette

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 1

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 2

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford

This year marked the 100th anniversary of both the end of World War I and the influenza pandemic that was fueled, in part, by the large troop movements that accompanied that war.  From 1918-19, the deadly flu virus infected approximately a third of the world’s population and was more deadly than the war itself, killing at least 50 million people.   The casualties of the pandemic included two giants of the automobile industry, John and Horace Dodge.  They are better known as the Dodge Brothers, and their deaths were a terrible loss.

John Dodge

Horace Dodge

I am frequently surprised at what is remembered, and what is not remembered, by history.  For instance, when the charge up San Juan Hill is mentioned, most people immediately think of Teddy Roosevelt.  He is certainly worth remembering, but fewer people know that a group of Buffalo Soldiers also fought valiantly there, led by “Black Jack” Pershing.  The press’s fervent desire to mold history, not just report on it, is not a new phenomenon.   In the case of the Dodge Brothers, a quick search on Amazon reveals only two or three books written about them compared to countless tomes written about Henry Ford.   The irony is that Ford’s success is due, in no small part, to the efforts of the Dodge Brothers.

In Charles K. Hyde’s book  titled The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars and the Legacy,  the author describes the relationship between Ford and the Dodge Brothers in great detail.  According to Hyde, Ford launched his third company in late 1902 and asked the Dodge Brothers to become his major parts supplier.  The Dodges spent many thousands of dollars in equipment and materials to begin producing “running gear” for Ford, which consisted of the engine, transmission and axles, all mounted on a frame.   The Dodge Brothers kept the blueprints for these early Fords, and buyers placed orders by visiting the Dodge plant.  In a 1916 lawsuit filed by the Dodges, Henry Ford admitted that the Dodges made the entire Ford except the body, wheels and tires and that they also risked much financially while Ford himself invested no money or property and contributed only his experience and the design.   Hyde also notes that no Ford investors or officials had any mechanical or manufacturing abilities other than Ford himself and the Dodge Brothers.

Henry Ford

Ford had difficulty paying the Dodges for their work at first.  In June of 1903, the Dodge Brothers agreed to write off $7,000 in overdue payments and to extend an additional $3,000 in credit to Ford in exchange for 10% of the Ford stock.  The Dodge Brothers had given up other promising contracts to work exclusively for Ford, and their gamble did pay off handsomely.  The Ford automobile was hugely successful and the money they earned providing parts, combined with the huge dividends paid on their Ford stock, made the Dodge Brothers very wealthy men.  John Dodge was also a VP and director at Ford,  and, by 1913, both Henry Ford and the Dodge Brothers were becoming uncomfortable with their dependence on each other.

To be continued . . . .

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 2

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 3

1910 Ford Advertisement