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

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, Part 2

The Dodge Brothers had been working almost exclusively for Henry Ford, but Ford’s goal was to begin making the various parts of his automobile himself.  With the future of the relationship uncertain, the Dodge Brothers informed Ford in 1913 that they would only produce his parts for another year.  Then they went to work planning the design, manufacture and marketing of their own automobile. 

The Dodge Brothers had an excellent reputation.  In his book The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars and the Legacy, author Charles K Hyde quotes the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record as saying, “The Dodge brothers are the two best mechanics in Michigan . . . when the Dodge Bros. new car comes out, there is no question it will be the best thing on the market for the money.”  The Buffalo Times said, “There seems to be a strong undercurrent of feeling that any motor car manufactured by Dodge Brothers should promise something very unusual.  Dodge Brothers have one of the best equipped automobile factories in the world, having been engaged on a large scale in the manufacture of motor car parts since the earliest days of the industry.”

This reputation generated great excitement about their new endeavor among both industry insiders and members of the general public.  Many had speculated that the Dodge Brothers would be competing directly with Henry Ford and his Model T in the low-priced field, but others had pointed out that hurting Ford would also be hurting themselves as stockholders in Ford’s company.  Clarification was provided in November of 1914 when the Dodge Brothers General Sales Manager stated, “In place of building the best car possible at a low price, Dodge Brothers determined to build the best car they knew how to build, and then place a moderate price on it.” 

Dealers across the country were clamoring to be among those selling the new Dodge.  At the auto show at the 1914 Michigan State Fair, the Dodge Brothers were the only manufacturer that did not exhibit a car, yet their reception room was the busiest spot in the building.  During this show alone, 254 dealers filed applications for the sales rights to the new Dodge.  There were many more, according to this ad appearing in October of 1914:

When the first Dodge cars reached the showrooms, huge crowds turned up to see the much-awaited and much-speculated-on new car.  In Detroit, over 6,000 people made the first-day trek to the showroom.  On a rainy day in New York, over 5,000 came to the Colt-Stratton dealership where they offered prizes for the first three sales, and these three prizes were award by 10 o’clock in the morning.  Similar crowds appeared across the country in cities like Omaha and Chicago, and people were not disappointed by what they saw:

Built to compete against automobiles like the Buick, Overland and Studebaker, the Dodge was well-made and classy.  It was built using Vanadium steel and had a wheel base of 110 inches.  It featured a full floating rear axle, self-lubricating springs, and electric lighting and starting devices.  Inside, it had a speedometer, oil and pressure gauges, hand pump for the pressure feed gasoline system and carburetor air adjustment.  Under the hood was a 4-cylinder 35 hp engine.  By the time this ad appeared in February of 1916, the Dodge Brothers had already sold $35,000,000 worth of their cars and were rank fourth in production in the United States:

The Dodge Brothers owned their company and did not issue stock.  They were likely relying on the large dividends from the Ford stock to help finance their new automobile, so when Henry Ford announced that there would be no more large dividends and that all funds would be used for expansion, a fight was probably inevitable.   

To be continued . . . .

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 1

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 3

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