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

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