This was one of the stories of the early automotive history of Detroit that I never knew about. The brothers who started the Dodge Automobile that we still catch glimpses of today, were once working and making parts for Henry Ford and the car company that he was operating. In the beginning it was not about creating an automobile company for the brothers, but rather parts. Eventually the Dodge's created their first automobile but we might not have gotten to the point without the friction that took place between them and Ford Motor Company.
Machinists to Start
As stated earlier, the automobile pioneers John Francis and Horace Elgin Dodge started out their careers following in the family footsteps. They grew up in the small town of Niles, MI (Hyde, 2005). They had two uncles and their father before them who had careers as machinists. As we saw with Henry Ford before, the father Dodge (Daniel Rug), worked on engines for maritime vessels in what were probably steam engines before the Internal combustion engine had really started to take off in America. Also much like Ford, The Dodge Brothers started out in creating parts for bicycles and established the Evans and Dodge Bicycle Company after partnering with a Canadian man Frederick Evans (John, 2013). After leaving the bicycle business in Canada, they established a machine shop in Detroit.
Relationships with Olds and Ford
The Dodge's had a couple different locations in Detroit that they moved to. Initially, it was the Boydell Building on Beaubien Street, and then later they moved to a larger space on Hastings and Monroe (Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company History). Eventually, they developed a relationship with Ransom Olds, one of the founding members of Olds Motor Works and one of the first automobile companies in the country. The Curved Dash Car that was produced by the company became a best seller and had sales of 2,500 in 1902, which ended up doubling in 1904 (Hoffer, 2018). The Dodge machine shop would end up supplying Olds Motor works with engines and later transmissions for their automobiles. The popularity of their machine shop would catch the eye of a newly formed car company, the Ford Motor Company.
The Dodge Brothers ended up signing an exclusive contract with FMC (Ford Motor Company) and had to relinquish their relationship with Olds. They would be making parts for the Ford cars, pay for all the tooling and construct all the engineering drawings. In 1903, Dodge Machine shop would supply 650 chassis to Ford, while later in 1904, engines were delivered (Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company History).
Things seemed tough at first at Ford. The Dodge's had to borrow and put up their own money at first in order to pay workers and gather supplies for assembling the parts for for the Ford vehicles since FMC did not have much money. The Dodge's would then be paid once the cars started to sell. One of the initial disputes outlined by Russell in his book was a delay in payments to the Dodge brothers. What Henry and the brothers ended up agreeing upon was an ownership stake in FMC to the tune of 10%.
Ford Manufacturing Company
Overall, the business relationship between Ford and the Dodges grew. Henry ended up having to move into a larger factory on Piquette and Beaubien in 1904 (Hyde, 2005). The brothers also had to start moving into larger spaces. At around the time of starting their relationship with Ford, they had a factory on Monroe Ave. in Detroit. They ended up having to lease additional space starting in 1909. That same year, land was purchased in Hamtramck Township, MI in order to build a brand new plant that was finished in 1911. Shortly thereafter, Ford would also obtain a new complex in Highland Park, MI.
Perhaps the brothers could see the writing on the wall though. A few years earlier, Henry Ford had established a new company called Ford Manufacturing Company in 1905. The intention was to start producing a lot of the components of the vehicle under the Ford umbrella, and maybe to not rely on as many outside sources for parts. It was not until the Model N that Ford relied exclusively on Ford Manufacturing for parts for the building of an FMC car. For all the other Models up until around this point, the Dodges still supplied the parts.
A gentleman by the name of Theodore MacManus, who had an advertising firm and had the Dodge Brothers as a client, had a meeting with the brothers and their attorney in Detroit in 1913. Theodore went into detail about this story being the jumping off point for the brothers to start their own automobile business. Their lawyer ended up asking them, "Why don't you brothers build your own car?"(Hyde, 2005). The Dodge's even gave interviews in that same year expressing interest in going into business for themselves. Sure enough, in July 1913, the Dodges informed Henry Ford that after a year, they would be choosing to end their contract with Ford Motor Company. This would not be the end of the relationship though, as the brothers still retained their stock position in FMC, and this would prove to be another point of contention later on in this story...
Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company history. Dodge Brothers and Ford. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2022, from http://www.dodgemotorcar.com/history/dodge_ford.php
Hoffer, W. (2018, September 12). The passing of the horse. Grundy Insurance. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.grundy.com/the-passing-of-the-horse/
Hyde, C. K. (2005). The Dodge brothers: The men, the motor cars, and the legacy. Wayne State University Press.
John. (2013, March 2). The Evans & Dodge Bicycle 1896 - 1900. Vintage CCM | The Evans & Dodge Bicycle 1896 - 1900. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.vintageccm.com/content/evans-dodge-bicycle-1896-1900
Weiss, H. E. (2003). Chrysler, Ford, Durant, and Sloan: Founding giants of the American Automotive Industry. McFarland.