The car that made the word “dependability” popular began as a sideline in a bicycle shop.
The name of Dodge was famous in the automotive industry long before the brothers, John and Horace, decided to build a car of their own. Born in Miles, Michigan, both brothers displayed from their early youth an unusual mechanical aptitude and an inclination to work with their hands. In 1899, John and Horace moved to Windsor, Ontario, where they opened a bicycle shop and not only sold but actually built their own bicycles, soon achieving a considerable measure of success.
As a sideline, they also began producing a small quantity of parts for some of the pioneer automobile manufacturers. Before long, their skill in this trade resulted in so much business that bicycle-building became a secondary occupation. By 1901, with a reputation already established as master craftsmen, the Dodge brothers transferred their activity to Detroit, and the following year secured the first big order ever placed for components by a car manufacturer. They decided, in 1903, to discontinue making bicycles and devote their entire efforts to producing axles, transmissions, steering parts and crankcases; thus the firm of Dodge Brothers was in the automobile business to stay.
Just seven years later, orders had multiplied to a point where the brothers were able to purchase the site of what became the Dodge Main Plant in Detroit. Covering some 24 acres, the original Dodge Brothers automotive parts factory became the largest organization of its kind in the U. S.
From there to building a complete vehicle of their own was just one more step, and when, in 1914, Dodge Brothers produced the first car bearing this name, the company had manufactured components for more than half a million automobiles by other makers.
Response to the new Dodge was immediate and overwhelming. Some 22,000 firms applied for dealerships, and with its unveiling on November 14, 1914, the newcomer became a spectacular success. The reason was not hard to find, for this car combined sensible and practical design with the Dodge stamp of quality manufacture, while selling at a moderate price. It also featured a real novelty--the original all-steel body offered to the American public.
From that first car, Dodge Brothers became identified with leadership in automobile engineering and with the introduction of numerous “firsts.” One of these was a policy of avoiding yearly model changes as a sales promotion stunt. Instead, the company offered improvements when and as they were developed and tested. As a result, Dodge soon achieved world renown as a truly dependable automobile which reflected genuine value.
In 1916, when Dodge was being offered in four body styles with a modest price range of $785 to $950, General John J. Pershing used one of these automobiles as his command car during the Mexican border campaign. Dodge contribution to World War I production also was outstanding. Several thousand troop carriers, combat vehicles and ambulances were produced by this firm and put into active use; while in 1917, Dodge also turned out the complicated recoil mechanisms for the famous French 75- and 155-mm howitzers. Where other manufacturers had tried and failed, Dodge was successful in applying mass-production methods to the fabrication of these intricate gun parts. Despite vast contribution to the “war effort, Dodge was able to offer 15 body styles for 1917, with a choice of two wheelbases--the 112-and 114-inch. That year, too, the Dodge multiple plate clutch was increased to seven plates and production soared to 99,421 units, compared with 70,799 in 1916--a step-up of about 40 per cent output in a single year.
It was at about this time that the Dodge car became directly responsible for the coining of a new word which later was embodied into all dictionaries. When folks discussed the Dodge, they spoke of it primarily as an automobile that could be depended on because it stood for quality and sound workmanship. The need of a single term to express this thought resulted in the word “dependability” being coined; and as common as this term may be in today’s usage, it remains synonymous with the name of Dodge.
Again it was the Dodge that carried Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews on his famous expedition to explore the Gobi desert wastes, where no car had ever before set wheel.
Following the post-World War I readjustment to consumer demand, Dodge output soared to new peaks and 1919 production boomed to 105,398 units with a range of 12 body styles (including a taxi), priced from $985 to $1,750. This was the year that Dodge featured a pressed steel clutch housing, worm and wheel steering and an Alemite chassis greasing system. It marked, also, the introduction of a four-door steel-built sedan.
Quite suddenly, in 1920, John and Horace Dodge died within a few months of each other--both from pneumonia contracted at the time of the Automobile Show; but by now the company was strongly entrenched and well able to carry on the fine tradition set by these outstanding figures of the industry. Rocketing to still greater sales heights, 1920 Dodge cars found 129,191 customers, though the only changes were longer rear springs and Kelsey Steel wheels with six-bolt attachment for greater strength. Throughout, the Dodge retained its 114-inch wheelbase chassis and sturdy four-cylinder, L-head engine rated at 24 hp--improvements being generally of a detailed nature related to efficiency, economy and “dependability.”
Dodge standardized the windshield wiper as regular equipment in 1921, when a heater also was offered; while the following year an all-steel coupe body was introduced and the semi-floating type of rear axle adopted. Production for 1922 was the highest in the company’s nine-year history--152,673 units being built and sold. Yet Dodge popularity was still on the increase and the millionth car--an all-steel sedan--came off the assembly line in 1923. This model featured several major improvements such as a redesigned and lowered chassis with a longer wheelbase of 116 inches; a more efficient engine camshaft; the Zerk grease system for external lubrication and a transmission lock. Dodge’s production zenith for that period was the 1924-25 output of 194,325 cars equipped with balloon tires, a stronger front axle, full-wrapping brakes and Texolite timing gears for silent operation.
On April 30, 1925, took place the largest cash transaction in the nation’s history up to that time. New York banking interests headed by Dillon, Read and Company bought out the Dodge properties for $146,000,000. Company goodwill, valued on the books at one dollar, was regarded so highly that it actually represented some $50,000,000 of the purchase price.
A modest enterprise, started a decade earlier by two visionary enthusiasts with a genius for automotive engineering, had come a very long way. As in several other instances involving pioneer automobile manufacturers, the good old bicycle proved the inspiration that launched John and Horace Dodge on their meteoric career to a pinnacle of success. By 1925, Dodge had built and delivered over a million and a quarter automobiles.