Recently, Dodge has released some very cool advertisement videos that feature the founders of Dodge; brothers John and Horace. The part of their story you may not know of though is a sad one. It’s a chapter of lives ended far too young and even more tragically, before the brothers had even tasted their biggest successes.
The early part of the Dodge Brothers’ story is an important part of automotive history. In a short twenty year period between 1900 and 1920; they went from skilled machinists making bicycles to the owners and operators of one of the largest industrial operations in the world. Through it all, John and Horace were rarely ever seen apart and wore identically tailored suits.
Growing up in a machine shop, it was John who would become known as the better machinist and Horace who developed the strong leadership skills and financial ability that would be the perfect match to his brother’s mechanical genius. After designing some innovative parts that would give them a reputation as smart and industrious men, the two went into the bicycle business in the 1890’s.
Shortly after, with the growing demand of the automotive industry, they had Ransom E. Olds knock at their door. After hearing the word of how their parts were the best quality and precision in town, Olds teamed up with the Dodge Brothers and started making all of the engines and other hard parts for the famed “Curved Dash Olds.” This project amounted to thousands of engines, transmissions, and axles. At that point in time, Olds was the largest volume seller of cars in the country.
In 1903, the brothers were approached by Henry Ford. Working out a deal, the brothers would get 10% of the company and the rights to everything Ford had if anything happened. It was the only way they would sign the deal and in desperation, Ford signed. For the next 10 years following, the Dodge brothers and their 100-plus employees would manufacture every mechanical part for the famous Model T.
The brothers would serve beer on hot afternoons in the foundry and had a part of the plant called the “Play Pen;” where workers could invent and create things after hours. The Dodge brothers also had what was probably the first HR office in a car factory where employees could meet with people and work through issues that may or may not have been directly involved with work.
In 1913, the Dodges announced they would stop building parts for Ford and start making their own cars. Ford tried to stop paying the brothers on the stock that they owned in Ford, who was sued and ended up having to pay a sum of $19 million dollars. After their initial launch in 1914, another failed attempt by Ford to hold out on monies owed, the Dodge Brothers automobile had begun to take off.
Production continued to grow, hitting 400,000 cars in 1919 along with thousands of artillery pieces manufactured for the American and French forces fighting WWI. Things could not have been going better for John and Horace and 1920 was looking to be their year. Sadly though, this is where their story took a tragic turn:
Horace first became sick with the Spanish Influenza that was ravaging the country at that time. While tending to Horace, John caught the same flu and sadly died a week later. Horace never recovered and lived in a sickly state before he also died. In such a short time, their lives were taken. We can only imagine what their impact would have been had they have had the chance to show the true capabilities of their talent to the world.