January 14

This Day in History

Automotive

Jan 14, 1920:

Dodge co-founder dies

John Dodge, who with his brother Horace co-founded the Dodge Brothers Company, which was once America's third-largest automaker and later became part of Chrysler, dies at the age of 55.

John Francis Dodge was born on October 25, 1864, while his brother Horace Elgin Dodge arrived four years later, on May 17, 1868. The brothers grew up in Michigan and began their careers as machinists. In 1897, they co-founded a bicycle company; however, by 1900, they had sold the business and opened a machine shop in Detroit to make parts for the fledgling auto industry. In 1901, Ransom Olds hired the Dodges to produce engines for his new curved-dash Oldsmobile vehicles. Next, Henry Ford contracted with the brothers to build engines, transmissions and axles. Ford was unable to pay the Dodges fully in cash, so he gave them stock in his company. (In 1919, the brothers sold their Ford Motor Company stock back to Henry Ford for $25 million.)

After supplying parts to Ford for a decade, the Dodge brothers decided to start their own company. Dodge Brothers Motor Company was founded in 1913 and debuted its first automobile, a four-cylinder touring car, in 1914. The company sold almost 250 of these vehicles during its first year and 45,000 the next year, according to Chrysler.com. Three years later, Dodge added trucks to its repertoire. During World War I, the company supplied vehicles and parts to the U.S. military.

In January 1920, while in New York City to attend an auto expo, the brothers both became sick with the flu and pneumonia. John Dodge died that month, while Horace passed away later that same year, on December 10. In 1925, the brothers' widows sold the Dodge Brothers Company to an investment bank for $146 million. In 1928, Walter Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Corporation, purchased the Dodge company for $170 million. The purchase made Chrysler the world's third-largest automaker overnight.

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