Year
1909

General Motors buys Cadillac

On July 29, 1909, the newly formed General Motors Corporation (GM) acquires the country’s leading luxury automaker, the Cadillac Automobile Company, for $4.5 million.

Cadillac was founded out of the ruins of automotive pioneer Henry Ford’s second failed company (his third effort, the Ford Motor Company, finally succeeded). When the shareholders of the defunct Henry Ford Company called in Detroit machinist Henry Leland to assess the company’s assets for their planned sale, Leland convinced them to stay in business. His idea was to combine Ford’s latest chassis (frame) with a single-cylinder engine developed by Oldsmobile, another early automaker. To that end, the Cadillac Car Company (named for the French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac, who founded the city of Detroit in 1701) was founded in August 1902. Leland introduced the first Cadillac–priced at $850–at the New York Auto Show the following year.

In its first year of production, Cadillac put out nearly 2500 cars, a huge number at the time. Leland, who was reportedly motivated by an intense competition with Henry Ford, assumed full leadership of Cadillac in 1904, and with his son Wilfred by his side he firmly established the brand’s reputation for quality. Among the excellent luxury cars being produced in America at the time–including Packard, Lozier, McFarland and Pierce-Arrow–Cadillac led the field, making the top 10 in overall U.S. auto sales every year from 1904 to 1915.

By 1909, William C. Durant had assembled Buick and Oldsmobile as cornerstones of his new General Motors Corporation, founded the year before. By the end of July, he had persuaded Wilfred Leland to sell Cadillac for $4.5 million in GM stock. Durant kept the Lelands on in their management position, however, giving them full responsibility for automotive production. Three years later, Cadillac introduced the world’s first successful electric self-starter, developed by Charles F. Kettering; its pioneering V-8 engine was installed in all Cadillac models in 1915.

Over the years, Cadillac maintained its reputation for luxury and innovation: In 1954, for example, it was the first automaker to provide power steering and automatic windshield washers as standard equipment on all its vehicles. Though the brand was knocked out of its top-of-the-market position in the 1980s by the German luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz, it sought to reestablish itself during the following decades, and remains a leader in the luxury car market. 

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Tipperary Revolt ends in failure

At the height of the Potato Famine in Ireland, an abortive nationalist revolt against English rule is crushed by a government police detachment in Tipperary. In a brief skirmish in a cabbage patch, Irish nationalists under William Smith O’Brien were overcome and arrested. The ...read more

Spanish Armada defeated

Off the coast of Gravelines, France, Spain’s so-called “Invincible Armada” is defeated by an English naval force under the command of Lord Charles Howard and Sir Francis Drake. After eight hours of furious fighting, a change in wind direction prompted the Spanish to break off ...read more

Prince Charles marries Lady Diana

Nearly one billion television viewers in 74 countries tune in to witness the marriage of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, to Lady Diana Spencer, a young English schoolteacher. Married in a grand ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of 2,650 guests, the ...read more

NASA created

On this day in 1958, the U.S. Congress passes legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a civilian agency responsible for coordinating America’s activities in space. NASA has since sponsored space expeditions, both human and mechanical, ...read more

Fire ravages U.S. carrier off Vietnam

Fire sweeps the U.S. aircraft carrier Forrestal off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was the worst U.S. naval disaster in a combat zone since World War II. The accident took the lives of 134 crewmen and injured 62 more. Of the carrier’s 80 planes, 21 were ...read more

Escalante and Dominguez begin expedition

Silvestre de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez, two Spanish Franciscan priests, leave Santa Fe for an epic journey through the Southwest. Escalante and Dominguez hoped to blaze a trail from New Mexico to Monterey, California, but their main goal was to visit with the native ...read more

Chang-Rae Lee’s birthday

Award-winning writer Chang-Rae Lee is born on this day in Seoul, South Korea. Lee’s father, a doctor, moved to the United States to finish his training and brought his family over when Chang-Rae was three. The family lived first in Pittsburgh, then in suburban New York. Lee’s ...read more

Hollywood golden couple weds

On this day in 2000, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, one of Hollywood’s highest-profile couples, marry at the Malibu, California, estate of the producer Marcy Carsey (The Cosby Show). The two actors reportedly met on a blind date in 1998 and quickly became favorites of the ...read more

Son of Sam terrorizes New York

The so-called “Son of Sam” pulls a gun from a paper bag and fires five shots at Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti of the Bronx while they are sitting in a car, talking. Lauria died and Valenti was seriously wounded in the first in a series of shootings by the serial killer, who ...read more