Dodge is now a “muscle” brand, but it started out by making a car which was just about as far from muscle as it gets.
The Dodge family arrived in North America in 1629; in the 1830s, Ezekiel Dodge traveled from Massachusetts to Michigan, where he repaired boat engines. Ezekiel and his wife Anna had two daughters and eleven sons, including Daniel Rugg Dodge, who eventually took over the business.
Daniel had two children by his first wife, and after she died, married Maria Duval Casto, and had three children: Della in 1863, John Francis in 1864, and Horace in 1868. Horace and John, both red-haired, learning the machinists’ trade from their father; Ellis Brasher noted, “John was quieter and a better machinist. Horace was the leader and financier, making sure the no one took advantage of the pair. The brothers were inseparable.”
Horace and John worked in various parts of Michigan, until they were both hired by the Murphy Iron Works in Detroit, 1886. They later crossed the river to Windsor.
In 1896, Horace created a dirt-proof ball bearing at his home workbench; he shared credit with John in the patent. The next year, they worked with Fred S. Evans to make a bicycle under the Evans & Dodge name.
The brothers, increasingly diverted by sales of automotive parts, returned to Detroit and started their own shop in 1902, after selling their share in the bicycle business; then they moved from Beaubien Street to Hastings and Monroe.
Their high quality led Ransom Eli Olds, father of the Oldsmobile and the first automaker ever to use an assembly line, to their door. He had the dodge brothers make thousands of engines and transmissions for his curved-dash Oldsmobile starting in 1902; Oldsmobile made 30% of the cars built in the United States in 1903. The brothers also sold parts to other automakers, giving them a thriving business.
The Dodge brothers build Fords for a decade
Meanwhile, Henry Ford had gone through two bankruptcies, and was having a hard time finding financers or suppliers who would provide parts on credit. He finally approached the Dodge Brothers, who, in light of Ford’s past, drove a hard but fair (given the risks) bargain. The Dodge brothers gave up their other customers, borrowed $75, 000 for tooling, and created the production drawings and all mechanical parts for Ford’s new company. According to Thomas McPherson (in The Dodge Story), the brothers also redesigned the car’s rear axle, engine, and other key parts, which may have made the difference between Ford’s past failures and his new success.
Dodge Brothers gained a 10% stake in the new Ford Motor Company, and rights to all of Ford’s assets if Ford went bankrupt yet again [the stake and laon may have come later], in return for credit and a loan — $7, 000 worth of automobile parts and $3, 000 in cash. Ford had to pay for parts within five days, rather than thirty, due to his poor credit history. Overall, James Mays wrote that the Dodges invested $162, 000 in Ford. Other sources claimed much smaller investments.
When Ford started making its first cars, Dodge reportedly had 135 employees making parts, and Ford had 12.
Dodge Brothers built every part of the Ford car except — depending on the source — the seats and tires, or the seats, body, tires, and radiators. The Dodge Brothers profited both by building the car, and by owning stock in the company, getting $10, 000 in dividends in the first year — well under their investment but a good start.
Henry Ford grew eccentric, allegedly fearing red-heads (like the Dodges), hiring thugs to beat “trouble making” employees, imposing religious demands on his workers (enforced by house visits), and sponsoring a newspaper to blame Jews for all the world’s ills. Money and fame may have affected the Dodges, too, though they continued their hard work. They wore identically tailored suits, according to James Mays, and would not read mail unless it was addressed to both of them; they also raced boats, and most sources say they partied hard, drinking and carousing in workingman’s bars.