I want to thank Joanna Johnson for sending me the book, “Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State” by Bruce Rubenstein and Lawrence Ziewacz. It’s the history of the state from the Indians to present. I was born and raised on a farm in Michigan. Here’s what I learned from that book: The first internal combustion motorcars “road wagons” were developed in Belgium and Germany in the early 1860s. The first American automobile company was started by the Duryea brothers in 1893.
In 1886, Ransom E. Olds developed a steam-powered automobile. By 1896, he had produced his first gasoline automobile. It was a five horsepower engine and weighed 1,000 pounds. The problem with this unit was twofold: It cost $1,200, and its weight was too much for what they called roads. When the roads turned to mud, as they did with rain or snow, even horse carts could not travel them.
In 1905, Olds developed another car. Its name was REO Motor Car Company. It had a 35 horsepower engine and reached 45 miles per hour. It sold for $1,055.
By 1907, there were 270 car manufacturers in Michigan alone.
In 1903, the Ford Motor Car Company was created. The models we all remember are the Model A and Model T, but Ford, believe it or not, went through the complete alphabet. Ford promoted the Model T as the “Farmers Car.” You could get only black cars because all other colors would slow the production line down.
Ford had a great idea, and I wish we could have the same today! The more cars he made, the more savings he could pass on to consumers by cutting the price of the cars. For example, in 1912, the Model T sold for $600. In 1924, the same unit sold for $290. Henry Ford became a national figure when, in 1914, he raised the salaries of his employees from $2.30 to $5 a day.
In 1901, David Buick founded Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company. The company was taken over by William Crapo Durant. He had a reputation as a planning wizard and marketing genius. Durant set out to gain control of every car company in sight. In 1908, he purchased Oldsmobile, Oakland (Pontiac) and Cadillac. In September 1908, he created General Motors. Durant tried to purchase REO and Ford Motor Companies. Both were willing to sell, but Ford wanted $8 million cash, and Durant could not raise that amount. When that failed, he lost General Motors to the bankers. He decided to build a smaller, inexpensive car to compete with the Model T. He entered into partnership with Louis Chevrolet. He made enough money to purchase the majority of General Motors stock and took over control again.
In 1922, Walter Chrysler took over a bankrupt Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company, creating the Chrysler Corporation. Two new models were introduced: Plymouth and DeSoto.
American Motors Corporation was developed from mergers of several old, established firms: Hudson, Essex, Nash, Kaiser, Willys and Jeep. They used Studebaker and Packard engines.
Most of the models in this article will not be remembered by the younger generation. The above has been going on for 157 years. As they say, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” Let’s see what the next 157 years will bring.