THE CHRYSLER CHRONICLES PART 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6


There's a story about Horace and John Dodge as kids. Supposedly one of the neighborhood boys received a fancy high-wheeler which was the envy of every kid on the block. The Dodge family was relatively poor and the two young brothers saw that owning one of these incredibly expensive machines was out of reach for them. So they built their own, fashioning the tall front wheel somehow and using a wheel from a baby carriage for the rear.

The Dodges -- the Wright Brothers of the automotive world, or, if you prefer, the Schleck Brothers of the auto world -- remained fascinated with bicycles and precision bicycle components early in their career(s). As machinists working for the Canadian Typograph Company in Windsor, Ontario they developed and patented a type of bicycle bearing system. With this somewhat novel mechanism to differentiate their product the Dodges went into business (with partner Evans) selling bikes they built in a corner of the typesetting shop. The ads for these E. & D. (Evans & Dodge) bikes included some unlikely claims about Dodge bearing technology -- for instance, that it made an 80-inch gear as easy to push as a 66 on another bike. That's one miracle bearing. I can pretty much attribute the fact that my 80-inch gear feels every bit of 80 inches to my ongoing lack of Dodge-style bearings. I don't know what your excuse is.

In 1900 the bicycle business was crushing in on itself in a frenzy of downsizing and consolidation; there were no 'cash for clunkers' programs or other forms of magic free money for the bike makers and dealers. The auto industry was just emerging from its shell. The Dodges jumped across, selling the bearing patent and their successful line of bikes to a conglomerate and opening their own machine shop in Detroit. Before long they landed a huge contract producing engines and transmissions for Ransom Olds, the largest-volume auto manufacturer at the time. Then Ford. After a long period of producing for these companies it didn't take much for the Brothers to start their own car company, which they did in 1914. They were well on their way after cashing out about 25 million worth of Ford stock.

During the War to End All Wars Dodge-brand cars gained a reputation for being the toughest available. Wrote Chrysler: "What they made was a rugged mechanism that could be counted on to get over the roughest kind of road, and to keep on going even after you came to the end of the road." Soon Dodge Brothers' sales numbers were near the top, and that's where they were six years later when one of the Brothers died. Some months later the other followed, seeming to have lost his will to exist. (The official cause was cirrhosis. The Brothers were regular drinkers who could often be found at the pub, leaning on each other, literally and figuratively.) After the deaths the company fell to the Brothers' widows, who eventually sold it off to a group of bankers.

In 1924, meanwhile, Chrysler had shed his relationship with Willys and finally started his own self-titled car company from the ashes of the defunct Maxwell Motor Company. Following Ford, Chrysler was on a quest to lower the prices of his vehicles to the point where anybody could afford one (a goal that the bicycle manufacturers never seemed to care much about, perhaps because they didn't think it was practical to achieve at the time). It was difficult for Chrysler to lower prices when the firm had to obtain so many parts from outside entities. He found himself leering in an untoward manner in the direction of Dodge's assets: "We were then compelled to buy all of our cast-iron parts because we had no foundries. Dodge had a big foundry. We were paying out vast sums for forged parts, too, because we had no forge shop. Dodge had a big forge shop; Dodge had many plants filled with things for lack of which our products were costing more than was necessary... Every time we gave the matter thought, we found our heads full of visions of the splendid plants of the Dodge Brothers."

On July 31, 1928, Chrysler bought Dodge, and thus grew by about six-hundred percent.