Detroit Automobile Company

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The Detroit Automobile Company (DAC) was an early American automobile manufacturer founded on August 5, 1899, in Detroit, Michigan.[1] It was the first venture of its kind in Detroit.[2] Automotive mechanic Henry Ford attracted the financial backing of three investors; Detroit Mayor William Maybury, William H. Murray, and Senator Thomas W. Palmer. As with many early car ventures, the company floundered and was dissolved in January 1901.[1] Twenty vehicles were built and $86,000 ($2.11 million in 2007) of investment was lost.[3] [4]


The company's first product was a delivery truck, completed in January 1900.


The company was founded with a paid-up capital of $15,000 ($369,205 in 2007).[2] Henry Ford managed the manufacturing plant at 1343 Cass Avenue, Amsterdam in Detroit; initially with no pay until he left his job at the Detroit Edison Company, after which he was given a monthly salary of $150 ($3,692 in 2007).[5] [2] He refused to put a car into production until he had perfected it to his satisfaction,[6] infuriating investors who quickly began to lose confidence in Ford's ability to bring a product to market.[6] The company's primary objective was to make a profit for its investors, who had seen the Oldsmobile plant, where the Curved Dash Oldsmobile was built, profitable for its owner Samuel Smith.[4]

The company's first product was a gasoline-powered delivery truck engineered by Ford and completed in January 1900.[1] It received favorable coverage in a local newspaper, but was not without its flaws; it was slow, heavy, unreliable and complicated to manufacture.[7] Later in life, Ford recalled this period as one that was driven by profit rather than innovation.[8]


A catalog produced by Detroit Automobile Company in 1900 showed, with a cost analysis, that the automobile was cheaper to maintain and operate than a horse and vehicle.[4] Little is known about the company's designs.[9]

Table 1. Detroit Automobile Car Costs[4]
Original cost $1,000
Cost of operating, 14 cents per mile, 25 miles per day $114
New tires $100
Repairs $50
Painting vehicle four times $100
Horse and Vehicle
Original cost, horse, harness and vehicle $500
Cost of keeping horse five years $1,200
Shoeing the horse $180
Repairs on vehicle, including rubber tires $150
Repairs on harness, $10 per year $50
Painting vehicle four times $100


The Detroit Automobile Company later became the Cadillac Company under ownership of Henry Leland, who came in subsequently after Ford had left.[8] It was reorganized into the Henry Ford Company on November 20, 1901, after Ford gained further backing from investors because of his racing success.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bryan, Ford R., The Birth of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford Heritage Association,, retrieved on May 23, 2008 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Months past (an account of Henry Ford's first automobile factory)", History Today 49 (8): 50, August 1999 
  3. Cabadas, Joe (2004), River Rouge: Ford's Industrial Colossus, MotorBooks/MBI Publishing, p. 17, ISBN 0760317089 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Weiss, H. Eugene (2003), Chrysler, Ford, Durant, and Sloan: Founding Giants of the American Automotive Industry, McFarland, pp. 7-9, ISBN 0786416114 
  5. Peterson, Chester; Beemer, Rod (1997), Ford N Series Tractors, MBI Publishing, p. 10, ISBN 0760302898 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Black, Edwin (2007), Internal Combustion, Macmillan, p. 99, ISBN 031235908X 
  7. Bryan, Ford Richardson; Evans, Sarah (1995), Henry's Attic: Some Fascinating Gifts to Henry Ford and His Museum, Wayne State University Press, p. 107, ISBN 0814326420 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ford, Henry (2007), My Life and Work, BiblioBazaar, p. 37, ISBN 1426422563 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Weiss, H. Eugene (2003), pp. 9-10