John Francis Dodge
Dodge was born in Niles, Michigan, where his father owned a foundry and machine shop. Dodge and his younger brother, Horace, were inseparable as children and as adults. The origins of the Dodge family lie in Stockport, England, where their ancestral home still stands.
In 1886 the Dodge family moved to Detroit, where John and Horace took jobs at a boiler maker plant. In 1894 they went to work as machinists at the Dominion Typograph Company in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. While Dodge was the sales-minded managerial type, his brother Horace was a gifted mechanic and inveterate tinkerer. Using a dirt-proof ball bearing Horace invented and patented, in 1897 Dodge arranged a deal for the brothers to join with a third-party investor to manufacture bicycles. Within a few years, they sold the bicycle business and in 1900 used the proceeds of the sale to set up their own machine shop in Detroit.
In their first year of business the Dodge brothers' company began making parts for the automobile industry. In 1902 the Dodge brothers won a contract to build transmissions for the Olds Motor Vehicle Company upon which they built a solid reputation for quality and service. However, the following year they turned down a second contract from Olds to retool their plant to build engines for Henry Ford in a deal that included a share position in the new Ford Motor Company. By 1910, John Dodge and his brother were so successful they built a new plant in Hamtramck, Michigan.
For ten years (1903-1913) the Dodge brothers' business was a Ford Motor Company supplier, and Dodge worked as vice president of the Ford company. He left Ford in 1913, and in 1914 he and Horace formed Dodge Brothers to develop their own line of automobiles. They began building motor trucks for the United States military during the arms buildup for World War I, and in October 1917 they produced their first commercial car. At war's end, their company produced and marketed both cars and trucks.
Because of his temper and often crude behavior, Dodge was seen as socially unacceptable to most of the well-heeled elite of Detroit. Nevertheless, his wealth made him an influential member of the community and he became active in Republican Party politics in Michigan.
In 1919, Henry Ford bought out the Dodge brothers' shareholdings in Ford Motor Company for $25 million.
Dodge married Canadian Ivy Hawkins (1864-1902) in September 1892. They had three children:
Following Ivy Dodge's death from tuberculosis, he married Isabelle Smith in Walkerville, Ontario on December 8, 1902. They separated in 1905 and divorced in 1907, following which he married Matilda Rausch (1883-1967), with whom he had three more children:
- Frances (1914-1971)
- Daniel George (1917-1938)
- Anna Margaret (1919-1924)
In 1908 he and Matilda purchased Meadow Brook Farms in Rochester, Michigan. At Meadow Brook, their eldest child, Frances, developed a love of horses that led her to acquire Castleton Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, and turn it into one of the leading horse breeding operations in the United States. Dodge's daughter Isabel established Brookmeade Stable. It became a major participant in Thoroughbred horse racing and owned several Champions, including the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame horses, Cavalcade and Sword Dancer.
Death and legacy
In January 1920, Dodge and Horace contracted influenza and pneumonia while in New York City. Dodge died on January 14, 1920, aged 55. He was interred in the family mausoleum in Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery.
Horace died the following December, and in 1925 their widows sold the Dodge Brothers automobile business to Dillon, Read investment bankers for $146 million. Dodge's newborn daughter Anna Margaret died of the measles before age five, while his son Daniel drowned in the waters off Manitoulin Island after blowing himself up with dynamite shortly after marrying at age 21.
After Dodge's death, Matilda married Alfred Wilson and adopted two children with him, Richard and Barbara Wilson. Matilda Dodge Wilson was Lieutenant Governor of Michigan briefly in 1940. Republican Luren Dickinson was governor at the time.
In 1957, Dodge's widow donated their 1,500-acre (6.1 km2) Meadow Brook Farm, including Meadow Brook Hall, Sunset Terrace and all its other buildings and collections, along with $2 million, to Michigan State University. The property today is home to Oakland University.
- Hyde, Charles K. (2003). Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation, pp. 46-48. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814330916.
- Hyde, Charles K. (2005). The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars, and the Legacy, pp. 41-42. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814332463.
- Ashlee, Laura Rose (2005). Traveling Through Time: A Guide to Michigan's Historical Markers, p. 44. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472030663.
- Hyde (2005), pp. 117-18.
- Curcio, Vincent (2000). Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius, p. 376. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195147057.
- MBH Home - Meadow Brook Hall - Oakland University at www2.oakland.edu
- Danny Dodge at www.mysteriesofcanada.com