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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,631


This is the grave of John and Horace Dodge.

John Dodge was born in 1864 and his little brother Horace in 1868. They grew up in Niles, Michigan where their father ran a machine shop. The boys were both very into what their father did and liked to tinker and fix stuff. In 1886, they decided jointly to move to the growing city of Detroit and got jobs as boilermakers in a factory. Then they hopped over to Canada to get jobs as machinists in a typography factory in Windsor.

Now, these brothers were best friends and almost like twins, despite John being four years older. But they did have some differences that would serve them very well as they came into their own. Horace was the consummate tinkerer and inventor. John could do that too but he had more a mind for business and numbers. In the 1890s, Horace invested the first dirt-proof ball bearing (I have no real idea what this means). He patented it and there was money in it. So John took that money and, working with an investor, opened a shop to build bicycles. That did alright and they made enough money to start their own machine shop after selling the bike plant in 1901. That machine shop started making parts for the new business of automobiles. Good call boys! They got the contract to make the transmission for all Oldsmobiles and then for Ford. When they got the Ford contract in 1903, they worked out a deal for points in the company. The more Ford grew, the more money they made.

By 1910, the Dodge Brothers were so successful that they opened their own plant in Hamtramck, which is an enclave of Detroit but technically a separate city and today is the United States’ only majority-Muslim city. John became VP at Ford. But in 1913, they decided to set out on their own, though they held on to that Ford stock. They created the Dodge Brothers Company, producing the first Dodge vehicles. They did quite well, not surprisingly. They also got a ton of contracts from the government in World War I, building trucks, ambulances, and other vehicles for the war effort.

The boys got super wealthy. They were however country hicks and pretty rowdy and despite their money, were completely shunned by the Detroit upper classes due to their behavior in society. Not sure how much either of them really cared. They built big houses, bought yachts (and made them for that matter), raised horses in Kentucky, and rich stuff like that. They were also Republicans who worked with other capitalists to ensure that party was in the palm of their hands.

But both the Dodge boys would die in the same year, quite young. John died in the flu epidemic, quite late in that epidemic actually, in January 1920. He was 55 years old. Horace had the flu too and never quite recovered. He was also a massive drunk who by this point in his life had developed cirrhosis. So the combination of the two killed him in December 1920. He was 52 years old.

The widows sold Dodge Brothers to investors shortly after. Chrysler then bought it in 1928 and kept the Dodge in production as part of its stable.

John and Horace Dodge are buried in this extremely tasteful and subtle mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan.

If you would like this series to visit other automotive figures, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Ransom Olds is in Lansing, Michigan and Alfred Sloan is in Laurel Hollow, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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