“There is a right way and a wrong way to do something. Hunt for the right way and then go ahead”
Henry Leland brought style, grace, and a reputation for quality to the American automobile industry. Born in Vermont in 1843, Leland earned degrees from the Universities of Michigan and Vermont. After graduation, he began working as a machinist, and later served as a toolmaker in the United States Arsenal during the Civil War. Leland’s background in machining, mass production, and metallurgy helped him realize the importance of quality manufacturing techniques and the advantages of parts interchangeability.
Leland did not enter the automobile business until later in his life, arriving in Detroit in 1890, but immediately began utilizing his expertise to help the emerging industry. He gained a reputation as a quality toolmaker, and later served as a supplier to Ransom E. Olds. In 1902, Leland was hired to help appraise the assets of an automobile company that was liquidating; the Henry Ford Company. Ford had left the business following a dispute with investors, taking several partners with him. After appraising the company’s assets, Leland suggested that the remaining investors should reorganize and continue manufacturing automobiles using a single-cylinder engine Leland had designed for Oldsmobile. The investors agreed, and formed the Cadillac Automobile Company, named after the French explorer who founded Detroit. Leland applied numerous modern manufacturing principles at Cadillac, resulting in the first car to utilize interchangeable parts in 1904, and also worked with Charles Kettering to develop the first electric self-starter. Leland’s insistence on precision manufacturing helped Cadillac become synonymous with excellent build quality.
Leland sold Cadillac to General Motors in 1909, but remained an executive until 1917. He would leave GM after a disagreement with William C. Durant, a noted pacifist, who refused a request from the U.S. Government to produce aircraft engines for WWI. Leland and his son Wilfred formed the Lincoln Motor Company in 1917 to build Liberty aircraft engines and, after WWI ended, began building luxury automobiles. However the company became insolvent in 1922, and would be bought out by Henry Ford. Leland and his son initially remained part of Lincoln, but relations between them and Ford continued to deteriorate, and both would resign. A brilliant manufacturing mind, Henry Leland was one of the most respected men of the automobile industry, earning him the nickname “Grand Old Man of Detroit.”