Roy Chapin was instrumental in the expansion of the American automobile industry. Chapin was born on February 23, 1880 in Lansing, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan before leaving to work for Ransom Olds at Olds Motor Works in 1901. Chapin became a test driver for Olds, and would participate in a publicity drive of a Curved Dash Oldsmobile from Detroit to the New York Auto Show.
The trip took over a week due to rutted and muddy roads. Despite the conditions, Chapin pressed on and successfully completed the journey, generating considerable publicity for the Curved Dash and a flood of orders. However, the experience galvanized Chapin to later campaign for better roads. Chapin left Olds Motor Works in 1906 and founded the E.R. Thomas-Detroit Company in Detroit, Michigan and also founded the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1909. The company was named after Detroit merchant Joseph Hudson, who provided the majority of capital to start-up the business. Hudson’s sales grew quickly, but Chapin was convinced that even greater sales were possible by adding a low priced car. He launched a second car line named Essex in 1919, with the vision of offering an enclosed car for less than the competition. The Essex Coach was launched in 1922, and became the first affordable mass-produced enclosed automobile. The enclosed Essex cost only $300 more than an open touring car, and became so popular that it caused a major shift in consumer demand. Chapin would serve as President of Hudson through 1923, and Chairman of the Board thereafter. Chapin was later appointed Secretary of Commerce from 1932 to 1933 under President Herbert Hoover.
Chapin also spearheaded the effort to build the Lincoln Highway Association along with Henry B. Joy of Packard Motors. Chapin believed a system of professionally designed and built roadways was the best way to make the public embrace the automobile, and built the Lincoln Highway as one of the first transcontinental highways in America. An accomplished businessman, public servant, and crusader for transportation, Roy Chapin Sr. helped weave the automobile into the fabric of American culture.