The family that built the body of Detroit’s automobile industry
A GM president once said “When one Fisher Brother cuts himself shaving, they all bleed.” Schooled by their parents in cooperation and inspired by their father’s commitment to quality as they commenced their careers in his carriage-building workshop, the Fisher Brothers were well prepared for success. The two eldest of the seven brothers, Fred and Charles, came to Detroit from their Norwalk, Ohio home in the early 1900’s to join the growing automotive industry. They found work at the C. R. Wilson Company, a manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages that was beginning to make automobile bodies. The brothers learned the trade over the next several years and in 1908, secured financing from their uncle to found the Fisher Body Company.
Four of their younger brothers—William, Lawrence, Edward, and Alfred—eventually joined the business. Each of them brought new skills and differing opinions, but shared a sense of unity and a common goal of outstanding craftsmanship. By 1914, the Fisher Body Company had become the largest auto-body manufacturer in the world having produced 370,000 car bodies for customers like Ford, Cadillac, Studebaker, Buick, Oldsmobile, Packard, and Chevrolet. At its peak, the company employed over 100,000 workers across 40 plants, including the Albert Kahn-designed Fisher Body 21 on Piquette Ave. In 1919, the brothers sold 60% of the company to General Motors. The brothers sold their remaining stake in 1926, and Fisher Body became the in-house coachbuilding division of GM. Fisher retired from GM in 1934.
In the ensuing decades, Fisher Body would spearhead numerous developments for General Motors, including the one-piece “turret top” roof, GM’s first unibody car (the Corvair), and GM’s first all–metric vehicle (the Chevette). Though GM continued to use the Fisher Body name on their cars into the 1990’s, the company was dissolved into other GM divisions in 1984. Charles Fisher passed away in 1963, he was 83 years old. Charles and Sarah Fisher’s legacy is still present in Detroit. The Charles Fisher mansion located in Detroit’s Boston Edison district, completed in 1922, became his primary residence. In 1928, the majestic Albert Kahn designed art deco Fisher Building, a landmark office building and theater opened. The Fishers donated a significant amount of their wealth to various charities including those associated with the Catholic church, such as hospitals and schools, along with the Detroit Institute of Art. In 1929, they donated funds to re-build an infant foundling and maternity hospital, eventually named the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center.