John and Horace Dodge were not only brothers, but lifelong friends and business partners who established one of the first major automotive suppliers and an iconic American car brand. Both brothers were born in Niles, Michigan – John, in 1864, and Horace, in 1868. The brothers were practically inseparable as children and adults. They once told a prospective employer, “We’re brothers, and we always work together.” Their mechanical curiosity was fostered by their father, who operated a foundry and machine shop.
In 1896, Horace married Anna Thompson, a piano teacher, and together they had two children. In that same year, Horace invented the four-point bicycle ball bearing and immediately secured a patent. The brothers partnered with a colleague from a typography company, Fredrick Evans, to form Evans & Dodge Bicycle. In 1899, Evans & Dodge Bicycle was sold to Canadian Cycle Motor Co. The Dodge brothers formed their own typography/machinery repair shop in 1900.
After honing their skills on bicycles and ball bearings, they moved to Detroit from Niles and established their own machine shop to serve the growing auto industry. Their first major contract came in 1901 via 1968 AHF Inductee Ransom Olds. Olds was in dire need of outside help after a fire at his factory destroyed much of the inventory. The brothers were readily able to provide 3,000 transmissions and they quickly established a reputation for quality and dependability. Their work caught the attention of another Detroit auto magnate: 1967 AHF Inductee Henry Ford. In 1903, Ford contracted Dodge as his exclusive supplier, a relationship that lasted more than a decade. The brothers’ astute business dealings made them dominant industry players.
When Ford could not make a payment on time, he was forced to offer the Dodges stock in his company. The profits from the stock helped raise the capital needed for the brothers to build their own vehicles. The Dodge brothers gave their one year required Notice-To-Terminate their contract and moved to double the size of their Hamtramck, Michigan plant. John served as president and treasurer of Dodge Brothers, and Horace as vice president and general manager. About 72,000 orders were placed before the first vehicle was released one year later in 1914.
During WWI, the U.S. Government enlisted the Dodge Brothers to manufacture the delicate recoil mechanisms used in French field guns, requiring the construction a new ordnance factory.
In 1920, the Dodge Brothers tripled the size of their plant to 3.3 million square feet, where 20,000 workers were employed to produced 450,000 automobiles a year. Dodge was now the second largest automaker in the U.S., behind Ford.
While attending the National Automobile Show in New York City, Horace became severely ill with influenza. John remained at his side until he became critically ill. As Horace began to recover, John worsened and died on January 14, 1920. Horace passed away just 11 months later. The brothers were laid to rest together in the Dodge Mausoleum at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.