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.
Seeking a better job, John moved to Detroit in 1886 to work at Murphy’s Iron Works as a superintendent. Horace joined him a year later as a foreman. In 1892, John married Ivy Hawkins, a Canadian dressmaker, and together they had three children. In 1892, John and Horace started working at Dominion Typography across the Detroit River in Canada.
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 as a supplier. 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.
In 1907, John Dodge got remarried to Matilda Rausch, who had come to work as a secretary in the Dodge brothers’ office in 1902. The couple purchased Meadow Brook Farm in 1908, a year after their marriage. Used as a country retreat by the family, this property became the core of a 1,400-acre estate upon which Matilda Dodge Wilson would later build Meadow Brook Hall with her second husband, Alfred G. Wilson.
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.
While attending the National Automobile Show in New York City, Horace became severely ill with influenza. John remained at his side until he himself 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.