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 in the carriage-building trade, the Fisher Brothers had a natural-born plan 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.
The five younger brothers (William, Lawrence, Edward, Alfred, and Howard) soon 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. The brothers would resign from GM in 1944 to pursue other interests, including the construction of the Fisher Building on W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit.
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. The last of the Fisher brothers passed away in January of 1972. In addition to brilliantly serving the automotive industry for half a century, the Fishers donated millions of dollars to schools, churches, and other charitable causes. By working together as a close-knit family, the Fisher family helped Detroit become a manufacturing titan and an epicenter for innovation.