By Brian Baker, Principal Historian
The president of the United States is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military and enjoys instant name recognition, but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in the automotive world.
Consider all the automakers with the same names as U.S. presidents: Bush, Cleveland, Clinton, Ford, Harrison, Hoover, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Kennedy, Lincoln, McKinley, Monroe, Pierce, Taft, Taylor and Washington.
The first U.S. president, George Washington, was the inspiration for the names of no less than six failed automobiles. From 1899 until 1924, companies formed in Washington, D.C., Illinois, Maryland and Ohio, attempted to capitalize on Washington’s name recognition. All failed quickly except for the Carter Car Company’s Washington model which lasted until 1924, the same year future President Jimmy Carter was born.
1967 Automotive Hall of Fame Inductee Henry Ford was born in 1863 during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. He always had a special affinity for the 16th president. 1973 Inductee Henry Leland, Ford’s rival, created the Lincoln automobile brand after leaving Cadillac in 1917. Ford was quick to purchase the Lincoln brand when Leland’s business faltered. He likely resented that Leland had created Cadillac in 1903 out of the ashes of Ford’s second failed auto company.
The Lincoln brand became the vehicle of choice for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter. President Carter wanted a Ford in order to appear more in touch with the average American. His radically modified Ford LTD was probably the most expensive Ford ever created.
Arguably, the most famous car in the world is the Lincoln Continental limousine used by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1981, in Washington, D.C., a 1972 Lincoln presidential limousine was instrumental in saving the life of President Ronald Regan from assassin John Hinkley’s bullet. The Cadillac usually used for the President was in for service. Reportedly, the doors were sagging.
Madison Motors Co. of Anderson, Indiana, made the only vehicle named for a U.S. first lady. The company made the “Dolly Madison” from 1915 until 1919. Marmon of Indianapolis had a “Roosevelt” that despite its modest price of less than $1,000, failed in the luxury marketplace. It was undoubtedly doomed by the 1929 stock market crash.
In 2021, a series of heavily armored Cadillacs affectionately named “the Beast” by the Secret Service, ferries the U.S. president safely around the world. These cars remain symbols of the American automobile industry’s respect for the office of the president of the United States. Hail to the Chief.