Dodge Brothers Early History
Like many other pioneers in the automobile industry, the Dodge Brothers were skilled machinists from a modest background. John Francis Dodge (bom October 25, 1864) and Horace Elgin Dodge (bom May 17, 1868) were two of the three children of Daniel Rug and Maria (Casto) Dodge of Niles, Michigan. Delphine Dodge was the third child. They attended public schools, but learned the machinist’s trade from their father, who ran a shop specializing in internal combustion engines for marine use. The inseparable brothers built the first bicycle in Niles. They left this sleepy town in southwest Michigan in 1886, stopped briefly in Battle Creek and Port Huron, Michigan, and then worked steadily at the Murphy Boiler Works in Detroit until 1894. They moved across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario, where they became machinists for the Canadian Typograph Company and soon began their first venture to manufacture precision metal products.
Horace Dodge invented a four-point, dirt proof, adjustable bicycle ball bearing and in 1897 the two brothers established the Evans & Dodge Bicycle Company with Fred S. Evans and leased the Typograph Company plant for two years. In 1900, they sold their interests, returned to Detroit, and established a machine shop in the Boydell Building on Beaubien Street at Lafayette. They began with only twelve employees, but quickly established a reputation for excellent workmanship. Consequently their business grew and forced them to move to larger quarters at Hastings Street and Monroe Avenue. When they left there in 1910 for the spacious Hamtramck site, the Hastings Street plant was the largest and best-equipped machine shop in Detroit. Ransom E. Olds erected the first automobile plant in Detroit in 1899 and by early 1901 the Dodge machine shop supplied him with engines. Olds followed with an order for 3,000 transmissions in 1902, making the Dodge brothers one of the largest parts suppliers for the nascent Detroit automobile industry.
Like many of their contemporaries in this industry, the Dodge brothers were not “gentlemen” manufacturers. Although they were often quick-tempered, even with each other, the two red-haired brothers were astute businessmen, John was the more talkative and aggressive of the two and concentrated on financial and organizational matters, while Horace was the mechanical genius who tended to be quiet and easy-going. John enjoyed drinking and once forced a Detroit bartender to dance on top of a table by threatening him with a revolver. Dodge showed his approval of the dance steps by smashing glasses against the bar mirror. The Dodge brothers were soon to work for and clash with another strong-willed automotive genius.