Born on this day, Henry Martyn Leland, US machinist, inventor, engineer and automotive entrepreneur


Thursday 16th February 1843

Born on this day, Henry Martyn Leland, US machinist, inventor, engineer and automotive entrepreneur. He was the guiding genius of the Cadillac Motor Car Company. He was the company’s founder and became the Division’s first general manager when it was purchased by Billy Durant and General Motors in 1909. Religiously devoted to accuracy of machining and quality construction, Leland recognized that in true interchangeability of parts lays the key to a great future automobile industry.

Henry Martyn Leland was born on February 16, 1843 in Barton, Vermont. He learned engineering and precision machining in the Brown & Sharpe plant at Providence, Rhode Island. He later worked in the firearms industry, including at Colt where he learned furthered his skills in the precision toolmaking trade. In 1870, he founded the Leland & Faulconer machine shop, a successful gear grinding and tool manufacturing firm in Detroit.

Leland founded Cadillac out of the ashes of the Henry Ford Company (formerly Detroit Automobile Company) on August 22, 1902. Prior to the formation of Cadillac, Leland and his partners Robert C. Faulconer and Charles H. Norton had had a contract supplying engines to Olds Motor Works in 1901. When Ransom E. Olds turned down an improved engine produced by Leland, the visionary toolmaker ceased upon the opportunity presented to him by the officers of the failing Henry Ford Company to create his own automobile: the Cadillac, named for Detroit founder Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

The wisdom of Leland was dramatically demonstrated in 1908, when Cadillac won the coveted Dewar trophy for interchangeability of manufactured parts. This feat was the basic inspiration for today’s modern production methods. Four years later, Leland combined with Charles F. Kettering and introduced the electric self-starter and lighting systems for which Cadillac was awarded the Dewar trophy for an unprecedented second time. In 1914, under Leland’s leadership, Cadillac introduced the V8 water-cooled engine — the first major step in the development of today’s high compression engines.

Henry Leland left General Motors in 1917 formed the Lincoln Motor Company to build Liberty aircraft engines. After the war, the company’s factories were retooled to manufacture luxury automobiles. In 1922, Lincoln was purchased by the Ford Motor Company and Leland and his son Wilfred resigned when it was made clear to them that they would no longer be allowed to control the company they had created.

Henry Leland died on March 26, 1932 in Detroit. He is buried in Woodmere Cemetery on Detroit’s southwest side.


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