Tuesday 26th July 1932
Creator of the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Frederick S. Duesenberg (56) died in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, of complications from injuries suffered in a motoring accident on July 2, 1932. Born in Lippe, Germany, Frederick moved to the US in 1885. In 1897 he started a bicycle business, and in 1899 he built a highly efficient gasoline engine to be used for motorcycles. This was the beginning of his automotive career. He took a job with the Rambler Motor Company and worked there, learning the business, until 1905, when he convinced his brother Augie to go into business selling engines. The two brothers designed the Mason engine, with its famous “walking beam” overhead valve design, and started the Mason Motor Car Company. When they sold the business in 1913, they were mature players in the automotive industry. In 1913, the brothers opened a business in St. Paul, Minnesota, building engines for cars, boats, and airplanes. The Duesenbergs spent much of the next 10 years developing a high-performance straight-eight engine for luxury cars. In 1920, they opened Duesenberg Motors in order to release the Duesenberg Model A, the first car equipped with both a straight-eight and hydraulic front-wheel brakes. In spite of the car’s quality, the Model A floundered in sales and the company failed in 1924 without ever having got off the ground. Financier E.L. Cord entered the scene, purchasing and financing Duesenberg Motors while allowing the brothers to continue their work. In the mid-1920s, Duesenberg made handcrafted, extremely powerful luxury cars. The Model J, the company’s flagship car, boasted a 265hp engine and could cost up to $25,000 with a custom body. Duesenberg ran simple ads, exhibiting no pictures of their cars while the text read, “He drives a Duesenberg.” But the pinch of the Depression doomed Duesenberg’s future as a luxury car manufacturer. Then in 1932, Frederick died, ending the brothers’ career together as innovators. In 1937, Cord’s empire collapsed and the Duesenberg Company disappeared.