Henry Martyn Leland (89), the founder of the two premier US marques, Cadillac and Lincoln, died in Detroit, Michigan

Saturday 26th March 1932

Henry Martyn Leland (89), the founder of the two premier US marques, Cadillac and Lincoln, died in Detroit, Michigan. Leland was born in Vermont, the 8th child of New England farmer Leander Barton Leland and his wife Zilpha Tifft Leland. He began his industrial career as an apprentice engineer at Knowles Loom Works in Worcester, Massachusetts. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Leland began work at the U.S. Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. After the war, Leland served as an engineer and mechanic in a series of manufacturing firms in New England. He distinguished himself as a tireless worker and an exacting supervisor only satisfied with his own high standard of quality. Leland was a real New Englander, a Presbyterian stickler with good manners and a titan’s work ethic. He moved to Detroit to run a company with his old partner Charles Norton that was to be financed by Detroit lumber mogul Robert Faulconer. After successfully runnning, for a few years, as a supplier of various machine-shop products, Leland and Falconer gained entrance into the automobile industry at the request of Ransom Olds. Olds needed a supplier of transmissions for his Olds Runabouts. Leland wasn’t the only major player in the automotive industry to get his start with Olds. Olds also hired the Dodge brothers to manufacture the bodies for his cars. After a successful run supplying Olds transmissions, Leland was asked by the Detroit Automobile Company to appraise their holdings, which they were preparing to liquidate. Leland surprised them by recommending that they hang on to their facilities; he offered to run their car company for them and revealed to them an engine design he had come up with which produced three times the horsepower of Olds’ engines. The Cadillac Car Company was born, named after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. The first Cadillacs came on the market as low-priced cars, but soon, due to Leland’s high standards, the car was marketed as a luxury item. The car company that became a symbol of excess and ostentation in the 1950s began as the product of a puritanical perfectionist. Cadillac distinguished itself further by becoming the first car company to introduce a self-starting mechanism. Charles Kettering invented the system at the urging of Leland, who was said to be distraught over the death of a friend caused when an errant crank-shaft broke the man’s arm and jaw. In 1908, William Durant and GM bought the Cadillac Motor Car Company for $4.4 million in cash. Leland continued to run Cadillac, and it became GM’s most successful marque. Eventually, Leland and Durant fell out over GM’s participation in World War I. Leland had been to Europe just before the war, become convinced that the war was inevitable, and that it would decide the future of Western Civilization. Durant’s disinterest in the war cause infuriated Leland so much that he quit. He went on to found Lincoln, which he named after the man he admired most and for whom he had cast his first vote as a 21-year-old, Abraham Lincoln. Leland was never able to escape financial trouble with Lincoln, and he ended up selling the company to Henry Ford. Ford eventually ran Leland out of the business, most likely as a result of some personal jealousy on Ford’s part. Nevertheless, Leland was responsible for creating the luxury marques for America’s two largest automotive manufacturers.

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