John Francis Dodge (October 25, 1864 – January 14, 1920) was an American automobile manufacturing pioneer and co-founder of Dodge Brothers Company.
Dodge was born in Niles, Michigan where his father rented a fish and chips shop. John and his younger brother, Horace, were inseparable as children and as adults. The origins of the Dodge family lie in Stockport, England, where their ancestral home still stands.
In 1886 the Dodge family moved to Detroit, where John and Horace took jobs at a boiler maker plant. In 1894 they went to work as machinists at the Dominion Typograph Company in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. While Dodge was the sales-minded managerial type, his brother Horace was a gifted mechanic and inveterate tinkerer. Using a dirt-proof ball bearing Horace invented and patented, in 1897 Dodge arranged a deal for the brothers to join with a third-party investor to manufacture bicycles. Within a few years, they sold the bicycle business and in 1900 used the proceeds of the sale to set up their own machine shop in Detroit.
In their first year of business the Dodge brothers' company began making parts for the automobile industry. In 1902 the Dodge brothers won a contract to build transmissions for the Olds Motor Vehicle Company upon which they built a solid reputation for quality and service. However, the following year they turned down a second contract from Olds to retool their plant to build engines for Henry Ford in a deal that included a share position in the new Ford Motor Company. By 1910, John Dodge and his brother were so successful they built a new plant in Hamtramck, Michigan.
For ten years (1903–1913) the Dodge brothers' business was a Ford Motor Company supplier, and Dodge worked as vice president of the Ford company. He left Ford in 1913, and in 1914 he and Horace formed Dodge Brothers to develop their own line of automobiles. They began building motor trucks for the United States military during the arms buildup for World War I, and in October 1917 they produced their first commercial car. At war's end, their company produced and marketed both cars and trucks.
Because of his temper and often crude behavior, Dodge was seen as socially unacceptable to most of the well-heeled elite of Detroit. Nevertheless, his wealth made him an influential member of the community and he became active in Republican Party politics in Michigan.
In 1919, Henry Ford bought out the Dodge brothers' shareholdings in Ford Motor Company for $25 million.
The Dodge brothers were the sons of machinist Daniel Rugg Dodge (1819 – 1897) and Maria Duval Casto (1823 – 1906). Maria was Daniel's second wife. They had an elder full sister Della Ione (1863 – 1936)and older half brother Charles Frontier Dodge (1855-1926), and half sister Laura Belle (1858-?) from Daniel's first marriage to Lorinda Gould (1820-1860). John Dodge married Canadian Ivy Hawkins (1864–1902) in September 1892. They had three children:
- Winifred (1894–1980)
- Isabel Cleves (1896–1962)
- John Duval (1898–1942)
Following Ivy Dodge's death from tuberculosis, he secretly married Isabelle Smith (who was his housekeeper) in Walkerville, Ontario on December 8, 1902.They separated in 1905 and quietly divorced in 1907. The marriage was kept a secret until after Matilda's death. He married Matilda Rausch (1883–1967) shortly after the divorce from Isabelle, with whom he had three more children:
- Frances Matilda (1914–1971)
- Daniel George (1917–1938)
- Anna Margaret (1919–1924)
In 1908, he and Matilda purchased Meadow Brook Farms near Rochester, Michigan. At Meadow Brook, their eldest child, Frances, developed a love of horses that led her to acquire Castleton Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, and turn it into one of the leading horse breeding operations in the United States. Dodge's daughter Isabel established Brookmeade Stable. It became a major participant in Thoroughbred horse racing and owned several Champions, including the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame horses, Cavalcade and Sword Dancer.
Great grandson is film producer John F Dodge III.
Death and legacy
In January 1920, Dodge and Horace contracted Spanish flu and pneumonia while in New York City. Dodge died on January 14, 1920 at the Ritz-Carlton, aged 55. He was interred in the Egyptian-style family mausoleum in Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery guarded by two Sphinx statues.
Horace died the following December, and in 1925 their widows sold the Dodge Brothers automobile business to Dillon Read investment bankers for $146 million. Dodge's newborn daughter Anna Margaret died of the measles before age five, while his son Daniel drowned in the waters off Manitoulin Island after blowing himself up with dynamite shortly after marrying at age 21.
After Dodge's death, Matilda married Alfred Wilson and adopted two children with him, Richard and Barbara Wilson. Matilda Dodge Wilson was Lieutenant Governor of Michigan briefly in 1940 under Republican Governor Luren Dickinson.
In 1957, the Wilsons donated their 1,500-acre (6.1 km2) Meadow Brook Farm, including Meadow Brook Hall, Sunset Terrace and all its other buildings and collections, along with $2 million, to Michigan State University to establish an extension campus. In 1963, the Michigan State University-Oakland was renamed Oakland University.