The Chrysler Era 1928-1980
When Walter P. Chrysler bought Dodge in 1928, he rescued a failing busi- ness which was barely meeting its payrolls. Dillon, Read & Company were un- familiar with the automobile industry and as absentee owners were not able to keep the firm operating efficiently. In 1925, the banking firm also acquired Graham Brothers, a large truck maker, and the three Graham brothers became large Dodge stockholders. During the Dillon, Read era, Raymond Graham served as Dodge general manager, while Edward J. Wllmer, a Wisconsin utility executive, was president of Dodge. By the end of 1925, Dodge had truck and forge plants located between Huber Avenue and Lynch Road (northeast of the Hamtramck plant), a small plant on Harper Avenue, and the Service Parts plant on Conant Avenue. To avoid confusion, the Hamtramck plant became known as "Main Plant" or simply "Dodge Main" from 1925 on.
Walter Chrysler's purchase of Dodge, described by one observer as "the minnow swallowing the whale," was a key element in his plan to challenge General Motors and Ford. He introduced the low-priced Plymouth and the DeSoto in 1928, so with the addition of Dodge, Chrysler had four major car lines and instantly became the third largest automaker. He built a new plant for Plymouth on Lynch Road northeast of the Dodge plant, while the older Highland Park and Jefferson Avenue (Detroit) plants produced Chryslers. DeSoto used part of Dodge Main for a brief period before moving to the Jefferson Avenue complex, Chrysler later reflected on this decision: "Buying the Dodge (Brothers Company) was one of the soundest acts of my life. X say sincerely that nothing we have done for the organization compares with that transaction. We had, before the merger, an intensely sharp spearhead in the Chrysler Corporation, but when we put behind it all of Dodge our spearhead had a weighty shaft and had become a potent thing,"
Dillon, Read & Company sold the Dodge property to the Chrysler Cor- poration on May 29, 1928 and on the following day, the new management team headed by K.T. Keller moved into the Dodge offices. Keller, the Buick master mechanic under Chrysler, rejoined him in 1926 as vice president in charge of manufacturing. Keller became a Chrysler director in 1927, president of the Dodge Division in 1929, and succeeded Chrysler as corporation presi- dent in 1935, He was so effective in streamlining production at Dodge Main that he freed up enough floorspace in his first three months to house the DeSoto Division.
Dodge Main felt the full brunt of the Depression along with other auto plants. In 1928-29, about 30,000 workers produced a quarter-million cars per year at the complex. Total production in 1932 amounted to only 28,111 units. On May 8, 1937 about 10,000 Dodge Main workers began a two-week sitdown strike to win company recognition of the United Automobile Workers (U.A.W.). The strike, the largest sitdown in American history, ended on March 25 and on April 7, the Chrysler Corporation recognized the union. War contracts revived the plant, with peak employment reaching about 40,000. Even after Dodge Main returned to civilian production, high postwar demand for cars brought continued prosperity. With the Korean War further stimulating production, 33,000 worked at Dodge Main in 1951. Since the early 1950s, employment has steadily fallen as various operations were automated or moved to other plants. Dodge Main had become an assembly plant by the early 1960s, with a capacity of 2,000 cars per day or approximately 600,000 per year. The plant employed only 8,357 production workers by June 1963 and while employment temporarily increased by as many as 5,000 in the mid-1960s, the long-term trend was downward. When Dodge Main closed in January 1980, there were about 5,000 hourly workers still employed there.