Conversion to Automobile Manufacturing

In July 1914, the Dodge brothers incorporated as the Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company with a capital stock of $5 million, which they increased to $10 million in 1917. In 1913, they had decided to manufacture and assemble their own automobile, severed relations with Ford, and began an ambitious program of plant expansion. Automobile Topics examined the unfinished plant and made the optimistic prediction.

  • Once the plant Is released from contract work, the pulsations of engines, the hum of machine tools, the wir of belts, the shock of heavy steam hammers, the roar of heat-treating furnaces, the staccato of pneumatic devices, the rumble of overhead cranes, the hiss of molten metal, and the noise and bustle Incident to manufacturing in the Dodge way, all will blend in a sound that tells of Dodge car production on a scale commensurate with the mammoth capacity of the organization.
The Dodge reputation for quality was so widespread that 13,000 dealers asked to become Dodge agents before anyone saw the new car. The Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record declared emphatically, "As a matter of fact, when the Dodge Bros, new car comes out, there is no question that it will be the best thing on the market for the money." The reason was simple -- "The Dodge brothers are the two best mechanics in Michigan. There is no operation in their own shop from drop forging to machining, from tool-making to micrometric measurement, that they can't do with their own hands."

They enlarged the plant substantially to convert it to the production of complete automobiles. The major additions were the four-story reinforced concrete Assembly Building (1914), 70 feet wide and 1,074 feet long, running perpendicular to the Machine Shop and connected to it on the upper three levels; the Press Shop (1914), built in a similar design in 60 working days, measuring 77 feet by 640 feet, perpedicular to the Assembly Building and connected to it at its eastern end; a substantial addition to the Office Building, completed in 1914; the Carpenter Shop (1914); and the Die Shop, Compressor Building, and Test Building, all completed in 1915, They also built a quarter mile plank test track complete with a hill climb at the northern boundary of the property. The total expenditures on buildings alone ran over $1 million in 1914-1915, with the Assembly Building costing $500,000 and the Press Shop around $250,000. Visitors tended to be enthusiastic about the new plant's appearance:

  • Viewed from Joseph Campau Avenue on which it fronts, the first impression of the plant is an unusually pleasing one, a vista of green lawns, bright with flowers, in the midst of which an attractive brick office building rises. Like all other component parts of the Dodge Brothers' plant the building is handsome without being ornate. To the left of the entrance is the power building, while in the rear, one after another, are the great factory buildings. All are of concrete construction, four stories in height, and each with its fenestra windows presents an almost unbroken sweep of glass. To a degree unusual even to the modern factory, Dodge Brothers, without impairing efficiency, have built with an eye to the artistic, and in arrangement and construction the ensemble is without a single jarring note.

Two profound and costly changes occured at the Dodge plant during six hectic months in 1914. The complex was greatly enlarged to provide space for the dozens of new operations required to produce a complete automobile. The total amount of enclosed workspace increased from about 500,000 square feet to 1.4 million square feet. Simultaneously, the existing plant was completely rearranged and retooled at great expense. The transformation was so fundamental and far-reaching that the Iron Trade Review published an article entitled, "How the Dodge Brothers Plant Was Reorganized." The enlarged plant incorporated a variety of new operations: a design department to perfect the new car; a testing department; an aluminum foundry; carpenter, tin, and pattern shops; the Press Shop for stamping frames; a body assembly area at the eastern end of the Assembly Building; a trim and upholstery department; a radiator shop; a motor assembly and testing department; a wheel shop; and the final assembly department, located on the second floor of the Assembly Building and the connecting wings of the Machine Shop. They built a shipping platform, about 900 feet long and equipped with a traveling crane, on the north side of the Assembly Building, Anticipating future expansion, the Dodge brothers had all foundations designed to support six stories, even though only two or four were built initially.

Much of the existing equipment was scrapped. New patterns, core boxes, core driers, and molding machine riggings were needed in the foundry, while the forge shop was re-equipped with new dies. In the Machine Shop, virtually all the existing tools, jigs, and fixtures were replaced. The conversion was so massive that it swamped Dodge's tool-making force of 180 men, so they hired four other Detroit firms to produce the required fixtures and jigs. Many of the new operations required highly specialized machine tools. Producing the engine cylinder block alone involved seventy-three distinct foundry operations and eighteen machine shop operations. Machining cylinder blocks required a dozen machine tools costing a total of $59,000: an Ingersoll four-spindle milling machine to mill the plane surfaces on eighteen cylinder heads and cylinders in one operation; an eight-spindle press for reaming valve holes; a three-way drill press for rough boring the valve holes; and a four-way Foote-Burt drill press which at one setting could drill a total of 54 holes on four sides of the cylinder block. Expensive new machinery was not limited to the machine shops. A single press used to stamp rear axle housings weighed twenty tons and was furnished by the Toledo (Ohio) Machine and Tool Company for $6,000. There were more than a dozen similar machines in the forge shops alone. The Dodge brothers did not reveal the costs of retooling, but an estimate of $500,000 is conservative.