Dodge Auto Production Begins

The Dodge brothers decided to produce a high-quality car that would sell for about $800 and thus not compete directly with the cheaper Model T. The new car had generated considerable interest well before its introduction. Automobile Topics gave its readers an "exclusive" six-page preview of the Dodge in the November 7, 1914 issue. The first Dodge, subsequently named "Old Betsy," came off the assembly line on November 14, 1914. It was a five-passenger touring car with a wheelbase of 110 inches and came equipped with a 25 H.P. four cylinder "L" head engine with a 3 7/8 inch bore and a 4 1/2 inch stroke, a cone clutch, and a pressurized fuel system. All parts for the new car were thoroughly tested prior to acceptance. John Dodge tested tires by dropping various brands off a four-story building and ascertained the crash-worthiness of one prototype by driving it into a wall at 20 M.P.H.

Total production for 1914 was a mere 249 touring cars. The following year. Dodge offered a two-passenger roadster which also sold for $785 and the plant went into full production. They increased the workforce to 7,000 by April 1915 and by the year's end, the firm produced 45,053 cars at the Hamtramck plant. The Dodge developed a reputation for dependability which helped sales greatly. During the 1916 expedition against the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, war correspondent A.H.E. Beckett published several reports in Motor Age on the use of Dodge cars in the campaign. After the daring Lieutenant George S. Patton, Jr., led a successful surprise raid against a bandit head- quarters in three Dodges, Brigadier General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, the commander of the expeditionary force, ordered his staff to use Dodge cars exclusively. Pershing then requested 250 more Dodges for the Mexican campaign and continued to drive them on the battlefields of France.

The years following the Mexican Campaign were prosperous for the Dodge Brothers, Production climbed from 70,000 cars in 1916 to 124,000 the following year and reached 145,000 in 1920. Dodge was the fourth largest producer in the United States by 1917, behind Ford, Chevrolet, and Buick. The workforce also grew from 7,000 in early 1915 to about 20,000 by 1920. Similarly, the plant expanded significantly in the late 1910s to provide space for the enlarged production. From 1916 through 1920, Dodge Brothers added nine buildings to the sprawling complex and made four significant additions to existing structures. The eight-story reinforced concrete Warehouse Building (1917) providing 320,000 square feet of floorspace was built immediately north of the machine, die, and forge shops, but most of the expansion took place at the southern and eastern edges of the property, where there was still plenty of room. The Battery Building (1916), two cooling towers (1920) and a new section of the Test Building (1920) were built south of the Assembly Building in an area where they had relocated the test track. Dodge began a Service Parts Center on Conant Avenue at the extreme eastern edge of the property by building a steel-framed warehouse in 1918. The eight-story Construction Building (140,000 square feet) finished in 1920 housed the engineering offices of the Construction Department, which built all the new buildings. Still, these were support facilities which were peripheral to the major fabricating, manufacturing, and assembly operations.

In 1920, the company built three new structures of greater importance: the Powerhouse which replaced the 1910 structure on Joseph Campau Avenue; a four-story reinforced concrete addition to the Pressed Steel Building, consisting of three segments 76 feet wide, roughly doubling the previous floorspace of 200,000 square feet; and the Body Building, an eight-story reinforced concrete building with about 950,000 square feet of work area. Dodge made many body parts like fenders, but it also bought large numbers of bodies from the Budd Company and finished them at the Hamtramck plant. The 1920 building program ran to $8 million, with the Powerhouse alone costing $3.5 million. Earlier construction was relatively insignificant compared to the building boom of the late 1910s: excluding space devoted to offices and power production, the plant built in 1910-13 had about 500,000 square feet of workspace; the additions of 1914-15 provided another 900,000 square feet; and the construction of 1916-20 added about 1.9 million square feet to the total.