Was Leland The Inventor Of The Cadillac Car?

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I read with interest your article on Henry Leland, who was trained as a toolmaker at the Springfield Armory around the beginning of the Civil War. He was near retirement age at the turn of the century and by then, a well respected engineer, inventor and fine gentleman.
His reputation was spotless. In the reading I've done, however, Leland was not the inventor/developer of the Cadillac car.
Henry Ford was. Ford had already had one car company go bust under him, but a group of investors, mostly lumber barons, still had faith in Ford and his inventive abilities and so were willing to stake monies in him again.
The investors, however, made several conditions. One was that Leland be put in charge of the company while Ford assumed the title of Chief Engineer. Ford and Leland butted heads all of the time and once again, Ford was shown the door.
The owners then went down the next day, reorganized the company, and renamed it "Cadillac." Apparently Leland was left in charge. That, I didn't know.
Ford went on to form a third company, the one we know today that bears his name. This one was successful because he eventually was able to buy out all of the outside investors, including the Dodge Brothers who at one time owned 15-percent and ran the place as he saw fit.
As you note in your article, Leland went on to form Lincoln. A minor recession hit the U.S. in 1921 forcing Lincoln out of business.
At the beginning Ford was hailed as a hero for saving Leland, but as events unfolded it became apparent that it was really pay-back time for the Ford/Leland feud of so many years back. If there was any good news in the Ford/Lincoln story it was that it did give poor Edsel a place to hide from his abusive father.
The information contained here comes from the book Ford, The Men And The Machines by Robert Lacy. For my money it's the best book ever written about Ford. Please let me know if my information is incorrect. Thanks. Irving E. Truax Jr., email.
A: Irving, thanks for your excellent letter. Much has been written about Leland and Ford, and sometimes the information we research concerning the early days of the automotive business is spotty, exaggerated and/or incorrect.
What we do know is that Leland, with the help of Ford and his investors, had the upper hand in the development of both Cadillac and Lincoln.
Additionally, when Leland came to Detroit in 1890, he co-founded Leland, Faulconer & Norton, a tool manufacturing company. As time progressed, he built wonderful cars and had great ideas on parts interchangeability, which Ford later used on his successful Model T line.
As you note, it was indeed Leland who persuaded the Ford investor group to reorganize Ford's failing company and built a car powered by a Leland developed engine. The directors agreed, put Leland in charge and, supported by his son Wilfred, the father-son duo then developed an enhanced form of the V-8 powerplant.
Thus, with Ford’s investors at the helm, the creation and mechanical genius of Cadillac was all Leland and his son, Wilfred. Leland also receives credit for the name, not the investors. Leland wanted the car named after the French explorer who founded Detroit, namely Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
I guess this boils down to who was more important in the development of the car. If you feel Ford receives credit because his investors came with the money, it would be hard to refute. However, the mechanical genius of development and creation of Cadillac is all Leland with Ford receiving credit as the “bridge” that made it possible.
Still, a most interesting and informative letter as there are always two sides to a coin.

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