How Cadillac became "Cadillac"
I’ll have to go back to 1701 in what was known as “French
North America.” A small party of men made their way upstream
from Lake Erie. They stepped ashore on the west bank downstream
from Lake Saint Clair. The officer commanding the detachment was
a tall, handsome figure in thighboots, dark blue frock coat and
red sash, white lace jabot and cuffs—his blue cocked hat and
sword at his side, symbols of leadership and authority from a
noble family. It was decided to build a stockade and establish a
trading post and a permanent settlement where they were. It was
to be called Ville d’Etroit. The name of the man who just
established the site of what was to ultimately be called Detroit
was Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
Fast forward to February 16, 1843 near Barton, Vermont, when
Zilpha, the wife of a farmer named Leander B. Leland, presented
her husband with their sixth son. He was named Henry Martyn
Leland. His Quaker parents taught him Christian ethics and a set
of moral standards to guide him throughout life with an emphasis
on practical Christianity—square dealing, kindness, and
assistance to others. He also received patient instruction in
everyday duties on the farm—the necessity for doing every job
properly, no matter how small. Henry went to work at the age of
11 and began showing his aptitude for improving methods. He
developed a way to peg soles that enabled him, as a schoolboy,
to earn money comparable to adult pay levels. He later went to
work at Colt (who had produced the first successful revolver) as
a mechanic and made precision his passion. Then he went to work
for another company called Brown and Sharpe, prosperous
manufacturers of precision machinery where he enhanced his
precision standards. They produced the first practical quantity
produced hand micrometers with compensation for wear and
accurate to one-thousandth of an inch in measurement. They
advertised their tools as "The World’s Standard of Accuracy."
Leland later began to think seriously about his own business and
was attracted to the city of Detroit where he had a friend with
a business selling machine tools. He met a wealthy man named
Robert C. Faulconer and convinced him the city had a need for
machine shops and they created the firm of Leland, Faulconer,
and Norton in Detroit in 1890. Their main work was gear grinding
and the design and building of special tools. Their business was
booming with an emphasis on gear making. The bicycle boom swept
the country at this time and Leland was asked to design and
develop trouble free gears. The gears were accurate to a half
thousandth of an inch and fully interchangeable. The company
then went into motive power, both steam and internal combustion
which was shortly to prove invaluable.
Down the road in Lansing, Michigan, Ransom Eli Olds founded the
Olds Gasoline Engine Works. While he and his father built
gasoline engines for farm use, early Olds vehicles were steam
powered. By this time, the gasoline vehicle idea was making
headway, following the pioneering work of Daimler and Benz in
Germany in the mid 1880’s. Back in America, Olds joined a group
of American inventors in the early nineties and completed one of
the pioneer gasoline automobiles in Michigan. In 1897, the Olds
Motor Vehicle Company was established. They had a big problem
with the gears in their transmissions trying to make them mesh
not to mention the fact that they were intolerably noisy. Olds
went to Leland and Faulconer (now called L and F), to make a
quiet running transmission where the gears were precision ground
and interchangeable from car to car without any hand fitting. In
1901, L and F was given a contract to make two thousand engines
There were 2 other brothers named Dodge that also supplied
engines for Olds. The Dodge engine produced about 3.0 horsepower
while the Leland engine produced about 3.7 horsepower. The
Leland engine ran at higher speeds and had lower friction than
the Dodge engine thanks to closer machining due to the higher
craftsmanship (some things never change! ). Leland realized that
his expertise could be of great use in the new industry. He had
his team improve their original engine which now developed 10.25
horsepower. Leland presented his newly developed engine to Olds
but they were selling so many cars that they didn’t have a need
for a new engine, especially one that would increase cost and
delay production. This was disappointing for Leland but it
wouldn’t be long before his engine got some use.
In August of 1902, two men came to see Leland about a company
they were trying to liquidate. It had been organized three years
previously and was named the Detroit Automobile Company. It had
only produced a few cars but the company failed in 1900. It was
revived and reorganized a year later with the chief mechanic now
in charge. He renamed it after himself. It was called the Henry
Ford Company but Ford left after 3 months when the company was
failing again. The investors claimed that Ford only wanted to
build race cars but Ford said the company was in too much of a
hurry to make a profit and had no long term plans. The
investors, now trying to just get out, asked Leland to appraise
their automobile plant and equipment for sale. Leland agreed and
went to look the factory over. This gave him a tremendous idea.
He went and got his new engine and took it for his meeting. When
he later met with the investors, he told them “I believe you are
making a great mistake in going out of business. The automobile
has a great future. I have brought you a motor which we worked
out at L and F. It has three times the power of the Olds motor.
Its parts are interchangeable, and I can make these motors for
you at less cost than the others for the Olds works and it is
not temperamental” (which was a problem back then). Impressed by
the man before them, they voted to continue the business and
gave him the leading role in the company which now needed a new
name. The investors hoped that their new company would be the
first successful automobile company in Detroit so what more
appropriate title than the one the great French adventurer had
first brought to that very spot some two hundred years before?
It was dubbed the Cadillac and shortly afterward, the Cadillac
family crest was adopted (the design was prepared using the
celebrated many-quartered shield surmounted by a seven-piked
coronet and garlanded with a laurel wreath) and registered as a
Cadillac became the first American automobile manufacturer to
win the coveted Dewar Trophy for the standardization of
automobile parts. The Dewar trophy was instituted in 1904 to
encourage technical progress. It was sponsored by a wealthy
member of the British Parliament, Sir Thomas Dewar. It was
awarded annually to the company making the most important
advancement in the automotive field. From the beginning, Leland
stressed the concept of parts interchangeability. “No special
fitting of and kind is permitted,” he wrote in a factory manual.
“Craftsmanship a Creed, Accuracy a Law.” In 1908, Leland became
the first industrialist to employ the Johannson Gauges for
checking the accuracy of his tooling. They were the creation of
a Swedish-American toolmaker named Carl Johannson. These devices
were extremely accurate blocks which measured tolerances down to
two-millionths of an inch. The Royal Automobile Club of Britain
became aware of Lelands boastings so they decided to test them.
They selected 3 Cadillacs out of 8, dismantled them, mixed in
spare parts for good measure, and then were re-assembled with no
special fitting which was unheard of at that time. Most parts
were hand fitted. Each of the cars started immediately and were
then driven for 500 miles with no problems. Cadillac became the
only company to win a second Dewar Trophy for its revolutionary
Delco system of electric starting, lighting, and ignition
developed by Leland and Charles F. Kettering of the Datyon
Engineering Laboratories. The Delco system was a breakthrough
and was the forerunner of the automobile electrical system as we
know it today. It was also a breakthrough for woman since they
could now start a car with a push a button instead of having to
wind that heavy crank.
Another important part of Cadillac history is when it first
caught the attention of William Crapo Durant in 1908, the
founder of General Motors. Durant was the man who first
envisioned the “diversified product line” form of marketing, an
idea which would make GM the industry’s dominant force in later
years. He wanted to be able to offer someone their first
automobile and as that person grew older and attained status in
life, to be able to move that person through his automobile
ranks ultimately achieving a new Cadillac. Durant started by
buying Buick in 1904. It was a successful franchise that enabled
him to acquire the Olds Motor Works in 1908. That same year,
Durant’s desire for a high-quality product aimed at the price
range just above Buick led him to offer Leland $3 million for
Cadillac. Leland held out for $3.5 million and Durant declined.
After more success at Cadillac, Durant tried again but Leland
had upped the price to $4.125 million and then $4.5 million!
Leland finally accepted and Durant actually paid in cash that he
had earned from Buick. He invited Leland to stay on and run
Cadillac until he finally left in 1917 when his control over
Cadillac was waning. Leland later went on to found Cadillac’s
biggest competitor—the Lincoln Motor Company!
On January 2, 1915, a Cadillac ad appeared in the Saturday
Evening Post that has become a classic. It was chosen one of the
100 greatest advertisements of all time. It was written by
Theodore F. MacManus and is considered by some to be the
greatest of all advertisements. There were no pictures or
artwork—just text. It really makes you think. It is called “The
Penalty of Leadership”
In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must
perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the
leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product,
emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in
music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the
same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment,
fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a target
for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be merely
mediocre, he will be left severely alone if he achieves a
masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy
alone does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who
produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint,
or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass, or to
slander you, unless your work be stamped with the seal of
genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been
done, those who are disappointed or envious continue to cry out
that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of
art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long
after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest artistic
genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical
shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had
dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician
at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could
never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the
river banks to see his oat steam by. The leader is assailed
because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely
added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or excel, the
follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy—but only confirms
once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant.
There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as
old as the human passions—envy, fear, greed, ambition and the
desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader
truly leads, he remains—the leader. Master-poet, master-painter,
master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his
laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes
itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That
which deserves to live—lives.
Excerpts were taken from: The Cadillac Century,
Cadillac—Standard of Excellence, Cadillac—The Complete History
Cadillac DeVille, Brougham, Fleetwood, Fleetwood Brougham, Sixty
Special - An explanation
Cadillac first began using the term "brougham" to represent
their large, 4 door 5 or 7 passenger car back in 1916.
The term "Fleetwood" comes from a custom coach builder named
Fleetwood that became associated with Cadillac in 1927 when
styling became very important (Cadillac with the first car
company to have a car completely designed by a stylist named
Harley Earl in 1927 with the introduction of the La Salle).
Cadillac came out with a new line in 1936 called the Series 60
(previously they had Series 10, 20 30). In 1938, the Sixty
Special Sedan was introduced.
After the war in 1946, Cadillac began using the term "Series 60
Special Fleetwood." Also, "Fleetwood" began to designate
Cadillacs top of the line cars, the "Series 75 Fleetwood."
The new "pillar less" Coupe Deville was introduced in 1949. It
was a 2 door convertible hardtop (I thought this was significant
since Deville and Fleetwood were later so closely associated).
The new exclusive "Sedan DeVille" joined the Coupe Deville in
In 1958, Cadillac introduced the rare, top of the line Series 70
Fleetwood Eldorado Brougham with a hefty price tag of $13,074
(the average Cadillac cost around $5000!).
In 1965, Cadillac for the most part dropped the "Series"
designation. They had the entry Calais, the Deville line, the
newly dubbed Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham, Fleetwood
Eldorado and the Fleetwood 75. The main distinction between the
Deville and Fleetwood was the fact that the Devilles were
"pillar less" (having no pillar between the front and rear
windows) while the Fleetwood retained the pillar. The Deville
also had small quarter window in the rear sail panel while the
Fleetwood did not. Also, badging for the Fleetwoods contained
the laurel wreath and crest while the Devilles usually had only
the crest with the traditional "V" underneath it. The Fleetwoods
were the ultimate in Cadillac luxury with more rear seat room
than the Devilles (which came in a coupe and sedan form; the
Fleetwood only came in 4 door form). Also, this was the last
year the term "Fleetwood" was associated with "Eldorado."
In 1977 when Cadillac downsized, the term "Sixty Special" was no
longer used in the now "Fleetwood Brougham." The Deville and the
Fleetwood were now the same dimensions with the Fleetwood still
being the top of the line. There were still minor cosmetic
differences one of them being the Devilles now had pillars.
In 1981, Fleetwood introduced the "Fleetwood Brougham Coupe."
The main difference between the Devilles and Fleetwoods was the
use of the laurel wreath and crest for the Fleetwoods and the
crest with the "V" for the Devilles. This continued through
In 1985 with the introduction of the "Cadillac of Tomorrow" (the
new, smaller front-wheel drive transverse mounted engines),
there were now the Devilles (Coupe and Sedan [which now finally
wore the laurel wreath and crest along with the Fleetwoods]),
the Fleetwood (Coupe & Sedan) and the Fleetwood Brougham (which
was still rear wheel drive).
In 1986, "Fleetwood" became an option package for the Deville as
well as a "Fleetwood d' Elegance" package.
In 1987, the Fleetwood Brougham became simply the "Brougham."
Only the "Fleetwood d' Elegance" package was now offered. The
"Fleetwood Sixty Special" returned (FWD) with a five inch
wheelbase extension and additional features not available on the
In 1993, the RWD Brougham was finally redesigned and now named
the "Fleetwood." "Brougham" was also used as an upscale option
for the Fleetwood. There was no longer a FWD version Fleetwood.
There was the Deville (Coupe and Sedan [which incidentally would
be the last year for the Coupe]) and now simply the "Sixty
Special" sedan which were all FWD. The term "Sedan Deville" was
still used until 1996 even though the "Coupe Deville" was
dropped for 1994. It became simply the "Deville" in 1997.
Of course, 1996 saw the ultimate demise of the RWD Fleetwood
Brougham as well as the use of it's proud name(s).
I'm sure somewhere in Cadillac's future, the names will
undoubtedly appear somewhere.
1903 - Cadillac Model A Runabout with rack-and-pinion steering,
variable intake-valve timing debuts at the New York Auto Show.
Powered by a single-cylinder 10-horsepower engine, it traveled
at over 30 miles per hour and got 25 miles per gallon.
1905 - The Osceola was Cadillac's first concept car and
featured the first fully-closed body. General Motors acquires
Cadillac for $5,969,200.
1908 - Cadillac becomes the "Standard of the World" and the
first American automobile manufacturer to win the Dewar Trophy.
1909 - Cadillac offers the world's first limousine.
1912 - Cadillac offers the Delco Electric Self-Starter;
becomes the first and only company to win the Dewar Trophy
1915 - Cadillac produced the first full-armored car; created
the first mass-produced V8 engine - it was also the first engine
to use thermostatically controlled water-cooling technology.
1922 - With innovations like the standard windshield wiper
and rearview mirror, demand intensified with production
exceeding over 20,000.
1924 - Cadillac pioneered the use of fast-drying Duco
lacquer paints and offer over 500 color combinations while most
competitors only offered black.
1926 - Cadillac becomes the first automobile manufacturer to
develop a comprehensive nationwide service policy.
1930 - Cadillac produces the world's first V-type
16-cylinder engine for passenger cars. It was smooth, quiet and
powerful with 160 horsepower from 452 cubic inches.
1934 - Cadillac introduces the world's first independent
front suspension on its entire line of automobiles.
1937 - The Cadillac Lasalle V8 set a new speed and endurance
record at the Indianapolis 500 with an average speed of 82 miles
1938 - Cadillac introduces the first sunroofs in America:
The Sunshine Turret Top
1940 - Cadillac introduces the first fully automatic
transmission: The Hydra-Matic transmission.
1949 - The Cadillac Coupe DeVille introduced the world's
first pillarless two-door hard top body style; Cadillac created
their first overhead valve, high-compression V8 engine with 160
horsepower from 331 cubic inches.
1953 - The Cadillac Eldorado, America's dream car for a
record 23 years, was introduced with the industry's first
wrap-around windshield, the first signal-seeking automotive
radio, and the Autronic Eye - the first automatic headlight
dimmer. Other innovations were leather upholstery and chrome
1954 - Cadillac becomes the first auto manufacturer to offer
power steering as standard equipment on its entire line of
1957 - The Eldorado Brougham introduced the first quad
headlamps, six-way power seats with memory, automatic door
locks, forged aluminum wheels and an air suspension.
1964 - Cadillac debuted with the industry's first automatic
climate control system: Comfort Control; Cadillac debuted an
industry-first "Twilight Sentinel" system which automatically
turned the headlights off and/or on at dusk/sunrise.
1965 - Cadillac introduces automatic load leveling and
tilt/telescopic steering wheels.
1967 - The Cadillac Eldorado perfects front-wheel drive with
a smoother, quiter ride than other luxury cars of its day.
1969 - Cadillac introduces the industry's first closed
cooling system, making overheated engines a thing of the past.
1971 - Cadillac offers "Track Master", an advanced,
computerized rear-wheel skid-control braking system as optional
1974 - Cadillac pioneered the use of the air cushion
restraint (air bag) system.
1975 - Cadillac becomes the first U.S. auto manufacturer to
install electronic fuel injection and introduces the catalytic
1978 - Cadillac becomes the first auto manufacturer to test
digital computerization in cars.
1987 - The Cadillac Allante becomes America's first
automobile to compete in the ultra-luxury market. This two
seater was designed and built in Italy by the renowned
coach-building firm of Pininfarina.
1988 - Cadillac is the first American luxury carmaker to
implement a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year roadside service program.
1990 - The Cadillac Allante becomes the first front-wheel
drive vehicle with electronic traction control.
1992 - Cadillac introduces the first 32-valve V8 engine
(1993 model year): the Northstar
1999 - Cadillac offers the first automotive application of
thermal-imaging technology: Night Vision.