FIVE: The Dodge Brothers in Perspective
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FIVE The Dodge Brothers in Perspective And it was not the mere physical fact of brotherhood that welded these two, John and Horace Dodge, together. It was a bond that had in it something of strange depth and purity and fineness—something that transcended the usual brother-bond of good fellowship by splendor hardly to be guessed by men who have known no such love, and became a thing richly spiritual and very beautiful. For the brothers loved each other as friends. They were friends. Detroit News editorial, 13 December 1920, following the death of Horace Elgin Dodge The story of John and Horace Dodge ended tragically in 1920 with their deaths. Their lives and personalities and identities were more intimately intertwined than any other pair of brothers I know. Each brother’s interests and talents complemented the other’s perfectly. Long after becoming extremely wealthy, John and Horace Dodge felt more comfortable among ordinary shop floor workers in the factory than with Detroit’s business and social elites. John’s instruction that the pallbearers at his funeral would all be ordinary “shop men” is but one indication of this. Neither sought publicity, although both gained some notoriety from their private behavior. Like most others with newfound wealth, they tried to join Detroit’s more established “polite” society. However, it was John and Horace’s wives, Matilda Rausch DodgeandAnnaThomsonDodge,whopushedtheirhusbandstogainsocialrespectability . They built large, tastefully appointed mansions, commissioned some of the largest yachts Detroit had seen, and made charitable donations to many Detroit institutions. John Dodge was a member of Detroit’s Water Commission and Street RailwayCommissionandbecameaforceintheMichiganRepublicanParty.Horace was quietly responsible for the development of a world-class symphony orchestra for Detroit. 115 050 c5 (115-152) 11/11/10 4:07 PM Page 115 John and Horace Dodge are in many respects tragic figures, in part because they died so young. Contemporaries in business and commerce recognized them asmanufacturingandautomotivegiants,asdidtheinformedpublic.However,their important place in the emerging Michigan automobile industry is not widely recognized today. The Dodge brothers have remained obscure figures in popular Chapter Five 116 John F. Dodge (left) and Horace E. Dodge (right), ca. 1914. Courtesy of NAHC. 050 c5 (115-152) 11/11/10 4:07 PM Page 116 history because their tenure as automakers was so short and because they lived in the shadows of self-promoting, dynamic auto industry leaders like Henry Ford and William (“Billy”) Durant. John and Horace Dodge’s contemporaries, however, did recognize their importance. Their deaths and funerals, discussed below, brought enormous outpourings of public recognition and grief. The Year of Tragedy and Transition: 1920 On 2 January 1920, John and Horace Dodge left Detroit by train to attend the National Automobile Show, which ran for a week starting 3 January at the Grand Central Palace in New York City. Friends Oscar Marx, Milton Oakman, and Ed Fitzgerald accompanied them to New York, but the Dodges’ wives remained in Detroit. By Wednesday, 7 January, when they were supposed to host a Dodge Brothers sales luncheon, John and Horace had contracted influenza, which quickly developed into pneumonia. By December 1919, influenza was beginning to reach epidemic proportions in the United States, although this was not as serious an outbreak as the influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed half a million Americans.1 Initially, Horace was much sicker than John. The Dodge brothers brought their personal physician from Detroit, and both wives arrived in NewYork on 10 January. John’s eldest daughters, Winifred and Isabel, came three days later. Early newspaper reports in Detroit were overly optimistic about the medical condition of both brothers.Articles appearing on 11 January and 12 January 1920 in the Detroit Free Press reported the brothers recovering and out of danger. The next day all three Detroit papers announced that Horace continued to recover but that John Dodge was critically ill and unconscious. The Detroit News then revealed in its afternoon edition of 14 January that John Dodge was improving slightly. Matilda telegrammed her sister Amelia Rausch the morning of 13 January and sounded optimistic about John’s prospects: “Just came from seeing John and while he is still very, very ill, he is some[what] better than last night.” Horace slowly recovered, but John’s pneumonia worsened. Having lungs previously ravaged by tuberculosis only made the struggle more difficult. John Dodge died at 10:30 p.m. on 14 January at the RitzCarlton Hotel, with Horace at his side. He was fifty-five years old.2...


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