The Cadillac brand has a rich history, but it can be traced back to a mechanic and entrepreneur by the name of Henry Leland who is credited with starting the company under the Cadillac name in 1902. It was formed by the remnants of the Henry Ford Motor Company, as a dispute between Ford and his investors forced the company to shut down. Lemuel Bowen and William Murphy (Ford’s Financial Bankers) were told they had to call in an engineer to prepare for the liquidation of the company’s assets.
That engineer was Henry Leland, who thought it was useless to let go of the company and persuaded Bowen and Murphy to continue producing vehicles using his single-cylinder engine. The engine was tested and proved to be working, which earned Bowen and Murphy’s trust and gave rise to the Cadillac Automobile Company,named after a famous French explorer — Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac — who founded Detroit in 1701.
The following years saw Cadillac breaking new automotive ground, as the company was first to offer an electrically-assisted engine starter. While other manufacturers’ engines had to be hand- cranked in order to start them — which led to many injured wrists — the Cadillac owner could simply start the vehicle from inside the vehicle cabin.
Other technologies were soon introduced, like an electric ignition, a curved glass windshield, and electric lighting, including high-beams, or “brights.” Cadillac would also be the first manufacturer to offer an enclosed cabin, which made their vehicles more versatile for owners as they could operate them in any type of weather.
When it came to the engine and transmission design, Cadillac would go on to mass-produce the first V8 engine that included a cooling reservoir and would allow their vehicles to reach a speed of 65 miles per hour, which was unheard of at the time. It turned out to be so reliable that the United States Government bought more than 2,000 of them to shuttle officers around during World War I.
Changing Hands – And the Industry
Cadillac would go on to be part of a larger entity, the General Motors company, then run by William Crapo Durant — who paid $4.5 million for Leland’s company to merge with GM. From that point on, there was no looking back, although it would be without Leyland, who left the company in 1917.
Cadillac would go on to create automotive firsts such as V-12’s and even V-16’s that would deliver what at the time was an unprecedented 165 horsepower. In 1926, Cadillac’s reach and customer base expanded, due in large part to the fact that the company brought on Harley Earl to design such vehicles as the 1927 Cadillac LaSalle. This would make them the first American carmaker to hire an automotive stylist, and it helped their designs to stand out and would go on to symbolize exclusivity and refinement.
Creating an American Icon
In the early 1940s the company introduced cars with fully automatic transmission, known as the ‘Hydra-Matic Transmission,’ and by the end of the decade, the company introduced a new, small and more economical and efficient V8 engine.
But it was in the 1950s when Cadillac would cement their place in automotive history with the “American Dream Car” — the Cadillac Eldorado, with those iconic fins. They would go on to add innovations that included the first automatic headlight dimmer, signal-seeking automotive radio, and the first wrap-around windshield.
In the ‘60s, Cadillac would add the first automatic vacuum operated parking brake release, first sidelights in the front fenders, automated air-conditioning and heating system, the first tilt or telescopic steering wheel, and the first car with power steering solution.
The ‘70s saw Cadillac offer an advanced computerized rear-wheel skid-control braking system, and also become the first automaker to roll out airbags. In the 80s, Cadillac introduced not only the catalytic convertor, but also cars that came equipped with electronic fuel injection systems.
In the 90s, Cadillac became the first American luxury car manufacturer to offer the 365-days a year, 24 hours, 7 days a week, roadside assistance program. Additionally, it also introduced the first V8 engine that had 32-valves and even pioneered the thermal-imaging technology or night-vision.
The company has gone on to not only introduce innovation and luxury to dozens of makes and models, but has also won the Car of the Year award five times. They’re responsible for a majority of technologies seen in cars today, and stand as one of the most famous and best manufacturers in the world.
Whether you want performance or luxury, gas or electric, a sedan or a crossover — Cadillac can fit your needs and send you off on the road in style. Look for the company to continue on a path that blends the design of nostalgia with modern looks, never forgetting to “dare greatly.”