Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Leland, Henry M.

Henry Martyn Leland, founder of Cadillac and Lincoln car companies, brought precision engineering to the automobile business. Born in Barton, Vermont in 1843, he gained machine knowledge working with farm equipment and learned the firearms trade working at Colt before the Civil War. Working at Brown and Sharpe in Rhode Island, he learned the importance of precision grinding that permitted the interchangeability of parts, a key element in his later success.

Traveling the country to sell Brown and Sharpe parts, Leland found Detroit an attractive site for his own machine shop. He acquired financial backing and established Leland, Faulconer & Norton in 1890. His son Wilfred, who had been studying medicine, joined him. The company made bicycle and marine engine parts, became Leland & Faulconer in 1894, and by 1899 was manufacturing transmissions for Ransom Olds.

In 1902 Leland convinced the backers of Henry Ford’s second failing endeavor, the Detroit Motor Company, that he could revive it. He was made director of the newly reorganized business, Cadillac Automobile Company, and the first Cadillac was presented successfully at the 1903 New York Auto Show. Leland & Faulconer was folded into the Cadillac assembly plant to form the Cadillac Motor Car Company in 1905. 

The Cadillac car was renowned for quality and luxury. Two of Leland’s contributions were the electric self-starter (developed with Charles Kettering), and a V-8 engine. Cadillac was awarded the coveted Dewar trophy for automotive innovation in 1908 for their standardization of parts, drawing attention to the company’s precision manufacturing. In 1909 General Motors’ owner William Durant bought Cadillac for $4.5 million. The Lelands remained as production managers.

A dispute with Durant over the company’s participation in World War I efforts caused Henry and Wilfred Leland to leave General Motors in 1917 to start their own company. Their Lincoln Motor Company built Liberty airplane engines until the war’s end. In 1920 the Lincoln Motor Car Company was incorporated, and the first Lincoln car released, costing ten times more than a Ford. A slump in the economy caused the company to go into receivership where it was bought by Henry Ford in 1922. The Lelands stayed with the company only four months when differences with Henry Ford over running Lincoln led them to retire.

Henry Leland died on March 26, 1932 in Detroit and is buried in Woodmere Cemetery.



Henry Leland

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