On This Day: Henry Ford’s Birthday, Chrysler Buys Dodge, GM Announces Saturn Factory

Though the automobile may be a relatively modern invention, the history of the car industry still dates back over a century.With that in mind, we’re taking a look not just at the latest and greatest car news of today, but of major automotive milestones from this date in history. Here are three important automotive events that happened on July 30.

1863: Henry Ford Born in Springwells Township, Michigan

The son of an Irish immigrant, Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863, in Springwells Township, Michigan — the township has since been incorporated as part of Dearborn. Henry quickly took an interest in all things mechanical and spent much time tinkering in his small machine shop. At age 15, he built a primitive steam engine. After an apprenticeship nearby, Ford joined the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit in 1893, and became the company’s chief engineer in 1893. That winter, out of curiosity, he built a single-cylinder gasoline engine on his kitchen table.

By June 1896, Ford fit his gasoline engine to a crude four-wheeled frame, essentially building his first car. In 1899 he helped organize the Detroit Automobile Company, which went belly-up in just 18 months. Fortunately that didn’t discourage his interest in cars, as Ford founded the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903. The rest of the story is well-known: innovating the moving assembly line and cars like the Model A and Model T, Henry Ford quickly became an important part of Michigan’s automotive scene. He finally resigned from the company board in September 1945, and recommended his eldest grandson, Henry Ford II, as his replacement. Henry Ford died on April 7, 1947, at his home in Dearborn, MI.

1928: Chrysler Acquires Dodge Brothers, Inc.

Brothers John and Horace Dodge had built bicycles and various other mechanical components for some time when, in 1901, the pair agreed to start producing transmissions for the Olds Motor Works. A year later, Henry Ford approached the Dodge brothers about instead building parts for Ford Motor Company’s early models. By 1914, however, the Dodge brothers were sick of dealing with Ford and launched their own company: Dodge Brothers, Inc. In 1915, the company sold an impressive 45,000 cars.

Founders John and Horace died in 1920, and so in 1925 a New York investment team bought Dodge Brothers, Inc. from the brothers’ widows for $146 million. Three years later, the investment team began negotiations to sell the car and truck company to Chrysler Corporation. On July 30, the deal was completed for an incredible $170 million. Through the next decade, Dodge continued to expand its car and truck offerings. Then during World War II, the company focused on the war effort and built 500,000 military trucks, and 18,000 aircraft engines. Post-war, Dodge continued to expand its civilian vehicle lineup, eventually leading to the Dodge passenger car and truck portfolio we know today.

1985: General Motors Announces Saturn Plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee

Although news of the new car brand had emerged the previous year, it wasn’t until January 7, 1985, that then-GM CEO Roger Smith announced the formation of the Saturn Corporation. Then, on July 30, it was officially announced that Saturn would build a new plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as just laying down a foundation: concerned citizens prompted a back-and-forth battle over zoning rules that delayed construction on the new factory until May 1986.

The first car built at the Spring Hill plant was a Saturn S-Series sedan, which was completed on July 30, 1990. The factory continued churning out cars until March 2007, when production of the Saturn VUE crossover and Ion sedan ceased. The plant was then refurbished and built the Chevrolet Traverse for one year — but by November 2009, Spring Hill was once again dormant. Last fall, Chevrolet announced plans to revamp the Spring Hill facility so that it could start building the Equinox crossover there by late 2012. The company also promises that new “future midsize” vehicles will eventually be built at the factory.

Sources: Ford, Chrysler, GM, In The Rings of Saturn

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