Cadillac is a division of General Motors (GM) that manufactures and sells luxury vehicles worldwide. Its primary markets are the United States, Canada, and China but also distributed in 34 other markets worldwide. Cadillac was founded in 1902 by Henry Leland, who named the company after Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, who was the founder of the city of Detroit in 1701. From the beginning, Cadillac has been ranked amongst the finest automobiles in the United States. The SRX crossover has been Cadillac’s best selling model since 2010.
Cadillac was formed in March 1902 after Henry Ford left the Henry Ford Company. Ford’s financial backers, William Murphy and Lemuel Bowen, called in engineer Henry M. Leland of Leland & Faulconer Manufacturing Company to appraise the plant and equipment in preparation for a liquidation of the company’s assets. Instead of offering an appraisal, Leland persuaded Murphy and Bowen to continue manufacturing automobiles and a new company called the Cadillac Automobile Company was established on 22 August 1902.
General Motors purchased the company in 1909 and within six years, Cadillac had become one of America’s premier luxury cars. It was the first American car to win the Dewar Trophy from the Royal Automobile Club of England, in 1908, this spawned the firm’s slogan “Standard of the World.” It won that trophy a second time, in 1912, for incorporating electric starting and lighting in a production automobile.
Cadillac’s first automobiles were the Runabout and Tonneau, released in October 1902. Cadillac showcased the new vehicles at the New York Auto Show in January 1903, where over 2,000 firm orders were placed. In 1905, Leland & Faulconer Manufacturing and the Cadillac Automobile Company merged.
Cadillac was the first manufacturer to mass produce a fully enclosed car in 1906. Commercially, Cadillac produced vehicles such as limousines, ambulances and hearses.
In July 1917, the United States Army chose the Cadillac Type 55 Touring Model as their staff car and 2,350 of the cars were supplied for use in France by officers of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.
In 1926, Cadillac recruited Harley Earl as a one-time consultant, but his employment longer. By 1928, he was the head of the new Art and Color division until he retired, over 30 years later. The first car he designed was the LaSalle, named after French explorer, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. It remained in production until 1940.
Cadillac began using shatter-resistant glass in 1926 and introduced the ‘turret top,’ the first all-steel roof on a passenger car. Previous car roofs were constructed of fabric-covered wood.
During the Great Depression Cadillac sales had declined by 84 percent, selling only 6,736 vehicles. A policy to discourage sales to African-Americans was revoked and sales rose by 70 percent in 1934. Nick Dreystadt, who urged the company to eliminate the policy was promoted to lead the entire Cadillac Division.
By 1940, Cadillac sales had risen tenfold compared to 1934. In 1951 Cadillac began production of the M41 Walker Bulldog army tank for the Korean and Vietnam wars. After the war, Cadillac vehicles used the ideas of Harley J. Earl, including tailfins, wraparound windshields and extensive exterior and interior chrome and polished stainless steel. Fledgling automotive magazine Motor Trend awarded its first “Car of the Year” to Cadillac in 1949, but the company turned it down.
The one millionth Cadillac was produced on 25 November 1949, a 1950 Coupe de Ville. For the next three years, over 100,000 vehicles were produced annually. Also in 1949, the first mass-produced hardtop convertible by Cadillac was released.
In 1953, the “Autronic Eye” was introduced which allowed the headlamps to automatically dim for the safety of oncoming traffic. The 1957 Eldorado Brougham featured a ‘memory seat’ function that allowed a specific seat position to be set for different drivers.
In 1964, Cadillac offered the first fully automatic heater/air conditioning system. From the late 1960s, Cadillac also offered a fiber-optic warning system to alert the driver to failed light bulbs. In 1966, Cadillac sold 192,000 units,142,190 of them de Villes, which would be their best selling year to date. In 1968, sales reached 200,000 units.
In 1967 the front-wheel-drive Eldorado was introduced. In 1968 a new 472 cu in engine was offered, being increased to 500 cu in in 1970. Cadillac had record sales in 1973 as well as the late 1970s. In the 1980s, Cadillac downsized many models and introduced the front-wheel-drive compact, the Cimarron.
In 1987, the assembly plant in Detroit which had been in operation since 1921 was closed.
Image Caption: 1921 Cadillac Advertisement. Credit: Unknown Saturday Evening Post/Wikipedia (public domain)