Wheels of Progress: Popular American Cars Mark 100th Anniversary

May 1, 2003

The year 2003 marked the 100th anniversary of three of the best-known makes of automobiles in the United States: Cadillac, Buick and Ford.

For a special exhibit that year, The Durand-Hedden House driveways were graced by some half-dozen cars on loan from antique vehicle owners – two Cadillacs, two Buicks and two Fords from several eras -- for the afternoon. In addition to one turn-of-the-20th century model, there were examples from the 1920s, 1930s and more. Indoors was a display of memorabilia, including an old photograph of Trustee Jack Bausmith's mother in a 1903 Cadillac, an exact model of which Norman Woolley owns.

The first of the three still-popular cars to come off the assembly line was the Cadillac, on October 17, 1902. It was named after Le Sieur Antoine de la Motte Cadillac, a French explorer who in 1701 settled what is now the city of Detroit. Although the first model was finished in the fall of 1902, it was called a 1903 model and since then, all automotive manufacturers have made a habit of introducing new models the autumn before.

The first Buick was completed in the Spring of 1903, named after its creator, David Dunbar Buick, a native of Scotland who came to this country as a child. Before producing his first car, David manufactured new types of bathtubs with porcelain linings. The Buick Company would have faded into obscurity but for its purchase by General Motors, which was formed in 1908. The Buick was positioned second to Cadillac, the top of the new company’s line. David Buick died penniless in the late 1920s, never having owned a car himself.

The young man who was destined to put the world on wheels was Henry Ford, who in July 1903 introduced his first car at a price of $850. Within a few years, Model Ts began to come off the assembly line at a rate of 1,000 cars a day – and represented 50% of all cars made by 1915.

Despite the looming Great Depression, Ford’s Model A became a sensation in the years from 1928 to 1931. The company is still controlled by the Ford family. The oldest car dealer in Maplewood, Wyman Ford on Springfield Avenue, established in 1938, lent some vintage photos and original advertising for the exhibit.

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