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History Early Automotive Engineers

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by weps, Apr 22, 2014.

  1. weps
    Joined: Aug 1, 2008
    Posts: 534

    from auburn,IN

    I am curious if anyone knows of a book that discusses The Auto industry in its' infancy, say '04 to 1920. What I am specifically interested in is "Where" did Mr. Ford, Durant, Willy's (etc) get their new engineers from? Prior to this time there was no such thing as an "Automotive Engineer", so I am guessing most of the young talent came from the Locomotive and Farm machinery industry.Additionally, College educated "Engineers" were probably pretty rare up to the time when the Car business really started to take off, not all of these guys could have gotten "good" by OJT.
    As a side note, how interesting it must have been in Detroit during that time(above) seeing a neighbor out in public that was also an engineer working for another producer, and wondering "What are/could they working on"?
    I do know that later "GMI" was founded by Mr. Kettering, but what do you know of these 'First' guys?
  2. Ned Ludd
    Joined: May 15, 2009
    Posts: 4,211

    Ned Ludd

    I was about to recommend reading any of the great automotive histories, only to realize that I can't remember a single title off the top of my head. There are a lot of them, though. Some go into a lot of detail about the background and context of the early days. (Most of them are disappointingly uncritical, though. I'm still waiting for a thorough history of the automobile which looks at the matter from a new angle. I suppose I'll have to write the book on, among other things, how every design change to the Model T was calculated to screw the general public, myself. But be that as it may.)

    Some people struggle with the idea that the early motor industry lacked much of the subsequent sharp distinction between "factory" and "aftermarket". For a long time the numerically greater part of the industry was more like hot-rod builders than the unitary corporate oligarchy we know today. A huge part of the motor industry was in a very real sense sunk into the population; it did not float high above our heads as it does now.

    Moreover, the concept of tertiary education was different. There was much greater emphasis on classical learning with a view to "well-rounded character", i.e. the ability to think and judge, than the current job-qualification-oriented training. If an engineer was classically educated (as a few were) it was presumed that he would understand what the point of engineering was, or at least what it ought to be; but he would have learned the (literal) nuts and bolts by means of an apprenticeship. And an apprenticeship was about learning the nuts and bolts, not about getting a certificate.

    In short, the young guys learned from the old guys, and the old guys learned by rational contemplation plus trial and error. And the old guys would pick the young guys based on whatever experience they brought along and on the sort of imagination and insight they displayed. In other words, engineers were hired like rock drummers, not like damp, pest, and wiring inspectors.
  3. moefuzz
    Joined: Jul 16, 2005
    Posts: 4,950


    A great book regarding Henry Ford is "Henry Ford Engineer"
    published 1950 available new and used thru eBay/Amazon etc.

    Another useful book is :
    Chrysler, Ford, Durant and Sloan
    (Founding Giants of the American Automotive Industry)
    written by Eugene Weiss.
    Although some of the info in the Weiss book is heavily (GM) biased and somewhat blind sided (many inaccuracies), other information, especially that regarding Chrysler and Durant is useful.

    Also, don't forget "My Forty Years With Ford" by Charles Sorenson.
    -Sorenson was Fords right hand man from almost the very beginning right up to Henrys death.

    Walter E. Flanders : His Role in the Mass Production of Automobiles
    Published in the 1990's but based on facts and figures from the 1900's thru 1930's

    Other/Actual books written in regards to the engineering side of the auto industry are few and far between and/or long out of print but there has been a lot written in early technical and trade journals especially those of the SAE or Society of Automobile Engineers, Unfortunately most of that is not easily available to the general public.

    Other than that, Here's the little bit that I have been able to put together in regards to Ford/Company and his early employees/engineers.


    .... Henry Ford started out as a machinist in the late 1800's and in 1891 apprenticed for Edison Illuminating Company eventually earning him the Chief Engineering position in 1893. With a good engineering background under his belt, Ford worked in his own home/shop evening and weekends eventually perfecting his quadricycle in mid 1896. A second car was built by 1898 at which point Ford would make the move from Chief Engineer at Edison to Founding member of Detroit Automobile Company in 1899.

    ...One of the first actual employees of Henry Ford was a guy named Childe Wills.

    Wills apprenticed as a toolmaker for the Detroit Lubricator Co while similarly taking on courses/upgrading in metallurgy, chemistry as well as mechanical engineering. By the late 1890s, Wills had acquired the chief engineering position for an adding machine company but his interest lay in the burgeoning automobile industry and on a whim he approached Henry Ford.
    Ford took on Wills and in 1899 Wills became a part time employee of the Detroit Automobile Company (Ford's First Company) working alongside Henry during evenings and weekends.

    Although Ford would later leave DAC (later named Henry Ford Company before being renamed Cadillac Automobile Company), Wills continued to be employed by Ford irregardless of the name/or company in which Ford was a founder/Superintendent.

    By 1902, Wills was working full time for Ford helping him build his 999 and Arrow race cars.
    By 1903, Ford had acquired additional financial backing and had formed the Ford Motor Company. Wills was was given the position of Chief Designer and Metallurgist. In later years, Wills would be given the task of finding light weight steels for body panels (vanadium steel) as well as custom designing machinable steels that could withstand brutal shock loading without breakage or bending (axles/spring etc).
    (Wills would eventually leave Ford to found Wills Sainte Claire where his first auto, the 1921 Grey Goose became a revered auto but it's high price tag led to poor sales. The company lost money every year of production and Wills shuttered the doors in 1927 eventually to sell to Chrysler).


    ......The "Ford & Malcomson company Ltd" -Ford's 3rd company (1902).

    ...Backed by Alexander Malcomson, a rich Detroit area coal dealer,
    The Ford & Malcomson Ltd. was born. and In their search for suitable suppliers Ford would eventually approach a local machine shop/foundry that had made out very good during the bicycle boom of the late 1800's.
    ...With the bicycle boom of the 1880's all but bust, the founders of this local machine shop had shifted their focus into supplying early industrial gas engines, bearings, transmission and/or power cases etc for mining and machining companies.
    By the time Henry Ford approached them in 1902, John and Horace Dodge had already signed contracts with several other fledgling auto companies over and above the mining concerns.

    But Ford had two things that the brothers had never been promised, large sums of cash and a grand scale idea that would make them all very wealthy. So with the Financial backing of Malcomson, Ford would contract with The Dodge brothers to initially supply $160,000 worth of bearings, castings and parts in order to get the fledgling Ford/Malcomson company producing cars. -As part of the contract Ford demanded that the Dodge Brothers shift all production away from other concerns and concentrate almost solely on supplying Ford and Malchomson with machined parts and assemblies.

    In early 1902 everything seemed to be off to a flying start but the investment monies were exhausted fair quickly and by the later part of the year, there was little left to pay the Dodge Brothers and/or finish and fulfill the contract. Sales of autos had been slowed due to several delays in finalizing design and parts.

    But as luck would have it, Malcomson still believed in Ford and his grand scheme of a quality peoples car and with that enthusiasm, Malcomson took it upon himself to call up a handful of local business associates and pursued them to invest in the newly formed concern. The name was changed to the current Ford Motor Company and shares were issued to initial investors in exchange for cold hard cash.

    Included as share holders in the newly founded company were the machinists, John and Horace Dodge.
    (The Dodge brothers, known for being brutally hard drinkers, would eventually make millions in dividends off of Ford and simultaneously start building Dodge Motor Cars (1915) while still supplying Ford with parts/bearings. By 1920, the Dodge Brothers were both dead)


    Another of Henry's early engineers was Cast Iron Charlie or Charles Sorenson.

    Sorensen served his apprenticeship at the Jewett Stove Works learning the trades of pattern making and foundryman. Henry Ford hired him In 1905 as a pattern maker.

    By 1907 Sorenson ran the pattern department where he more or less translated Henry Ford's meager sketches and ideas into prototypes/patterns from which they would cast the parts.
    Sorenson wore many hats while at Ford Motor company, he served as chief of patternmaking, as foundry engineer, as mechanical engineer, as industrial engineer, as production manager, and later, as the executive in charge of all production. Within a matter of 8 or 10 years Henry Ford literally took the young Sorenson and molded him into one of the most respected Engineers and Pattern makers ever to come out of Detroit.

    Sorenson's contribution during his 40 plus years were many but he is probably most known for his contributions in helping to design Henry's one piece V8 as well as using his 4 decades of Ford experience in designing and overseeing the construction of the Willow Run Bomber Plant where Ford built Liberator Bombers which would eventually 'Fly' out the door at a rate of 26 in a 20 hour day.


    Still yet another star of Henry's was Clarence Avery.

    In 1912 Avery was a teacher or more precisely, He was head of manual training at the Detroit University School, a place were young Edsel had acquired his early hands on training.
    Edsel was impressed with Avery's mechanical abilities and suggest to Henry that the two should meet.
    Henry was so impressed with Avery that he hired him and immediately put him to work as Sorenson's right hand man.
    Thru Ford Motor Company, Avery was put thru an intensive 8 month training course were he would undertake and learn the system just as Sorenson had done before him.
    Clarence Avery acquired a reputation as a real problem solver and within a few years of hiring was promoted to Chief Development Engineer were he helped to streamline the new moving assembly line concept that Ford and Sorenson had set in motion in early 1913.


    Yet another of Ford's early hires was Walt Flanders

    Hired by Ford in 1906, Flanders brought much to the table.
    A skilled machinist by trade, Flanders had extensive knowledge of machining and machine tooling in general.
    As an early purchaser of quality tooling, Ford developed a working relationship with the Detroit genius and attempted to permanently hire him out of Flanders own sales company.
    While Flanders time at Ford was fairly brief, his working knowledge of machine tools and layout were instrumental in growing Ford thru the model T years and beyond.

    Those few in a nutshell really helped put Ford into first place.
    It seems Henry really knew how to pick from the best and brightest minds.
    Many of the above mentioned names came away as millionaires thru their associations with Ford.
    I know there are many others but the info is either long forgotten or deeply hidden in undiscovered texts.

    Last edited: Oct 8, 2015
  4. moefuzz
    Joined: Jul 16, 2005
    Posts: 4,950


    A guy should probably also mention that the beginning of the perfection of tooling came about during the mid 1840's most notably by companies like Colt Firearms who helped sow the seeds of machining and precision repeatability in the manufacture of small parts/assemblies.

    Before that, parts were literally one off and one at a time with a general lack of precision which caused manufacturers to have to hand file and/or tweak each part of each machine in order to get the mechanisms to function accordingly.

    Colt Firearms brought on a new era of precision manufacture that helped spur the basis of future things to come (like assembly lines).

    Without precision tooling and repeatability, there could be no such thing as mass production and/or assembly lines.

    Colts efforts in standardization of parts/machining were recognized in 1847 by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)

    As far as automobile engineering goes.
    From the onstart of the auto industry in America manufacturers recognized that there was a need to standardize parts and procedures 'For the Good of Us All'.

    In 1905 a handful of volunteers came together to form the SAE or Society of Automobile Engineers.
    Andrew Riker served as President and Henry Ford served as First Vice President.



  5. My 1st thought was also firearms makers. This was the dawn of interchangeable parts, but everyone had their own standards for hardware for a long time. Then steps in the SAE to get everyone going in a single direction.

    The post about foundries was right on. Casting iron parts was essential to many parts, blocks, transmissions, gears, hubs and so on. There was a lot of trial and error along the way and often things were cast too heavy, but they lasted.

  6. artful dodger
    Joined: Nov 20, 2013
    Posts: 42

    artful dodger

    Don't forget the Dodge Brothers.
  7. George Lyon, held over 60 patents in the automotive field, worked with Ford during the 1930's-50's
  8. max wedgehead
    Joined: Nov 8, 2013
    Posts: 2

    max wedgehead
    from Ozarks

    Thanks to all who post here. I spend a lot of time at this site although, this is my first post.
    Walter Chrysler's autobiography, "An American Workman", is a good place to start to get some insight on the development of early automotive engineering. Chrysler cars have a reputation for their engineering, especially the early years.
    Posted using the Full Custom H.A.M.B. App!
  9. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,480

    Rusty O'Toole

    "My Years With General Motors" by Alfred Sloan. Sloan was a college educated engineer, a rarity in the early auto industry. He started at Hyatt Bearings as a salesman/troubleshooter/engineer. His job was to call on manufacturers and show them how they could use Hyatt bearings. One of his customers was Buick, who eventually bought the bearing company and that is how he got to work for GM, and eventually worked his way up to Chairman of the Board.

    His book is full of "inside baseball" stories of the early days of the auto business, starting when sensible people doubted the auto would ever replace the horse.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
  10. pasadenahotrod
    Joined: Feb 13, 2007
    Posts: 11,776

    from Texas

    I went to an estate sale in San Antonio some 30 years ago. The guy who had died was a degreed Automotive Engineer. I saw his diploma and other papers there and also for sale was his project to receive his degree, he built a car. A wooden tiller steering, buckboard style horseless carriage with a single cylinder air-cooled engine with a cone-style clutch and forward and reverse gears. Don't know what it sold for.
    Behind his house was a large shop building with a full electric motor overhead belt-driven machine shop and various stations around the building perimeter for working on phones, radios, clocks, and other gadgets. Underneath the machine shop were two-deep garage stalls filled with older cars and parts.
    A true man of the times with a curiosity about all things mechanical. Don't know the man's name or what he did for a living in San Anonio but his home was magnificent and shop spectactular.
  11. indyjps
    Joined: Feb 21, 2007
    Posts: 4,103


    I'm a mechanical engr that worked at GM, now at a major equipment manuf. You have to consider that automotive engineering today teaches you on a standard that's been developed over 100 years. In those early days there was no formula, many ideas were tried, the ones that worked got reused and "sharked" by the other manuf. Those early engineers likely came from other machinery based fields, companies. Think of all the equipment available in 1900, stamping/ forging presses, locomotives, tractors farm equipment. Its not like the automobile was the first machine built, the people were in place and educated in mechanical backgrounds and building machines before cars ever showed up. The real inovation was gasoline, that drove the market more than anything, there were quite a few years where "horseless carriages" were built as steam, electric etc. They weren't reliable,affordable, convenient until gasoline became available. Read up on standard oil, interesting stuff, gasoline was a waste product that they found a use for, cars. I am interested in the topic, the history, the obstacles they overcame in design.
  12. weps
    Joined: Aug 1, 2008
    Posts: 534

    from auburn,IN

    Thanks to all of your replies. I have been thinking of this subject for quite a while. There are some great Historians here on the HAMB and I appreciate the information that you have shared.There (obviously) seems to be a lot written on the larger manufacturers. I also like the stories of how some people 'bounced around" from (seemingly) different companies and even areas of the country.
    The other day we were pulling the pan off of a 1910 auburn (OT I'm sure) which is powered by a Rutenber 4 cylinder.(Probably the most intricate oil pan that I have ever seen) I knew a bit about Rutenber, and the "western motor company" but did NOT know that Herb Snow had been with Rutenber in the beginning, and then later was Engineering Manager for Auburn.
  13. jimdillon
    Joined: Dec 6, 2005
    Posts: 3,080


    Thought you guys may like seeing a page from Russell Huff's 1905 diary. He was a chief engineer for Packard. Somewhere I have some notes on his background but he was an educated engineer and probably did work with machinery. He had several inventions like many of the engineers and many engineers wrote diaries on a daily basis. Jesse Vincent's diaries when he was at Packard are interesting in parts, other stuff is mundane. I spent many hours reading his diaries in the Detroit Main Library and have some copies.

    Also Oliver Barthel was an early engineer that worked with Ford in the 1901-1902 period. Depending on which story you read both Wills and Barthel take credit for the 999 and if my memory serves me the Henry Ford museum gives credit to both in regards to the engineering and drawings of the 999 and Arrow engines. I forget exactly without going through a bunch of notes but maybe one had the concepts and the other drew the prints. Barthel though is probably credited with the first Ford race car, Sweepstakes. Ford did leave the Henry Ford Company in March of 1902 though probably because of his obsession on the 999 and Arrow. Murphy forbade Barthel from working on the racers during working hours and Wills probably worked on those racers more after march of 1902 as Barthel stayed on at the Henry Ford company for a few more months working on the cars for market as opposed to racecars.

    Barthel was a good friend of my grandfather and I spent a couple of afternoons with my grandfather when he visited Barthel. Somewhere I have his autobiography.

    In the diary entry note that Russell Huff went to the races and Oldfield crashed. This may very well be in one of the Ford racers. I have a picture of one of the Ford racers after it went through a fence. Sometime will have to dig that picture out. Not sure as I have never researched it. Too many other mysteries I suppose.-Jim

    Update-Researched what Oldfield was driving at that time and it was the Peerless Green Dragon which he crashed at Grosse Pointe on that date-just for some sort of accuracy. Makes more sense now that I think of it-Jim

    Last edited: Apr 23, 2014
  14. weps
    Joined: Aug 1, 2008
    Posts: 534

    from auburn,IN

    friday aug 11- "decided to lay off Martel..."
    Damn! the guy gets sick and you lay him off!:eek:
  15. jimdillon
    Joined: Dec 6, 2005
    Posts: 3,080


    Don't know the deal on Martel. Maybe he was looking for a reason or maybe times were tough.Just so you know the Model S motor was for the new 1906 Packard Model S-Jim
  16. inline 292
    Joined: Aug 25, 2006
    Posts: 296

    inline 292

    Around the 60's & 70's my Father & I would read 'Cars & Parts' magazine regularly & there were many articles in there at that time about the early history & development of various parts. Suspension types, steering arrangements, U-Joints, carburetors, etc.
  17. weps
    Joined: Aug 1, 2008
    Posts: 534

    from auburn,IN

    Yeah- I was being a smartass, sorry:eek:
    that old cursive writing is kind of hard to read is'nt it?
  18. tfeverfred
    Joined: Nov 11, 2006
    Posts: 15,792


    You don't end up with an empire by being a candy ass. These men we admire were ruthless as well as geniuses.
  19. woodbutcher
    Joined: Apr 25, 2012
    Posts: 3,232


    :D This thread is another reason that I love the H.A.M.B.Better history lessons than the schools had back in the 60`s.With a few exceptions.
    Good luck.Have fun.Be safe.
  20. tfeverfred
    Joined: Nov 11, 2006
    Posts: 15,792


    Thank gawd for Google.
    bct likes this.

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