The Cadillac classic car evolved from the machinist skills of Henry Leland who, after proving his abilities by machining gears so accurately that they were almost silent, and building a gasoline engine that was both reliable and affordable, convinced a group of investors to finance his automobile company. He named the company Cadillac, after a French officer who founded Detroit and acquired the factory used by the defunct Detroit Automobile Company in 1903 to build it, during the Antique Car Era.
Leland had a propensity for accuracy that, coupled with his machinist skills, helped to make Cadillac one of the best made vehicles of its time. The Cadillac Company slogan was "Craftsmanship a Creed, Accuracy a Law" and they proved it by making the first engine and transmission with parts so accurate that they were interchangeable.
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Being a perfectionist and inventor among the first of the successful auto makers, Henry Leland oversaw the development of many "firsts". He built the first fully inclosed car in 1906, the first limousine in 1909, the first electrical system for a car (starter, lights and ignition) in 1912, the first armored car in 1915, and then there was the windshield wiper, rear view mirror, overhead head valve engine, sunroof, fully automatic transmission, wrap-around windshield, power steering, fully automated climate control, and a host of other accessories that kept the Cadillac a leader of the luxury car market. They were also the first automobile manufacturer to adopt the use of Phillips screws in 1934 to speed up the assembly process.
In 1908 William Durant, the founder of General Motors, was looking for a luxury car to add to his Buick and Oldsmobile lines and offered Leland three million dollars for Cadillac. They eventually settled at $4.5 million and Leland ran the division until 1917, when he left to start the Lincoln Motor Company.
General Motors continued to keep the Cadillac name analogous with quality and it became the preferred vehicle for people of wealth from all over the world. Fancy clientele called for impressive names and in 1916 they introduced the "Brougham", to be known for its spaciousness, then in 1927 the "Fleetwood" for its sleek design, followed by the stylish "LaSalle", "Deville" and "Eldorado". General Motors also used the Cadillac chassis for a line of commercial vehicles, such as hearses and ambulances.
The 1915 Cadillac came out with a V-8 flathead engine that developed 70 horsepower and would take the cars up to 70 miles per hour and in the 1930s they developed V-12 and V-16 engines to carry the ever growing loads. In 1949 they introduced the first V-8 engine with overhead valves which was to become the standard for most manufactures in the coming years.
As with most luxury car manufactures, the Cadillac division of General Motors lost most of its sales during the Great Depression and that, coupled with a policy to discourage sales to African Americans, was almost its demise. However a mechanic by the name of Nick Dreystadt convinced the top brass to repeal the policy and by 1934 sales were back on track - and Dreystadt was promoted to Division Manager!
Chrome and tail fins became the trend following World War II and once again the Cadillac led the way in ostentation with their now famous tail fins that resemble the rudders of Lockheeds P-38 Lightning. In 1949 Motor Trend honored the Cadillac with their first "Car of the Year" award and today Cadillac is one of the oldest brand names in the world.