2012 American Muscle Moroway David Dunbar Buick (September 17, 1854 â?? March 5, 1929) was a Scottish-born Detroit inventor, best known for founding the Buick Motor Company.
He headed this company and its predecessor from 1902 until 1906, thereby helping to create one of the most successful nameplates in United States motor vehicle history. Buick was born in Arbroath, Angus, Scotland and moved to Detroit at the age of two when his parents emigrated to the United States.
He left school in 1869 and worked for a company which made plumbing goods. When the company ran into trouble in 1882, he and a partner took it over. At this time Buick began to show his promise as an inventor, producing many innovations including a lawn sprinkler, and a method for permanently coating cast iron with vitreous enamel which allowed the production of "white" baths at lower cost.
Although cast iron baths are uncommon nowadays, the method is still in use for enameling them. With the combination of Buick's innovation and his partner's sound business management the company became quite successful.
During the 1890s, Buick developed an interest in internal combustion engines and began experimenting with them. He was spending little time on the plumbing business, and his business partner became impatient with him.
The partnership was dissolved and the company was sold. Buick now had the time and capital to work on engines full time, and he set up a new company, the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company, in 1899 to do so. The stated aim of the company was to market engines for agricultural use.
Around the turn of the century, David saw his first motor car. He became obsessed with cars and, in 1902, he organized Buick Manufacturing Company to make them. But his advanced designs invariably left the firm over-spent. He borrowed $5,000 from a friend, Ben Briscoe, who didn't doubt David's ability as a craftsman but was wary of his business abilities.
When Briscoe heard that a firm at Flint, 115 miles from Detroit, was thinking of starting car production, he persuaded David to team up with them. The firm was impressed with David's car. They borrowed $10,000 from a local bank to settle the Buick debts. The Buick plant was shifted lock, stock and starting crank to Flint. But the deal left Buick with little say in the firm. In effect, he signed away his future.
Still, the firm completed 16 cars in 1903 and 34 in 1904, all experimental machines at $1,200 each. At this point, William C. Durant came onto the scene. A brilliant business man, he'd already made a fortune in the carriage industry.
On November 1, 1904, Durant became general manager of the Buick Motor Co. with Buick as president. Durant, who would later create General Motors, was a go-getter. Like Ford, he knew the industry's future lay in speeding up production and cutting assembly costs. But Buick was a craftsman who regarded each car as a unique invention. One of the two had to go. It was David Buick.
In 1906, aged 52, he severed his last link with the firm and returned to Detroit with his wife and son. The company went from strength to strength. In 1908, Durant acquired Oldsmobile and Cadillac to form General Motors. Chevrolet joined in 1918. Britain's Vauxhall was acquired in 1926, and Germany's Opel some years later.
Buick production reached 100,000 cars a year in 1923. Today there is a 300-acre complex employing 20,000 people and producing 350,000 cars a year. But David Buick died of colon cancer, impoverished and forgotten, in Harper Hospital, Detroit, on March 5, 1929.
Until a few weeks earlier, though 74, he was still working as an inspector at Detroit's trade school. His wife died some years later and his son Thomas died in 1943. Ben Briscoe wrote sadly in 1921 that had David been able to keep his shares in the firm, they would have been worth more than $10,000,000 at that time. Their value today would be almost incalculable.
The house where David Buick was born no longer stands. It was demolished years ago to make way for new council houses. But as the birthplace of a man who greatly influenced transport, its setting is appropriately close to the burgh's new four-lane throughway, Burnside Drive.
Arbroath could do worse than rename it Buick Way, as a tribute to Scotland's most remarkable forgotten son.