Reed Brothers Beginnings at the “Triangle”
Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States; the Green Bay Packers did not yet exist; the United States was two years away from joining World War I; the cost of a stamp was two cents, and Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland was founded. It is a family business history that parallels the evolution of the American automobile industry itself.
One hundred years ago, the direction of the auto industry was uncharted territory to be explored by many people. Lewis Reed was an enterprising young man who put his future in the fledgling automobile industry. Although the specific motivation for Lewis Reed to go into the automobile business is not clear, the 1910s was a period of exponential growth in the American automobile industry, and with a location on the major east-west route through Rockville, a town that was on its way to becoming a satellite community of Washington, D.C., he was well positioned for success.
The 1910 census indicates that 23-year old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist. In 1915, Lewis Reed and brothers Robert L. and Griffith Warfield established Rockville Garage after acquiring the building from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. In 1918, Lewis Reed bought out Rockville Garage from the Warfield’s and changed the name to Reed Brothers Dodge. Soon after opening the doors to his dealership, Lewis Reed started to expand. In 1917, a two-story addition was added. The first floor housed the Service Department and upper floor was used for parts storage. At the left side of the two story building was a narrow vehicle entrance that led to the service department in the rear. A house can be seen behind the addition. Lewis Reed later purchased the remaining five residential lots to expand his dealership in the back.
In addition to Dodge Brothers Motor Cars, Rockville Garage carried Hudson and Oldsmobile. To survive the early days in the automobile business, most dealerships sold several makes of cars. Cross-selling was an acceptable business practice until the late 1940s when brand loyalty took hold. Also by then, the vast number of automobile manufacturers had been pared down. Reed Brothers got a new remodel in 1921, and an island with three new modern gas pumps were added. By this time, gasoline retailers had determined that placing gas pumps on an “island” in front of the station, where drivers could approach from either side, provided the most efficient station layout.
In the late 1920s, a second story was added to the showroom with a glazed front looking out onto Rockville Pike on the right. A modern drive-through canopy was added along with new gasoline pumps and Dodge Brothers Motor Car and Graham Brothers Truck signage. “That Good Gulf” was one of the the Gulf Refining Company’s marketing slogans for a number of years during the twenties and thirties. Another interesting detail is the placement of floodlights on the canopy roof pointing at the signs.
The new car showroom below is filled with late 1920s Dodge Brothers new car models. The high ceilings and mezzanine floor gives an air of elegance to the showroom and the expanse of windows on the front extends the full width of the building. Locating a showroom “in relation to traffic” was of the utmost importance. The showroom faced the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike which gave the dealership maximum visibility to the largest volume of cross traffic. Behind the large plate glass windows and an awning above was the product — the new car. It appears the showroom could accommodate 4-5 new automobiles. An upper floor mezzanine housed the dealership’s Parts Department and storage area. This level was accessed by a wide, open staircase. All of the elaborate design features inside, such as the high ceiling, wood railings, and mezzanine were usually reserved for upscale dealerships. To find this level of construction expense in a dealership selling mid-priced cars was extremely rare.
In 1930, Reed Brothers added the Plymouth line. Even though times were tough during the Great Depression, Reed Brothers was doing well enough to finance another facelift and renovation; the front of the Gulf Gasoline Station and the canopy was remodeled as shown below during the mid-thirties.
After years of hard work that also helped to establish an excellent reputation, once again Reed Brothers Dodge needed to expand. At about the same time as the gas station was remodeled, Lewis Reed split up the sales and parts and service operations by constructing a complete new building; it was located at the intersection of at East Montgomery Avenue and Dodge Street. The showroom was ideally located at the intersection of two streets, with a large curving window placed within the field of vision of approaching traffic and designed in such as way as to increase drivers’ viewing time. The corner showroom window simulated a “corner statement.”
At this point, eight new cars and trucks were being sold each month, along with a number of used car sales. Many purchases at the time, as had been the custom for years in the automobile business, were still initiated at a prospect’s home or job site; as many of the customers were farmers, the Reed’s had an active team of salesman in place who called on prospects right on their property.
Due to changes in the highway, Reed Brothers began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. Two-thirds of the original location at the junction of then Route 240 and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected. Below is a mid-1960’s photo of the Reed Brothers Dodge Gulf Gasoline station. The famous Gulf “ice box” design dates back to late 1930’s and there were probably more of these built than any single one of the later Gulf designs.
Two great entrepreneurs, Lewis and Edgar Reed, built and sustained a business that lasted for more than a half-century at one location under one ownership, and earned a place not just in the history of Maryland, but in American automobile history as well. For 55 years at the triangle, Reed Brothers Dodge became a community icon and a local landmark for motorists traveling to and through Rockville.