Celebrating Lewis Reed’s 135th Birthday

Lewis Reed

Lewis Reed (1887-1967)

Lewis Reed was born in Darnestown, Maryland on November 25, 1887 and was the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge. When Lewis Reed opened his car dealership in October 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. He founded what would become the oldest Dodge dealership under the same family ownership in the State of Maryland, and one of the oldest in the United States.

Success demands courage, dedication, perseverance and relentless hard work. As a young man, Lewis Reed apparently believed in the similar thought. He was the son of a blacksmith, raised in a large family that survived on knowledge and hard work. Tinkering with things and an interest in machines at an early age was probably encouraged by his father. The blacksmithing trade goes back about four generations in the Reed family. In those days, it was commonplace for sons to follow their father’s professions. The 1910 census indicated that 23-year old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist. 

On the occasion of my grandfather’s 135th birthday, I thought I would revisit some interesting facts about him.

1. Lewis Reed’s passion for cars began at a very early age. He was full of curiosity, with an insatiable desire to know details, how things worked, and why. As a child, he would watch cars go past the family farm and then take off running across the fields to catch up with them until they would go out of sight. The “normal” speed during this time was so slow that drivers had difficulty keeping their cars from stalling out.

2. Lewis attended Darnestown School, a one-room schoolhouse which was located on Thomas Kelley’s Farm at Pleasant Hill. First through sixth grades were taught by one teacher to about thirty or more students. Few students went beyond sixth or seventh grade; in fact, Lewis Reed’s education stopped after the sixth grade. He would later be home-schooled by his wife, who was a teacher in the Maryland public school system.

3. Lewis Reed’s love of photography began at a very young age, at a time when most families did not own a camera. The oldest photo in his collection is dated 1898, which would have made him around 11-12 years old when he started using a camera. At the turn of the century, before automobiles were even around, he toured up and down the East Coast on his motorcycle, taking photographs of landscapes, monuments, historic places, and people. His entire collection spans more than six decades and showcases his love for people, automobiles, events, landmarks, and travel throughout the first half of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, his love of both cars and cameras resulted in his taking numerous pictures of car culture all over the State of Maryland as it developed from infancy to supremacy.

4. Lewis Reed understood automobiles. He knew how they worked and how to fix them. He loved cars and anything associated with them. Prior to World War I, his love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. Lewis Reed worked as a chauffeur from roughly 1910-1914, before he became involved in the business of selling and repairing automobiles.

5. In October 1915, Lewis Reed received his franchise to sell Dodge Brothers Motor Cars with brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit; less than one year after the very first Dodge automobile was invented.

6. In 1941, the State of Maryland named the connector street behind the original dealership at the triangle, “Dodge Street,” commemorating Reed Brothers’ presence from 1915-1970. The connector street was so short that Lewis Reed always liked to joke, “if the state wanted to name a street after him, the street needed to be longer”. Hence the street was named, “Dodge Street”.

7. When the United States entered World War I, Lewis Reed worked at the Navy Yard in Washington DC as a torpedo tester.

Note: Interestingly, there’s nothing online that explains how torpedoes were tested during WWI. I was, however, able to find how they were tested during WWII. “Torpedoes produced by the Alexandria Torpedo Factory were transported to Piney Point on the shore of the Potomac River where they were fixed with dummy heads, fired from boats and then retrieved by men or tenders. The purpose of the facility was to see whether the torpedo could hold a straight course. Some of them are said to have sunk to the bottom of the Potomac where they now rest in mud.”

8. In the early 1930s, Lewis Reed inaugurated a new department of auto body and fender repair. He did this primarily because no other repair agencies were locally available to motorists. The new department enabled motorists to obtain this critical repair service locally in Rockville, whereas, in the past they had to travel to Washington, D.C. or Baltimore for such work.

9. During World War II, Reed Brothers Dodge had virtually no new cars to sell for three and a half years. But that didn’t stop Lewis Reed. When manufacturers halted car production and many dealers went bankrupt, Lewis Reed converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines, Zuillen home freezers, Westinghouse radios, and other large appliances to fill the gap.

10. Active in the dealership daily until the day of his death, Lewis Reed passed on January 28, 1967 at the age of 79. Shortly after his death, the Senate of Maryland passed Senate Resolution No. 10, honoring the life and achievements of Lewis Reed. The resolution was sponsored by Senator Thomas M. Anderson, Jr and Senator Louise Gore.

Lewis Reed’s business philosophy was simple: “Treat your customer as your friend and always do what you promise.” These words aptly showcase his life and his passion for what would become his life’s work.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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