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.
1914 – Lewis Reed became a partner in Rockville Garage with Robert L. and Griffith Warfield. The Warfield Brothers had purchased this building in July 1915, from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. The business continued to operate under the old name until it was changed at the suggestion of the late Judge Edward Peter shortly after Edgar Reed joined his brother.
Lewis Reed was just a young man when he started selling cars built by brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. In 1914, the Dodge brothers had been producing car components for Henry Ford when they decided they could build their own cars. Few people jumped onto the Dodge Brothers bandwagon earlier than Lewis Reed, and not many have lasted longer.
The first Dodge was produced on November 14, 1914. It cost $785, had a 110-inch wheelbase, and was powered by an L-head 4-cylinder engine that proved so reliable it was continued until 1920 with very little modification.
1915 – Reed Brothers was franchised as a Dodge dealership and service facility; less than one year after the first Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line. The late George M. Hunter, President of the Montgomery County National Bank, purchased the first automobile sold by the Rockville Garage.
1916 – First shop force of Rockville Garage consisted of Lewis Reed, Philip Reed and (first name unknown) Long. A third brother, Phillip Reed, came to work for them in 1916 as a mechanic until 1944.
United States Enters World War I
1917 – Lewis Reed bought out Rockville Garage from the Warfield’s.
1919 – Lewis Reed’s brother Edgar joined the business. He had just returned from World War I where he served in the U.S. Medical Corps from February 1918 to August 1919. Previous to his enlistment he had been employed by R.W. Vinson, Rockville druggist for eight years.
Reed Brothers Dodge was the first to sell Dodge cars in Montgomery County. Initially, Reed Brothers sold Oldsmobile, Essex and Hudson, along with Dodge. Later they became Dodge-Plymouth dealers. In addition to automobiles, the Rockville Garage also sold Bates Steel Mules, “the most efficient tractor in America.” The Bates Steel Mule Tractor, sold in 1919 by the Rockville Garage, was designed at the dawn of the steel-wheeled tractor era to pull any horse-drawn implement the farmer owned.
1921 – Dodge Brothers agreed to market Graham Brothers medium-duty trucks through its dealerships; in turn, every Graham vehicle utilized a Dodge engine. This partnership provided Dodge dealers with a full line of trucks to sell in addition to the highly regarded Dodge passenger cars, and the resulting sales increases prompted Dodge to buy the Graham Brothers firm.
1922 – Reed Brothers Dodge got a new facelift and remodel.
1928 – Walter P. Chrysler took over after Horace and John Dodge died and Lewis Reed became an original member of the Chrysler family. The first Plymouth was built in 1928 and Plymouths were sold at Reed Brothers until 1969, when the Plymouth brand was given to the Chrysler dealers.
The Great Depression
1929 – The year of the stock market crash that began the Great Depression, no one could afford to buy cars. Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard and most dealerships had to declare bankruptcy. Reed Brothers had to rely on its Service Department to make ends meet. But, the dealership survived through these lean times.
1930 – Reed Brothers added the Plymouth line in 1930. ‘Dodge Brothers’ became simply ‘Dodge,’ and the brand’s first eight-cylinder engine was completed.
Reed Brothers operated their own full service Gulf gasoline and service station. In fact, the company was the first Gulf gas dealer in the Washington, D.C. area, selling gas at its original location in Old Rockville at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. They carried a full line of Gulf lubricants, Goodyear tires, Willard batteries and many other well known brands of merchandise. Reed Brothers discontinued offering this product line when they relocated to their new facility in November 1970.
1936 – Reed Brothers constructed a complete new building for the Parts and Service Departments.
1940 – Reed Brothers celebrated its 25th Anniversary
United States Enters World War II
1942 – During World War II, Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years. 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 and other large appliances to fill the gap. After the end of World War II, the car boom came and the automobile assembly lines were back in action.
1945 – Reed Brothers celebrated their 30th Anniversary. One former employee, Philip Frank, a member of the Air Corps in World War II was killed in combat in the South Pacific. At this time, Reed Brothers had in their employ EIGHT VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II.
1946 – Reed Brothers celebrated the end of World War II with another new facelift and a whole new look.
The first car after the war was the 1946 Dodge, which sold for about $800.
1948 – Chrysler adopted the new method of starting the engine with an ignition key. At the end of the 1940s a gallon of gas cost 26 cents.
1949 – Ernest Lee Gartner, who married Lewis Reed’s daughter, Mary Jane, joined the business in 1949. Although he graduated from Strayer College with a degree in business, Lee Gartner learned a lot through hands-on experience at the dealership. Lee Gartner continued the business as Dealer Principal after Lewis Reed died in 1967.
1950 – Reed Brothers Dodge, Oldest Dodge Dealer in Maryland, celebrated their 35th Anniversary. Since October 1918, when Lewis Reed purchased the business from the Warfield’s, the business had steadily grown. Reed Brothers now employed twenty-two persons. In addition to the Shop Foreman, Lester Wilson, who had been associated with the business since 1918, Reed Brothers employed six factory trained mechanics in their fully equipped shop.
Leo Murray, Parts Manager since 1925, kept a complete line of Dodge and Plymouth parts. A recent addition was their up-to-date Glass Shop, which replaced all types of glass, table tops, mirrors,etc. In conjunction with the Glass Shop, Reed Brothers also had a Paint and Body Shop to make any vehicle like new again. Body and fender work were a specialty and factory prepared paints were available to match any color.
1951 – Edgar Reed passed away in October 1951.
1952 – The partnership known as Reed Brothers became Reed Brothers, Inc. Lewis Reed was President of the Corporation – Arthur L. Watkins, Vice President and Sales Manager – Ernest Lee Gartner, Secretary-Treasurer and General Manager. In addition to its Officers, the firm employed 21 people to assist in the operation of the business. Three of the employees had been with Reed Brothers since 1917, and many others had a long record of employment with the company.
1953 – Due to changes in the highway, Reed Brothers began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. The program consisted of a sizable addition to their service shop which enlarged the showroom area and housed the Parts Department. 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.
1955-1960 – The Dodge automobile’s much-needed restyling came in 1955, part of Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner’s heralded Forward Look makeover, an overnight transformation of all the company’s products. Notable among the longer, lower and wider Dodge redesigns were the luxurious Custom Royal models, which offered push-button transmission selectors, three-tone paint schemes, a variety of trim options and V-8 power.
1961 – Dodge entered the small-car (or ‘compact’) field for the first time in 1961 with the Lancer, a uniquely styled car that was almost two feet shorter and 700 pounds lighter than a full-size Dodge. This platform provided the basis for a series of Chrysler cars that were to capture 40 percent of the total American compact market in the early 1970s. Subsequent Dodge spin-offs included the 1963-76 Dart, the 1970-76 Swinger and the 1971-72 Demon.
1965 – Reed Brothers Dodge celebrated its 50th Anniversary.
A double cake-cutting ceremony at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington, DC was part of the special 5oth anniversary celebration honoring two Dodge dealers: C.C. Wine, founder of Wine Brothers, Harrisonburg, Va,. and Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers, Inc., of Rockville, Maryland. Both men, who received their franchise in 1915 from the Dodge Brothers – John and Horace Dodge – were awarded gold plaques for “a half-century of dependability in sales and service.”
1966 – New on showroom floors in 1966 was the first Dodge Charger, a fastback auto show concept car brought to life using the underpinnings of the mid-size Dodge Coronet. Dramatically restyled two years later, the 1968 Charger sold three times as well as its 1966 predecessor and became one of the company’s most memorable and successful vehicles.
1967 – Lewis Reed passed away on January 28, 1967. The Senate of Maryland adopted Resolution No. 10 expressing profound regrets over the untimely passing of Mr. Lewis Reed.
1968 – Lee Gartner’s two sons, Richard and Barry started hanging around the dealership and washing cars when they were around 12 years old. Through Elementary School, Junior High and High School they worked in all departments of the dealership from detailing cars, running parts, service writing, to working in the body shop and sales department. After graduating from High School, both brothers studied dealership management at Northwood Institute, now known as Northwood University.
Richard and Barry later took over management of the dealership in the Reed Brothers tradition: Richard oversaw the “front end” new and used car sales and Barry managed the “back end” Service, Parts and Body Shop.
When Lee Gartner retired and became Chairman of the Board, Richard was designated as Dealer Principal/President and Barry served as Vice President/General Manager, making Reed Brothers Dodge a third generation dealer.
1969 – America’s fondness for fast cars was effusively addressed by Dodge during the ‘muscle car’ era of the late ’60s and early 1970s. Placing large V-8 engines in intermediate-size cars with optional levels of accessorizing brought drag strip-style performance to street racers and distinctive collector cars to thousands of other buyers. Notable Dodge nameplates from the muscle car period include the Charger R/T (for Road and Track), the Coronet R/T, with a 440-cubic-inch Magnum V-8 engine as standard equipment, the Super Bee and, after 1970, the Challenger.
1970 – When the state widened the roads in 1970, Reed Brothers Dodge relocated from its original 1800 square foot facility at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike to a state-of-the-art 26,000 square foot showroom and Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep service complex on Route 355 at 15955 Frederick Road Rockville Maryland. In fact, Dodge Street in Rockville got its name because Reed Brothers Dodge was located there for so many years. The original site is now Veterans Park.
December 6, 1970 marked the Grand Opening of the new building. Reed Brothers held a dual celebration with an open house and the observance of their 55th anniversary.
Watergate Fame: Many celebrities have purchased cars at Reed Brothers Dodge, but the most infamous purchase was a van used in the 1972 Watergate scandal … that van was returned.
1974 – Lee Gartner’s eldest daughter, Jeanne, started working in the general office to learn the business. Jeanne is a graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory of Music where she earned a Bachelor of Music Education Degree in 1972. She received an Artist Diploma from the Conservatoire National de Région de Bordeaux, in Bordeaux, France in 1974, and later a Master of Music Performance Degree from The Catholic University of America in 1975.
Jeanne chose a different path, however, and pursued a career in The United States Air Force Band in Washington, DC for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant on July 1, 2006. She rejoined the family business in July 2006 as Internet Director and later served as Corporate Secretary and Director of Digital Marketing & Advertising.
1978 – Lee Iaccoca, just fired by Ford, was hired as chief executive of Chrysler.
First Chrysler Bailout
1979 – The first Chrysler Bailout. Chrysler was rescued from bankruptcy by Congress and President Carter. Reed Brothers survived the first Chrysler Bailout and resurgence under Lee Iacocca.
With the loan money in hand, Chrysler came out with a new line of front wheel drive cars know as the K-cars. These models did well and were soon followed by what would become a home run product for Chrysler: minivans. Following a $1.2 billion loss in 1979, the company lost $1.7 billion in 1980. By 1982 the company was able to generate a small profit. In 1983 Chrysler paid off the bailout out loan 7 years early and bought back the warrants given to the U.S. Treasury.
In December 1979 the U.S. Congress passed the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act that was signed by President Carter in January of 1980. The act gave a US government guarantee to $1.5 billion in loans to Chrysler to help them stay open until they could bring some new vehicles to market. The loans carried an interest rate of about 10%, which was below market at that time and the U.S. government received warrants for 14.4 million shares of Chrysler stock. Lee Iaccoca was brought in as CEO of Chrysler to manage the rebuilding.
1982 – Dodge introduced the compact Aries, its version of the famous Chrysler K-car that would prove instrumental to the company’s financial recovery following a series of financial reverses.
1983 – Sales improved dramatically with the debut of the well-received K-car platform and the introduction of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, the first modern minivans. Chrysler paid off government loans seven years early.
1987 – Lee Gartner’s youngest daughter, Bonnie Adams Warfield, joined the business after majoring in English at Randolph-Macon Women’s College and working as the classified advertising manager at the Gaithersburg Gazette newspaper. She later served as the F&I Manager, Director of Advertising and Corporate Secretary at Reed Brothers Dodge.
1990 – Reed Brothers Dodge celebrated its 75th Anniversary. Reed Brothers Dodge and Mopar Muscle Club International presented MOPARS PAST & PRESENT car show at the dealership.
1997 – Reed Brothers service has always been highly rated. When Daimler-Chrysler instituted the Five-Star designation for its elite dealers, Reed Brothers immediately was awarded its 5 stars. Reed Brothers has been cited for its superior service as long as it has been a Dodge dealer.
Sale of Chrysler to Daimler
1998 – Reed Brothers underwent an extensive $1M renovation and expansion that included state-of-the-art improvements in both sales and service.
Daimler acquired Chrysler in a stock swap for $26 billion. Under Daimler-Chrysler, the company was named Daimler-Chrysler Motors Company LLC, with its U.S. operations generally called the “Chrysler Group”. Chrysler, plagued with slumping sales and quality issues, is trying to restructure its way to profitability after a $680 million loss. Reed Brothers survived this setback as well.
1999 – Reed Brothers Dodge published their very first website. A copy of the original website still exists on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
2005 – Reed Brothers celebrated their 90th Anniversary. For any family business to make it 90 years and three generations is akin to Olympic Gold. How did they do it? Lewis and Edgar Reed had a motto: “Treat your customer as your friend and always do what you promise.”
Sale of Chrysler to Cerberus
2007 – Cerberus Capital Management bought Chrysler for $5 billion.
Soon after, America’s economy slid into recession. Due to poor sales and debt, Chrysler had to declare bankruptcy. The federal government intervened and eventually Dodge came under control of Fiat, a European automaker known for its small cars, an area where Dodge’s entries had been roundly criticized for mediocre build quality and unrefined performance.
2008 – In 2008, sales tanked 30 percent. With gasoline at $4 a gallon, big cars and trucks – Chrysler mainstays – were barely selling. Chrysler and General Motors Corp., once the world’s largest automakers, were running out of cash. They begged the government for help. With the company nearing financial collapse, President Bush agreed to lend Chrysler $4 billion.
Chrysler Files Bankruptcy
2009 – Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chrysler terminated 789, or about 25% of its dealerships by June 9. The cuts resulted in an estimated 38,000 job losses.
Whether a franchise was run by a second- or third-generation dealer, or is older than even Chrysler itself, didn’t seem to matter when Chrysler decided to cut dealerships ranks during their 2009 bankruptcy process. After almost 95 years selling Dodges, Reed Brothers was one of the 15 dealerships in Maryland and 789 dealerships nationwide notified by Chrysler that their franchise agreement would not be renewed.
Lee Gartner passed away June 19th 2009. Though Lee Gartner later ceded control to his sons, he rarely missed a day of work in almost 60 years. Until his untimely death in June 2009, he was a fixture at the dealership and could be seen around just about every day. He greeted friends and customers in the showroom as he did for almost half a century.
A Devastating Letter
The unraveling of the family business began on May 14, 2009: 26 days until court-ordered closure for the tattered but stubborn local landmark. A UPS envelope arrived at the dealership around 9:30 am. Five paragraphs on a form letter ordered Reed Brothers Dodge out of business by June 9, 2009.
“These are extraordinary times,” the letter said, “and they call for extraordinary efforts.”
“We wish there was a better way,” the letter from Chrysler said, “but there isn’t. We are grateful for the support you and your company have provided Chrysler over the years and we wish you the best under these circumstances.”
Adapting to Change
ROCKVILLE, MD, June 21, 2009 /24-7PressRelease/ —“Rockville, Maryland (MD) dealer is standing strong despite having received their Dodge franchise termination letter from Chrysler. Reed Brothers Automotive (formerly Reed Brothers Dodge) is standing firm and will remain in business.”
During this time when many car dealers had to close their doors, Reed Brothers made behind-the-scenes tweaks to withstand the economic downturn and the loss of their franchise. The signs standing outside on Rockville Pike still said Reed Brothers Dodge, but inside, a new business was forming: Reed Brothers Automotive.
A business landmark in the Rockville area since 1915, Reed Brothers underwent a change in its structure – and its name – but still catered to the local community as it had for decades. Reed Brothers changed its name from Reed Brothers Dodge to Reed Brothers Automotive, and continued on as a used car dealer and repair shop.
2012 – May 2012, Reed Brothers announced the closing of their 97-year old Rockville, Maryland dealership.
Source: Dodge Brand Heritage Chronology