The First Plymouth Automobile Debuted on This Date 94 Years Ago
The first Plymouth automobile was introduced on July 7, 1928. Plymouth was Chrysler Corporation’s first entry in the low-priced field, which at the time was already dominated by Chevrolet and Ford. Plymouths were actually priced slightly higher than their competition, but offered all standard features such as internal expanding hydraulic brakes that the competition did not provide. While the original purpose of the Plymouth was to serve a lower-end marketing niche, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the marque helped significantly in ensuring the survival of the Chrysler Corporation in a decade when many other car companies failed. Beginning in 1930, Plymouths were sold by all three Chrysler divisions (Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge).
Plymouth sales were a bright spot during this dismal automotive period, and by 1931 Plymouth rose to the number three spot among all cars. Plymouth almost surpassed Ford in 1940 and 1941 as the second most popular make of automobiles in the U.S.
In 1957, Virgil Exner’s new Forward Look design theme, produced cars with much more advanced styling than Chevrolet or Ford. 1957 total production soared to 726,009, about 200,000 more than 1956, and the largest output yet for Plymouth. However, the 1957–1958 Forward Look models suffered from poor materials, spotty build quality and inadequate corrosion protection; they were rust-prone and greatly damaged Chrysler’s reputation.
Most Plymouth models offered from the late 1970s onward, such as the Volaré, Acclaim, Laser, Neon, and Breeze, were badge-engineered versions of Chrysler, Dodge, or Mitsubishi models. By the 1990s, Plymouth had lost much of its identity, as its models continued to overlap in features and prices with Dodges. Plymouth’s product offerings and buyer appeal, and sales continued to fall.
By the late 1990s, only four vehicles were sold under the Plymouth name: the Voyager/Grand Voyager minivans, the Breeze mid-size sedan, the Neon compact car, and the Prowler sports car, which was to be the last model unique to Plymouth. The Prowler came about as part of Chrysler’s efforts (the last as it turned out) to differentiate Plymouth from the rest of its lineup in hopes of keeping the brand alive. It was hoped that it would be received well enough to garner some attention, some of which might spill over into some of their other models.
Plymouth rarely exceeded 200,000 cars per year after 1990. Consequently, DaimlerChrysler decided to drop the make after a limited run of 2001 models. This was announced on November 3, 1999.
Lewis Reed as a Chauffeur-Mechanic
The year is 1910 and you’ve just purchased a brand new automobile. To show it off for the first time, you’ve hired a knowledgeable chauffeur. You sit on a padded seat while the chauffeur tends to the engine. Though it takes a while to start up, your new ride can reach around 37 mph. The ride is a bumpy one, and you could probably walk faster than the car travels. Ooops! One of the wheels has popped off as you go around a bend. Chauffeurs were not only trained to be proficient with their driving skills, but they also had to keep the luxury automobiles in tip top shape, which is where Lewis Reed’s mechanic training – a vital skill in the early days of motoring – would have come into play.
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, Lewis Reed’s love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. At the dawn of the early 20th century, society was transitioning from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. Having grown up in a blacksmith family, he was well positioned to move to the new technology. The 1910 census indicates that 23-year-old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist. Lewis worked as a chauffeur from roughly 1910-1914, before he became involved in the business of selling and repairing automobiles.
Chauffeur-mechanics of the early 1900s were the first group to earn a living working on automobiles. Wealthy people employed private chauffeur-mechanics to not only drive, but also maintain and repair their large, expensive automobiles — rather than learn to do it themselves. The vehicles of the time came with mobile toolboxes often resembling a small hardware store tucked away in the trunk. The early 1900s Pierce-Arrow toolkit included extra intake and exhaust valves, not exactly your typical roadside service. During the height of travel season, Spring through Fall, oil changes were required almost weekly. As you can easily surmise, there had to be someone to keep track of all of the maintenance and upkeep of the vehicle as well as the daily driving.
The novelty of the motor car led many manufacturers to create clothes that were specifically marketed for the automobile driver and his or her passengers. Lewis Reed wore a typical chauffeur’s uniform of the time. His motoring outfit was taken from the military uniform, combining a single or double breasted hip length coat and a pair of knicker pants with tall boots and a traditional driver’s cap. Gauntlet gloves were worn while driving and goggles were worn in open air cars. Goggles obviously protected ones’ eyes from flying pebbles and dirt, but heavy-weight boots ensured that the driver could, when necessary, get out to push a stalled car or fix a punctured tire.
Savvy marketers were especially quick to recognize that automobile owners had “more money to spend” than non-car owners. As these marketers gleefully noted, car owners “spend…more freely than non-[car] owners.” Convincing these customers of the need for special clothes was not too difficult. In fact, some car owners spent nearly as much on their motoring clothes as they did on their cars. The ladies in the photograph with parasols could have used them as an attractive way of shielding themselves from the sun’s rays, or to keep the dust from the dirt roads off their faces.
In October of 1915, Lewis Reed opened his Dodge dealership on Rockville Pike, less than one year after the first-ever Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line. Reed Brothers Dodge provided “wheels” to many families for most of the 20th century during a period when the number of motorcars was rising rapidly throughout Maryland. Few businesses survived the Great Depression and two world wars, but Reed Brothers Dodge eventually emerged from the gauntlet of the 20th century as the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history and one of the oldest in the United States.
Happy Birthday to Our Founder, Lewis Reed
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 entire United States.
Lewis Reed was just 27 years old when he started selling cars built by brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. Few people jumped onto the Dodge Brothers bandwagon earlier than Lewis Reed, and not many have lasted longer. 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. Lewis Reed was the first to sell Dodge cars in Montgomery County, Maryland and his company was the first Gulf gas dealer in the Washington, D.C. area. During the early years, Reed Brothers represented several franchise nameplates along with Dodge, including Oldsmobile, Hudson and Essex. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917 through 1923.
Lewis Reed was a member of the Gaithersburg Grace Methodist Church where he served as a member and Chairman of the Board of Stewards, a Lay Leader, and President of the Men’s Bible Class. He was one of nine original incorporators of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Volunteer Fire Department when it was created by charter in 1928. He was a Charter Member and Past President of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Fire Department and a member of the advisory board of the Rockville Branch of the First National Bank of Maryland. He belonged to the Masonic Lodge of Rockville, the Pentalpha Chapter of the Eastern Star and the Rockville Rotary Club. Before opening his Dodge dealership in 1915, Lewis Reed was one of the earliest and most prolific photographers in Montgomery County. Many of his photographs are now part of Montgomery History’s photo archives. 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.
Prior to World War I, Lewis Reed’s love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. Chauffeurs were not only trained to be proficient with their driving skills, but they also had to keep the luxury automobiles in tip top shape which is where his mechanic training would have come into play. He received his training as an automobile mechanic at the Pierce Arrow factory at Buffalo, New York, the Dodge and Hudson factories at Detroit and the Washington Auto College.
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, expressing “the deepest regret and sympathy of every member of this body,” describing Reed as “a kindly and loyal person completely devoted to his duties” which he carried out “with fairness and human understanding.” The resolution was sponsored by Senator Thomas M. Anderson, Jr. and Senator Louise Gore.
When you look back and consider what has taken place in the world in the past 100 years or so, you gain a perspective of what Lewis Reed faced. He overcame a lot of obstacles throughout his life. He steered his dealership through World War I, The Great Depression and World War II. When Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years and many dealers went bankrupt, he converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE Washing Machines, Westinghouse Radios, and other large appliances. Reed Brothers Dodge occupied two locations, the original at the Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike intersection and the second at 15955 Frederick Road in front of the Shady Grove Metro.
Lewis Reed set an outstanding example through his success, but more importantly through his sacrifices and commitment to the community he served. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays tribute to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.
The First Dodge Automobile Debuted in 1914
One hundred and seven years ago on this date –November 14, 1914 — the very first Dodge car, “Old Betsy”, rolled off the assembly line. On that day, the Dodge Brothers (Horace and John) were photographed riding in the rear seat of the first car to bear their last name. 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. Total production for 1914 was a mere 249 touring cars. The following year Dodge offered a two-passenger roadster which also sold for $785 and the plant went into full production.
According to “The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars, and the Legacy” by Charles K. Hyde, here’s the full story:
The widely accepted history of the initial production of early Dodge Brothers automobiles in November 1914 is at odds with much of the evidence about the earliest Dodge Brothers cars. Automotive historians have thought that the first production car, later named “Old Betsy,” came off the assembly line at the Hamtramck factory on 14 November 1914. Guy Ameel, superintendent of final assembly for Dodge Brothers since the start of automobile production, served as John and Horace’s chauffeur that day. With the brothers in the back seat, Ameel stopped the first Dodge Brothers car in front of John Dodge’s mansion on Boston Boulevard in Detroit and a photographer recorded this important moment.
“Old Betsy” was more likely an experimental prototype car assembled several months before 14 November 1914 and not a production car at all…
The Dodge Brothers began an aggressive advertising campaign to promote their new automobiles and to attract potential dealers to sell their cars. Few people jumped onto the Dodge Brothers bandwagon earlier than Lewis Reed, and not many have lasted longer.
Lewis Reed received his franchise to sell Dodge Brothers Motor Cars from John and Horace Dodge in October 1915; less than one year after the first Dodge Model-30 rolled off the assembly line for $785. He was just 27 years old. Since then, the business grew and transformed into the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history and one of the oldest in the entire United States.
Honoring a Legacy
When Lewis Reed opened his Dodge dealership 106 years ago in October 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. Since then, the business grew and transformed from a small-scale garage and dealership into one of the largest and most recognized commercial enterprises on Rockville Pike.
Lewis and Edgar Reed’s business philosophy was simple:
Treat your customer as your friend and always do what you promise.
The photo above shows the Rockville Garage where Lewis Reed got his start by becoming a partner with Robert L. and Griffith Warfield in 1914. The Warfield brothers had purchased this building in July 1915, from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. In 1917, Lewis Reed bought out the Warfield brothers’ interest and continued the business until 1919 when he was joined by his brother, Edgar. The firm’s name was changed to Reed Brothers upon a suggestion of the late Judge Edward C. Peter.
Reed Brothers handled the first Dodge cars placed on the market in Montgomery County, Maryland. The company continued for two generations later under the Gartner family and sold tens of thousands of cars to generations of local drivers. The late George M. Hunter, President of the Montgomery County National Bank, purchased the first automobile sold by the Rockville Garage.
Initially, Reed Brothers sold Oldsmobile and Hudson along with Dodge. The first Plymouth was built in 1928 and Plymouths were sold at Reed Brothers from 1930 until 1969, when the Plymouth car was given to the Chrysler dealers. In 1928, when Walter P. Chrysler took over after Horace and John Dodge died, Lewis Reed became an original member of the Chrysler family. By 1929, when the stock market crashed and Great Depression began, nobody could afford to buy cars. Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard and Reed Brothers had to rely on its Service Department to make ends meet. But, the dealership survived through these lean times.
During World War II, Reed Brothers Dodge had virtually no new cars to sell for three and a half years. Tires and parts were rationed. Strict price ceilings governed used-car sales. Used cars were really hard to find, because people couldn’t afford to give them up. So, most dealerships had to rely on their service and parts departments to fix the cars people couldn’t replace. Empty showrooms were a problem. 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, Westinghouse Radios, and other large appliances to fill the gap.
The dealership survived The Great Depression, World War II, the first Chrysler Bailout and resurgence under Lee Iacocca, the sale of Chrysler to Daimler and the sale to the private equity firm Cerberus. Reed Brothers has, in fact, survived everything but Chrysler itself. Whether a franchise is 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 dealership 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.
The dealership’s historical legacy continues to this day on the site of its former location at 15955 Frederick Road in Rockville, which is now the Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments. Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to this history with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers Dodge dealership.
Tom Keady, President of the Bainbridge Companies said:
Honoring the rich historical legacy of this site was extremely important to us. With the sculpture and the floor plan names, our residents and visitors feel a real connection to the site’s past, and we pay tribute to Reed Brothers Dodge’s role in creating a vibrant Rockville.
A sculpture now installed on the property pays tribute to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history. More than 20 feet high, and over 6 feet wide, the public art is inspired by 1939 Dodge headlamps and the fender of a 1957 Dodge pickup truck. Along with the sculpture, a set of Hemi Piston street lamps line the walkway towards the metro station. Historical elements have been incorporated into the interior design of the development which carries out a common theme of dealership history and automobiles.