Story of the Week

Posted: 07.28.2014
The 1918 Cadillac A Historic Achievement
By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection

 

 

The year 1918 was a time when American men and women were engaged with the war time activities in Europe during World War I and President Woodrow Wilson was serving in the White House. Just to put things in perspective, in 1918, five pounds of flour cost $.35 cents and a new home cost the consumer $4,821. It was this year that Cadillac made a significant contribution to the United States and the world during World War I.

 

 

 

As we commemorate the centennial of the beginning of the great war in 1914, a rare find hidden in a garage in Washington state reminds us of the connection between military production and the automobile industry. This surviving 1918 Cadillac U.S. 1257X is "a gift from the people of 100 years ago" said Mark Gessler, President of the Historic Vehicle Association at a ceremony at the GM Heritage Center.  The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) works to document historically significant vehicles as part of the national registry at the Library of Congress.  This Cadillac is the 4th vehicle to receive the designation.

This particular 1918 Cadillac type 57 has been documented to have been owned by Reverend John H. Denison of New York who sailed overseas with the vechile after it had been dontated to the U.S. Military. Among others, it seated Eleanor Roosevelt (Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.) as she made her way around France helping to establish the military leave system.

 

 

Amazingly, it has survived almost 100 years.  The vehicles' owner/steward, Marc Lassen, made it clear that it is being preserved not restored.  The rugged worn seats and distinct paint job will be maintained. The pronounced bullet hole in its side will be left to tell the stories of its war-time contribution.

During the war time activities, Cadillac vehicles played a significant role in supporting America’s efforts. For example, the US military used standard 1918 Cadillac seven-passenger models for official use only. General Pershing would often use a popular Type 57 Town limousine for his everyday assignments. Cadillac also offered a model called the Searchlight car which served as the transporter for portable searchlight units during the war. This unit’s range could highlight areas up to 15 miles during some of the darkest periods of war.


Another Cadillac model used during the war was the two- and-a half Artillery tractor that proved to be very effective. Cadillac built a total of 1,157 of these artillery tractors for overseas service and production all of which proved to be great assets during the war. Many Cadillac vehicles were also used as ambulances. The company also provided key innovative products like the first full American armored car.

The years of America's involvement in World War I created a historical milestone for Cadillac. Lt. Col. George H. Johnson of the Canadian Army wrote that his Cadillac 44582 was the first Allied car to cross the Rhine on November 18. Second Lt. W. Proctor of the Allied Expeditionary Force wrote “(I) have sent fifty Cadillacs over to Paris to meet President Wilson. Nothing but Cadillacs in his convoy. Some car!”

On November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed that ended the four year war and even still, Cadillac was selling a great deal of models. A new Cadillac Touring model introduced that year cost the consumer $ 2,805 dollars to buy. Cadillac had bolstered its potion but still maintained its competitive high-end automotive sales.

Companies like Packard and Peerless automobiles also helped to lead the way in sales and customer satisfaction. Packard’s iconic advertising slogan was “Ask the man who owns one”. Packard sold many automobiles with a price ranging from $3,450 and $3,850 in Detroit. The Peerless Automobile was manufactured by the Peerless Motor Car Company and was licensed under Kardo company patents in Cleveland, Ohio. The Peerless automobile company not only produced automobiles but great trucks as well. In 1915, the average consumer could purchase a new Peerless automobile for $2,250.

After the war, Cadillac focused on building the world’s most modern automotive factory. On August 6th, 1919 ground was broken for the development of the Clark Avenue factory in Detroit. The location was formerly occupied by the American Car and Foundry Company which had 46 acres of land for future development. This site was originally selected by Henry M. Leland. Once the ground was broken, the creative plans were ready for the buildings to contain 2,100,000 square feet (48 acres) of floor space. The design and construction of this building was drafted by the DuPont Engineering Company. In 1921, Cadillac moved into its new factory which was one of the most innovative facilities in the world. In turn, this steadily fueled Cadillac sales. The 1918 Cadillac was a historical milestone throughout automotive history.

After the war, Cadillac Clearing House said this about Cadillac cars, “The performance of Cadillac motor cars in the war zone eclipses all previous Cadillac achievements. We are proud of every one of the many Cadillacs at the fighting fronts. During a year of service overseas they have acquitted themselves in a manner to deserve the Government's citation for a unique distinction, the official appointment of the Cadillac as the quality motor car in the standard equipment of the United States Army and Navy”. Cadillac had many great examples of innovative ideas and developments which have been important factors in setting the standard of excellence that Cadillac has today.


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: McCall M.P. Walter. “80 Years of Cadillac La Salle”. Crestline Publishing 1982. Hendry D. Maurice & the editors of Automobile Quarterly. “Cadillac Standard of the World The Complete History”. 1983. Report of General Motors Corporation Fiscal Year ended December 31, 1918. Cadillac News- Bulletin of the Factory of the Cadillac Motor Car Company 1924.) and the Historic Vehicle Association.

Historic Vehicle Association is a membership organization dedicated to promoting the cutural and histrical significance of the automobile and preserving the future of our automotive past. Learn more at www.historicvehicle.org.

For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org

If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email mcadmin@motorcities.org.


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