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People > Scots of Windsor's Past > David Dunbar Buick

People: Scots of Windsor's Past

David Dunbar Buick (1854-1929):

David Dunbar Buick
David Dunbar Buick

Buick was born at 26 Green Street in Arbroath, Angus, Scotland. His father, Alexander, brought the family to the United States in 1856 and settled in Detroit. He passed away when David was just five years old.

At the age of fifteen, Buick went to work with Alexander Manufacturing Company, which made plumbing fixtures. When the business failed in 1882, Buick and his friend, William Sherwood, bought it and renamed it Buick and Sherwood, with Buick acting as its president. He improved many of the company's existing products, and even invented a method of bonding porcelain enamel to cast iron fixtures. This method, which is still employed in factories today, was a key step in the history of manufacturing.

In the 1890s, Buick became interested in engines, and began experimenting with the internal combustion engine. He neglected his business in favour of working with engines, and sold Buick and Sherwood for $100,000. In 1899, using the money from the sale of Buick and Sherwood as capital, he opened Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company, which made gas engines for agricultural and stationary use. He sold his first car to his machinist, Walter Marr, for $225.

Dunbar Tartan
Dunbar Tartan

Buick reorganized his company in 1902 as the Buick Manufacturing Company to make cars and engines. He and his machinist, Marr, developed the "valve-in-head" over head engine that would later make the company famous. Start-up was slow, however; by the end of 1902, they had only produced one car, and their developmental experiments had plunged them into debt.

The following year, Buick borrowed $5,000 from Detroit financiers Ben and Frank Briscoe, and reorganized his company yet again. The Buick Motor Company capitalized with a $100,000 stock value, with only $300 going to Buick, who was, nevertheless, still the president. The Briscoes worked out a deal with Buick that if he was able to repay them in four months, he would regain all of the stock; if not, he could lose all interest in the company. With four months coming to an end and unable to repay the loan, Buick sold his share to James Whiting of Flint Wagon Works and Company, and took on the lower position of company secretary. Whiting hired William Durant to be general manager of the Buick Motor Company in 1904; under his leadership, Buick would become the cornerstone of General Motors, of which Durant was to be the founder.

D. Dunbar Buick
D. Dunbar Buick

Durant and Buick, however, did not see eye-to-eye. After clashing over the merits of mass-production versus craftsmanship (of which Buick was a staunch advocate), Buick sold his stock to Durant in 1906 for $100,000 and returned to Detroit. His settlement was drained, however, with bad investments, and he gradually faded from the manufacturing scene, remaining in the shadows while the company he had created evolved into one of Detroit's premier automobile manufacturers.

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