Can You Guess Which Major Auto-Maker Used to Be in the Bathtub Business?
Businesses with Very Odd Beginnings
It’s not a secret that many successful businesses learn to adapt and change through the years. Relying on a single source of income makes you vulnerable to the inevitable season of change. Many of today’s largest businesses have shifted their business model to survive through decades. Would you have ever guessed that:
- McDonalds started out as a hot dog stand. Only 21 years later the company start selling hamburgers.
- Toyota originally began making manual and machine powered looms. 7 years later Sakichi Toyoda entered the automotive market.
- American Express (credit card company) began as an express mail delivery company.
- UPS originally started out as a simple letter-carrier service delivering letters in the local neighborhood and eventually evolved into a world-wide operation complete with their own shipping airline.
- Nokia originally began as a wood pulp mill located in Southern Finland.
Through the years, these companies have changed and adapted to the environment. One not so suspecting company had a very different background. I’ll start by giving you this hint to see if you can guess which auto manufacturer it is.
This maker is epitomized by the Boatail Riviera.
The Beginnings of Buick Motors
David Dunbar Buick was born in 1854. After emigrating from Scotland, his parents eventually settled in Detroit. David had his first taste of business after developing and patenting a process to bond porcelain to iron with a vitreous enamel. This came at the perfect time when white porcelain tubs were highly desirable. Buick & Sherwood Manufacturing Company was owned by David Buick and his partner William Sherwood. That's right, elegant clawfoot tubs were largely popularized by the same man that brought you the Regal.
From Bathtubs to Buicks
In 1899, something caught the eye of the young entrepreneurs. Gas powered engines were just beginning to take off. It was a time when automobiles were seen as a new technology. Most people still didn't know what they were. Ever the exploring mind, David sold his plumbing business for $100,000 and formed the Buick Auto Vim and Power Co. to make engines for farm and stationary use. His first project was improving the mechanics of the L-head internal combustion engine. Along with Walter Marr, the two developed the overhead valve engine prototype. This would change the automotive industry for decades to come.
Buick Auto Vim and Power Co. Struggles to Stay in Business
David Buick was forced to divvy up his business in a stock sharing arrangement. Ben and Frank Briscoe provided financial backing in exchange for a share in the company which was renamed the Buick Motor Car Company in 1903.
The following year, William Durant took full control of Buick Motor Car as General Manager and Director. When this happened, David Buick had little to any control over the company he had founded just 4 years ago. He retired from the company in 1908 and departed to California. In total, the founder of Buick only contributed to 120 Buick's before he left the company.
The Founder of Buick Motors Dies Without a Penny
Even with all of his inventive prowess, David Buick had a hard time managing his business. On March 3, 1929 he succumbed to cancer at Harper Hospital without a penny to his name. Still, Mr. Buick was insistent that he was not bitter over the misfortunes of the company he founded. He stated the followed in an interview a year before his death:
" Success consists in looking ahead and forgetting the past. I just got a few bad breaks. Anyway, money is useless, except to give one mental security."
-David Dunbar Buick, Founder of Buick Motors and Former Bathtub Maker
This just goes to show you how one man continued to follow his creative passion, wherever it took him. After leaving the company, he also tried his hand in real estate, 2 additional automotive enterprises, and even served as an instructor at the Detroit School of Trades. The next time you see a Buick rolling down the street or find yourself taking a dip in a porcelain tub, you'll know who to thank; Mr. David Dunbar Buick.
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