Buick, Marr, Briscoe, Whiting

  • David Dunbar Buick was born in Scotland on September 17, 1854 and emigrated to the U.S. with his family two years later settling in Detroit, Michigan. When he was five, his father died and at age 16, Buick became an apprentice at the Detroit Alexander Manufacturing Company, a plumbing fixtures manufacturer.
  • In 1882 Buick and an old schoolmate, William Sherwood, bought the Alexander Co. business when it failed. They managed the new business successfully. Buick was an inventor; he developed thirteen practical plumbing ideas between 1881 and 1889 including a lawn sprinkler, valves, water closets, bathtubs, and a flushing device. Buick also received a patent for bonding enamel to cast iron.
  • In the mid-1890’s Buick became interested in gasoline engines. In 1899 he and his partner sold their plumbing business for $100,000.
  • Buick then organized a new firm naming it, Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company. Its purpose was to manufacture gasoline engines for farm and marine use. One of his first hires was a mechanic named Walter Marr.
  • Walter Marr was born in 1865 in Lexington, Michigan. His father died when he was six. In 1882 he served an apprenticeship with John Walker & Sons, an engineering firm in East Tawas, Michigan. In 1888 while working for Wicks Brothers, a steamboat engineering company, he built a one-cylinder engine. Marr built three engine powered vehicles from 1898-1900 – a four cylinder car, a motor powered tricycle, and a one-cylinder car with a three point suspension.
  • Buick met Marr at the Detroit Yacht Club where Marr was working as a mechanic and Buick was vice commodore of the Detroit Yacht Club. Buick hired Marr to be a foreman at his company.
  • At first, Marr built marine engines for Buick. Between 1899-1901 the first Buick car was built. Although Marr, Buick, and Buick’s son, Thomas, worked on the car, due to Marr’s mechanical experience, he probably contributed the most to actually building the car. The photo at the right, with Marr and his wife, is this car – Buick Automobile No. 1. Note that there is no steering wheel.
  • In 1901 Buick fired Marr and offered to sell the car to Marr for $300. Marr eventually bought the car for $225.
  • In 1901 or ’02 Buick reorganized the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company into the Buick Manufacturing company.
  • After the reorganization, Buick rehired Marr and with the hiring of a new machinist, Eugene C. Richards, together they designed and built an engine that would be called “Valve-In-Head.” This engine produced more horsepower than other engine designs of the day.
  • In 1903 Buick approached Benjamin Briscoe, a successful Detroit sheet-metal businessman and also a friend from his old plumbing business days, offering to make and sell him an automobile. Briscoe accepted and Buick Automobile No. 2, a single cylinder engine car was built. However, Buick called it Buick No. 1 despite the first Buick having been built and sold to Marr in 1901. Briscoe registered the automobile in Detroit on January 24, 1904.
  • On May 19, 1903 Briscoe persuaded Buick to restructure and re-incorporate his business into The Buick Motor Company. Briscoe provided $100,000 capital for the complicated agreement wherein Buick was to repay Briscoe for past debts by September or forfeit his interest in Buick Motor Company. Less than two months later, Briscoe entered into a contract on July 4, 1903 with Jonathan D. Maxwell forming the Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company to build automobiles.
  • On September 3, 1903 Buick Motor Company was sold to The Flint Wagon Works, a carriage manufacturer in Flint, Michigan. Briscoe and Buick both agreed to the sale. Buick did pay Briscoe for his past debts including interest.
  • James H. Whiting, a director of the Flint Wagon Works, became interested in the automobile as a way to expand his company. He purchased the small Detroit based Buick Motor Company essentially for their engine design, tooling, and automobile experience.
  • A new manufacturing plant for the Buick automobile operations was built on Kearsley Street in Flint Michigan (between the Flint River and the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks) and across Kearsley Street from the main Flint Wagon Works plant .
  • On January 16, 1904, David Buick, President of Buick Motor Company, and the Board of Directors of the Flint Wagon Works voted to dissolve the Detroit based firm and reincorporate a new firm with the same name, Buick Motor Company in Flint, Michigan with a capitalization of $75,000. All of the Detroit firm assets were transferred to Flint. David Buick became the secretary of the new motor company; Whiting became its president; and Mr. Charles M. Begole became its vice-president.
  • In April 1904 Buick rehired Walter Marr and by July they built Buick Automobile No. 3, a two cylinder engine, single seat – driver and passenger car. On July 9, Walter Marr and Thomas Buick, drove the car to Detroit and back without any major mechanical difficulties – 115 miles in 217 minutes (32 mph). Marr was so proud of this success that upon arrival to Flint he drove the car directly to the Flint Journal Newspaper to have their now famous photo taken which appears below-left. Based on this successful road test, Buick Motor Company began producing cars for sale to the public. However, their capital was depleted and they were facing insolvency. James Whiting recognized that his new motor company needed financial and managerial help if it were to survive.
  • From July through December 1904, Buick Motor Company produced 37 automobiles that were named the Buick Model B. Below-right is a photo of one of the first 37 production 1904 Buick Model B automobiles in front of the West Kearsley Flint Wagon Works Plant; Begole and Whiting are in the back seat, Thomas Buick is in the passenger front seat, and a Mr. Marion is behind the wheel.

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