by Kelsey Wright (based on an article in the 1952 Chrysler Tonic and other materials)
Joe Fields was a member of the early Chrysler team, one of the distinguished originals who helped to make Chrysler Corporation the second largest producer of vehicles in the industry. He was, famously, the man who arranged to have the first Chrysler cars displayed in the Commodore Hotel lobby during the 1924 New York Auto Show — an extremely fortunate move.
In the 1928 annual report, Joseph E. Fields was the second officer listed — just beneath Walter P. Chrysler himself.
Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Joseph E. Fields had a public school education and then attended business school in the region. He started off his career as a salesman selling farm implements. Fields showed a remarkable aptitude for this line of work; he was a skilled salesman. He enjoyed the long hours and constant travel, and it wasn't long before he realized that he would be able to succeed in a larger field.
Fields joined the National Cash Register Company (NCR, which flourished until a takeover) under Hugh Chalmers. Fields was awarded a golden pencil as a reward for making the Hundred Point Club of the National Cash Register Company.
When Chalmers decided to quit the cash register business in favor of the automobile industry, he asked Fields to go with him as a local distributor in Fargo, Fields's home town. With all of his local connections, Fields was able to convince many of his neighbors to buy a car from Chalmers, in the early days when it was still replacing the horse.
Chalmers soon brought Fields to work in Detroit as a member of the factory staff. Fields began traveling all over the country organizing dealerships and preparing the country for the huge automobile outbreak that was about to take place. The experience he had gained while traveling earned him a position as Director of Sales Activities in the factory in Detroit.
Eventually, Fields left Chalmers to become Sales Manager of the Hupp Motor Car Company (makers of the Huppmobile). After four years at Hupp, he decided to join Liberty Motor Car Company, a company that some of his friends had organized, as the sales manager. But in the midst of a post-war depression, even an expert salesman like Joe Fields couldn't overcome the obstacles created by the economy, and the company failed.
Fields landed back at Chalmers — now Maxwell-Chalmers — which Walter P. Chrysler had been rescuing, following the successful turnaround of Willys-Overland. Even at Willys, Chrysler had begun working on a plan he had had for years, bringing out a revolutionary car (designed largely by the team of Breer, Skelton, and Zeder) under his name. This car premiered at the New York automobile show in 1922, the same year Fields re-joined Maxwell-Chalmers.
Joe Fields was an active member of the team that created the Chrysler car, but he was momentarily shocked by the price that Chrysler was planning on asking for the car. The car was listed at $1,595, the same price as the corresponding body style of the current leader in this class. However, the Chrysler had a noticeably shorter wheelbase, and Fields feared people would expect a lower price. Regardless, Fields tackled the job and ended up selling about 32,000 Chryslers, a new record for a debut, and about 50,000 Maxwells. In 1925, sales reached 106,000, 170,000 in 1926 and 200,000 in 1927.
Because of Fields's extensive network of contacts, he was highly valuable to the Chrysler team. He was able to convince a large number of dealers to handle the new Chrysler car, and more than 100 of the dealers that he signed to Chrysler in 1924 were still on the roster when he died in 1951. Fields was able to maintain the Chrysler name through some of the hardest economic times that the United States has faced, including the Great Depression, the recession of late 1937 and 1938, and World War II.
When Chrysler Corporation was formed in 1925, Joe Fields was made a vice president and soon after that, he was made a Director.
In 1928, Chrysler designed a new car, for which the company claimed was no other match in the market, a six-cylinder model priced well below $1,000. In April of that same year, Fields was named President of the DeSoto Corporation to build this new line of cars. In the first year, DeSoto sold 81,065 cars, a record for a new automobile.
1928 also saw the launch of a new line of trucks. As he had started in Fargo, North Dakota, it’s likely that Fields was responsible for naming the new Fargo Motor Corporation, charged with building and selling commercial trucks, starting with the Plymouth-based Fargo Packet,.
Fields remained as President of DeSoto until March of 1931. He then returned to Chrysler Division as President in the depth of the Depression, but he was one of the first to benefit from the increase in sales in 1934. Once business was booming again, the demands on Fields became so great that he was forced to step down from his presidency. He did not leave the business, however, staying on to manage expanding sales activities. From 1937 until 1943, Fields worked in Highland Park, dealing with the Corporation's general sales program.
According to his obituary in Chrysler’s employee magazine, Joe Fields was not well liked by everybody, but he was universally respected and loved by those who got to know the real Joe Fields, whose secret fear was that "the world would discover that he was a man of infinite kindness of heart and a highly sentimental man." Walter Chrysler called him a "good-looking fellow and a great salesman" who never learned to take “no” for an answer.
Fields believed that success for the individual could only be achieved by a well-functioning team. He felt it was more important to be known as a good leader than a good man. At times, his obit writer said, this made him appear to be harsh and unreasonable, but he was always working for the benefit of the company. Nearly everyone Fields worked with knew that he could have a "sharpness of tongue" and a "flaming competitive spirit." He had the potential to rip someone apart one second and then rush to help someone in trouble in the next.
Fields was also an honest man, and he felt a great responsibility towards the customers of his company.
Throughout his business life, Fields remained a bachelor, but three weeks after his retirement Fields married Miriam Howey Johnson, an old friend from Fargo. Fields still maintained a dairy farm in St. Clair, Michigan, not far from his home on the St. Clair River. In the winter, he and Mrs. Fields traveled extensively to places such as South America. Fields played golf occasionally and was a member of the Detroit Club, the Country Club of Detroit, the Detroit Athletic Club, the St. Clair River Country Club, and the Players, a Detroit amateur theatrical association.
His most prized posessions were a coffee service manufactured in Sheffield, England presented to him upon his retirement; an illuminated scroll talking of the appreciation Chrysler Corporation had for his service; and a silver serving tray presented to him by the top Chrysler executives.
Fields stayed on the Chrysler Corporation Board of Directors until his sudden death on March 12, 1951, at age 72, from a heart attack — dying just one month after leading engineer Frederick Zeder. He was in Palm Springs, California, in the home of his sister, Teresa Fields. Joe Fields was buried in Fargo, his hometown.
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