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Graham Brothers Trucks and Graham-Paige Motors

by Terry Parkhurst,
updatedby Bill Watson

With the change from Dodge Ram to just “Ram” for Dodge trucks, it’s time to trace the lineage of Ram trucks back to the time before they were Dodges.

graham brothers

The Dodge truck legacy didn’t spring from the mind of either Walter P. Chrysler or even the Dodge brothers. Dodge Brothers never made a truck while the brothers were alive. Instead, the Dodge truck story began with three brothers named Graham.

Ray, Robert, and Joseph Graham, born in the 1880s, got their start with a successful glass factory in Evansville, Indiana in 1907; after they sold it, the glass factory became Libbey-Owens-Ford.

In 1916, seeing the need for a dependable truck, the Graham brothers entered the truck body business. By 1919, they had produced the “Truck-builder,” which today would be a called a glider, a basic platform from which a customer could spec a truck according to his or her needs. The Truck-builder consisted of a frame, cab, body, and a Torbensen internal gear drive; customers then built their own trucks, often using engines, transmissions and other components from passenger cars.

As their reputation grew, the Graham brothers decided to produce their own truck, complete with drivetrain. Thus was born Graham Brothers Trucks.

early Graham Bros. trucks

That venture proved so successful that it attracted the attention of Frederick J. Haynes, the president of Dodge Brothers now that the brothers had both passed. Haynes saw an opportunity to get Dodge into the rapidly expanding market of the 1920s for heavy duty trucks; and it could be done without disrupting production of Dodge automobiles.

The Graham brothers were receptive, agreeing in 1921to build trucks with Dodge engines and drivetrains, selling them through the Dodge dealer network. The first ones were 1.5 ton pickups, followed quickly by a one ton model, still powered by that same four cylinder engine.

Dodge Brothers bought a controlling interest (51%) in Graham Brothers in 1925, picking up the rest in 1926; they gained plants in Evansville and Stockton, California. Ray A. Graham became general manager, while Joseph C. Graham became vice-president of manufacturing; and Robert C. Graham became sales manager of Dodge Brothers itself.

The three Graham Brothers were now part of a much larger, more well-funded organization, with a large dealer body — but only for two years, before they left.

One immediate result was the assembly of both Dodge Brothers cars and Graham Brothers trucks in a new Toronto plant in 1928 and 1929; it was closed when the Chrysler Centre plant in Windsor opened.

When Chrysler Corporation purchased Dodge Brothers, they also gained Graham Brothers trucks. At that point, trucks with a Dodge Brothers nameplate were rated at a half ton, and all heavier-duty trucks were sold under the Graham Brothers name. In 1930 all Graham Brothers trucks became Dodge trucks.

Graham Brothers trucks

The Graham brothers had already left Dodge Brothers, acquiring Paige Motor Company in 1927; from 1928 to 1930, Paige automobiles were built under the name of Graham-Paige, and after this, the cars were renamed to just Graham (although Paige remained on company literature and commercial vehicles).

The Graham brothers did well at first; in 1929, they sold 77,000 cars. They’d expanded from Indiana, setting up a new factory in Dearborn, Michigan and down in Florida. But like many automakers, 1929 would be their best year; the stock market crashed in October, presaging the greatest economic downturn in America since the Panic of 1873. The Paige commercial vehicles lasted into 1931, with sales falling off rapidly.

Dodge Brothers fire engine

The Graham brothers were approached by a fellow by the name of DeVaux, who had acquired the tools and dies for the Cord 810/812 and was trying to get it build. Graham-Paige turned it down in 1937; Hupp then built it, after shortening the front end by ten inches, changing the floor to accept rear wheel drive, and adding a more rounded nose. It was dubbed the Skylark, and 31 pre-production cars were made in 1939; but Hupp ran out of cash when it came to building a one-piece roof, to replace Cord’s seven-piece, largely hand-made affair.

Graham approached Hupp about sharing the costs, as they had with the Reo body in 1936-37; the car would have Hupp’s own flathead six. Graham-Paige did not have the money to retool the roof either, and the money ran out in September, 1940.

The war saved Graham-Paige. Graham stopped building cars in September of 1940, and moved on to war contracts. Throughout WWII, Graham prospered with $20 million worth of defense contracts.

After the war, Hupp became a big name in household appliances, eventually being acquired by White in 1967. The name “Hupp” disappeared from the corporate listings in the late 1990s.

In 1944, Graham-Paige, led by Joseph W. Frazer (formerly of Willys-Overland), proposed to build two vehicles when the war ended. The Graham was to be a low-priced, rear-engined, car while a new nameplate was to the introduced in the medium price market - the Frazer.

Frazer did not have the resources to built the car, and met with Henry J. Kaiser; in 1947, when they realized they would not be able to meet their agreement with Kaiser-Frazer, Graham-Paige sold all their interests in all their cars to Kaiser-Frazer, and sold their auto plant on Warren Avenue, Dearborn, to Chrysler. The Warren Avenue plant built bodies for DeSoto in mid-1950 and then made the first Hemi V8 engines. DeSoto production moved to Jefferson Avenue for the 1959 model year, and Warren Avenue was converted to Imperial until the end of the 1961 model year. (Details on Kaiser cars)

Graham-Paige’s auto business wound up where Graham Brothers had ended up. Kaiser-Frazer, through Willys and AMC, eventually (aside from farm equipment and military vehicles) showed up at Chrysler as AMC/Jeep.

Graham-Paige finally dropped the term “Motors” from its name and became a closed investment corporation that later operated Madison Square Garden and several professional New York athletic teams, making far more money than it had with cars. In 1962, the Graham-Paige Corporation renamed itself to the Madison Square Garden Corporation.

Also see:


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Dodge ambulances Mopar squads, 1980-2000