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Graham Brothers Trucks and Graham-Paige Motors

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

graham brothersThe idea of Dodge trucks — and their legacy of being able to do almost anything — didn't spring from the mind of either Walter P. Chrysler or even the Dodge brothers. (Indeed, Dodge Brothers never made a truck while the brothers were alive.)

Dodge trucks actually began with three brothers named Graham.

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

In 1916, seeing the need for a good, dependable truck to serve people such as themselves, 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; this allowed customers to build 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. 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 proved receptive. In April of 1921, an agreement was signed that would allow the Grahams to build trucks with Dodge engines and drivetrains, to be sold through the Dodge dealer network. Thus, in 1921, Graham Brothers started selling 1.5 ton pickups through Dodge dealers, using Graham bodies and Dodge parts. A one ton model showed up later in the 1920s, still powered by that same four cylinder engine, and Dodge Brothers bought a controlling interest (51%) in Graham Brothers in 1925, picking up the rest in 1926. At that point, Graham Brothers had plants in Evansville, IN and Stockton, CA. 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 Inc.

The three Graham Brothers were now part of a much larger, more well-funded organization, with a large dealer body. However, they seem to have preferred being entrepreneurs; their stint with Dodge Brothers lasted only two years.

One immediate result of the combination was the assembly of both Dodge Brothers cars and Graham Brothers trucks in a new Toronto plant (which was closed when the Chrysler Centre plant in Windsor opened). Both Dodge Brothers cars and Graham Brothers trucks were made in the plant from 1928 to 1929.

When Chrysler Corporation purchased Dodge Brothers, they also gained Graham Brothers trucks. At that point, any truck with a Dodge Brothers nameplate was rated at 1/2 ton; all larger trucks were sold under the Graham Brothers name. On January 1, 1929, all Graham Brothers trucks became Dodge trucks, and a new legacy began. [Note: Bill Watson wrote, “1930: Graham Brothers Truck and Dodge Brothers Truck become Dodge Truck and the Dodge Brothers car becomes Dodge. Both, however, continue to use the Dodge Brothers Star of David emblem to the end of the 1938 model year.”]

Chrysler, at that time, already had Dodge, DeSoto, Plymouth, Chrysler, and Imperial, not to mention Fargo in Canada. Cutting a low-volume truck brand must have been attractive at the time.

Graham Brothers trucks

The Graham brothers left Dodge Brothers to acquire Paige Motor Company in 1927, perhaps seeing the 1928 sale of Dodge Brothers to Chrysler Corporation coming up. From 1928 to 1930, Paige automobiles were built under the name of Graham-Paige; after this, the name of the cars became Graham, although Paige remained on company literature and commercial vehicles.

The Graham brothers did well in the auto market, initially. In 1929, they sold 77,000 cars. They'd expanded their operations 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.

Graham-Paige built Paige commercial vehicles briefly, in 1930 and 1931. Some claim that Chrysler forced them to cease building commercial vehicles due to an old agreement with Dodge Brothers, but looking at the serial number spans for the Paige vehicles, Bill Watson believes that the lack of sales was the true cause.

Dodge Brothers fire engine

A fellow by the name of DeVaux acquired the tools and dies for the Cord 810/812 and attempted to find a company to build it. He approached Graham-Paige late in 1937, who turned it down, and then Hupp, who agreed. Hupp had the front end shortened (10”), the floor reengineered to accept rear wheel drive, and a more rounded nose designed. Hupp built some 31 pre-production Skylark models built in 1939, with mass production to commence for 1940. But Hupp did not have the money to tool a one-piece roof to replace Cord’s seven-piece affair that needed lots of hand work with lead to fill the seams.

At this point Graham-Paige had admitted defeat with the “Spirit of Motion,” but not with the auto industry. Graham approached Hupp regarding sharing the tooling late in 1939, similar to what Graham did with the Reo body in 1936-37. It was agreed Graham would build cars for both Hupp and Graham with the Hupp version using Hupp’s own flathead six. But Graham-Paige did not have the money to retool the roof either. Thus 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 Consolidated 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 recognized he did not have enough money to build the cars, and needed more plant space. He met with Henry J. Kaiser, who had money and wanted to build a car. In 1947, when they realized they would not be able to meet their agreement with Kaiser-Frazer, Graham-Paige sold all their interests in the Frazer car (and all other cars) to Kaiser-Frazer, selling their auto plant on Warren Avenue, Dearborn, to Chrysler. The Warren Avenue plant was used to build bodies for DeSoto in mid-1950 and Hemi V8 engines starting with the 1952 model year. When DeSoto production was shifted to Jefferson Avenue for the 1959 model year, the Warren Avenue plant was converted to Imperial car assembly which lasted to the end of the 1961 model year. (Details on Kaiser cars)

Graham-Paige’s auto business, ironically, would end up where Graham Brothers had ended up. Kaiser-Frazer changed hands and eventually, aside from farm equipment and military vehicles, showed up at Chrysler as AMC/Jeep.

Graham-Paige 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 became the Madison Square Garden Corporation, reflecting its ownership of the Garden.

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