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Bennett, Harry Herbert (17 January 1892–04 January 1979), auto industry executive, was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of Verne C. Bennett, a sign painter, and Imogene Bangs, a schoolteacher. When Bennett was two years old, his father was killed in a fight. His mother later married Robert Winslow, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, who died a few years after the marriage. At age fifteen, Bennett moved with his mother to Detroit, where he entered the Detroit Fine Arts Academy to train as a commercial artist. Conflict at home caused him to run away and join the navy in 1909....

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Breech, Ernest Robert (24 February 1897–03 July 1978), automobile and aviation executive, was born in Lebanon, Missouri, the son of Joseph F. E. Breech, a blacksmith, and Martha Atchley. Ernest gained early experience with mechanics by working with his older brother Earl in his father’s blacksmith shop, which specialized in making carriages. In high school he was a stellar football, basketball, and baseball athlete and was offered a try-out with the St. Louis Browns professional baseball team. But he had his sights set on studying law and distinguished himself as a speaker, winning a medal for oratory while in high school. After graduating in 1914, Breech had to defer college because of inadequate family financing. To earn money he worked as a salesman and mechanic in an automobile agency that his father had acquired, thus gaining his first exposure to the automobile industry. He won a scholarship to Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, which he entered in 1915. Despite a strong academic record, Breech left college after his sophomore year in 1917 and moved to Chicago, where his brother Earl had found work for him in the accounting department of Fairbanks, Morse & Company, manufacturers of scales and weighing equipment. He later supplemented the income from this job by working evenings and weekends at O’Connor and Goldberg’s State Street Store, the leading ladies’ shoe store in Chicago. Also in 1917 Breech married his childhood sweetheart, Thelma Rowden, in Chicago; the couple had two sons....

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Briggs, Walter Owen (27 February 1877–17 January 1952), manufacturer and baseball executive, was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the son of Rodney Davis Briggs, an engineer with the Michigan Central Railroad, and Ada Warner. When Walter was an infant the family moved to a western suburb of Detroit where the Tigers played Sunday baseball, which was forbidden in the city at that time. There he attended John Newberry Public School and played first base and catcher for the baseball team. Leaving school at age 14, Briggs worked in the car shops of the Michigan Central, earning $20 per month....

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Briscoe, Benjamin (24 May 1867–27 June 1945), automobile manufacturer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Joseph A. Briscoe, an inventor associated with Michigan’s railroad industry, and Sarah Smith. Briscoe attended Detroit public schools and after graduating from the Jones Academy found work as a clerk for the wholesale firm of Black and Owen....

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Buick, David Dunbar (17 September 1854–06 March 1929), inventor and businessman, was born in Arbroath, Scotland, the son of Alexander Buick and Jane Roger. The family emigrated from Scotland to Detroit, Michigan, two years after Buick was born; his father died three years later. Buick attended elementary school, but the poverty of his single-parent family forced him to find full-time employment when he was just eleven years old. By the time he was fifteen, he had delivered newspapers, worked on a farm, and served as a machinist’s apprentice at the James Flower & Brothers Machine Shop (the same firm where ...

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Champion, Albert (02 April 1878–27 October 1927), inventor and businessman, was born in Paris, France, the son of Alexander Champion. Available sources reveal no other information about his family or his early life. No doubt he received an early education in Paris. When he was about twelve years old, he obtained employment as an errand boy for a bicycle manufacturer....

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Chapin, Roy Dikeman (23 February 1880–10 February 1936), auto industry pioneer and secretary of commerce, was born in Lansing, Michigan, the son of Edward Cornelius Chapin, a successful local attorney, and Ella King. In 1899 Chapin enrolled in the University of Michigan, but he left in the spring of 1901 to take a position with the Olds Motor Works in Detroit. Chapin worked as a photographer, helped out in the factory in May during a machinists’ strike, and served as a test driver. It was in the latter capacity that Chapin drove an Oldsmobile runabout from Detroit to New York in seven and a half days in 1901, arriving in time to display it at the National Automobile Show. This trip, the one event for which Chapin is best remembered, promoted sales of the frail, 600-pound car while providing a boost to Chapin’s career....

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Chrysler, Walter Percy (02 April 1875–18 August 1940), automobile manufacturer, was born in Wamego, Kansas, the son of Henry Chrysler, a railroad engineer, and Anna Maria Breyman. Chrysler’s life was bound up with the creation of modern America’s transportation system. He grew up in Ellis, Kansas, a railroad shop town, at a time when the townspeople still worried about Native American raiders. As a boy, Chrysler developed an abiding fascination with machines while watching the mechanics in the local railroad repair shops and occasionally accompanying his father in the engineer’s cab of a Union Pacific locomotive. He developed an aggressive, quick-tempered personality playing with other working-class boys in the railroad yards and streets of Ellis. For most of his life, Chrysler remained outspoken and excitable, but he was also intelligent, hard working, and capable of intense concentration. These qualities enabled him to rise through the ranks of the railroad industry and then become one of the founders of America’s automobile industry....

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Cole, Edward Nicholas (17 September 1909–02 May 1977), automobile manufacturing executive, was born in Marne, Michigan, the son of Franklin Benjamin Cole and Lucy C. Blasen, farmers. Growing up in rural Michigan, Cole exhibited a mechanical bent, building radios and rebuilding cars. After two years of prelaw at Grand Rapids Junior College, he transferred to the General Motors Institute in 1930, graduating with an engineering degree in 1933. At the depths of the depression, Cadillac—a division of General Motors—hired the young engineer as a lab assistant. Cole celebrated by marrying his childhood sweetheart, Esther Engman; they had two children. As General Motors earned a profit every year of the depression, Cole advanced within the Cadillac division to lab technician, technician and designer, engineer, and, eventually chief design engineer. He earned a reputation as an enthusiastic engineer, fascinated by engines, intent on reducing engine noise and improving cooling. Friends remember Cole leaving parties during those years to tinker under the hood....

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Cord, Errett Lobban (20 July 1894–02 January 1974), automaker and financier, was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, the son of Charles W. Cord, a storekeeper, and Ida Lobban. Throughout his life Cord was known simply by his initials, “E. L.” In the early 1900s his family moved to Los Angeles, where Cord attended high school but left before finishing his final year. As a teenager he showed a passion for automobiles, rebuilding old cars and racing them on dirt tracks in California and Oregon. Cord operated a garage and a trucking firm in California, the latter in Death Valley. He also established the short-lived Cord Auto Washing Company, worked as a truck driver, and sold and raced cars in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1914 Cord married Helen Marie Frische of Cincinnati. They had two sons....