Historic Truck Brands
The Graham brothers’ legacy started in a small town in southern Indiana, the area where three brothers who contributed to the shaping of the automobile industry had grown up in the late 1800s.
Joseph, Robert and Ray Graham were born in 1882, ’85 and ’87 respectively, on their family’s farm in Washington, Indiana. The brothers could have chosen to make comfortable lives for themselves, by overseeing the raising of cattle and the making of milk and cheese. But they were not content with the pastoral life.
Ray graduated in 1908 from the University of Illinois and had become interested in designing a lightweight motor truck while managing the family’s farming properties.
He invented a special rear axle combined with a spliced frame, whereby Ford cars could be converted into one-ton express or stake-side trucks.
The truck business looked promising. There was plentiful skilled labour for bodybuilding, as wagon making was an important Indiana business, and across the country more and more firms were discarding the horse and wagon in favour of the motor truck.
Brothers Joseph and Robert joined Ray in establishing a factory in Evansville, Indiana, to build truck bodies for mounting onto passenger car chassis.
By 1920 an expanded line of Graham Brothers trucks and buses were being manufactured, using Continental, Weideley and Dodge engines.
The Graham brothers believed a customer should not have to go elsewhere for his truck’s body, so they built complete vehicles, offering a variety of bodies designed to meet the specialised needs of various industries.
The truck venture proved successful and attracted the attention of Frederick J Haynes, president of Dodge Brothers. Haynes saw in the Grahams a chance to get Dodge into the heavy truck business without disrupting passenger car production.
The Grahams were receptive, and in April 1921 an agreement was signed whereby the Graham Firm would build trucks solely with Dodge fast-four engines and drive trains, then sell them exclusively through the Dodge dealer network. The agreement was enormously beneficial to the Grahams, whose products now gained the backing of an established manufacturer with a solid reputation and a nationwide dealer network.
The Dodge arrangement added volume along with some security, so the Grahams moved confidently to Detroit, where a new factory was established to supplement the Evansville output.
A new company, Graham Brothers Inc was formed, with Joseph as president. It operated almost as a Dodge subsidiary.
Soon other plants were opened at Stockton in California and Toronto in Canada. Demand was high, and the Grahams outgrew the Detroit plant, building a larger replacement at another Detroit location in 1922, then subsequently adding a third plant in 1924.
Production volume soared from 1086 trucks in 1921 to over 37,000 in 1926, making Graham Brothers the largest exclusive truck manufacturers worldwide.
In 1925 the Dodge heirs sold the company to the investment firm of Dillon and Read. The following November the Dodge management reorganized with the Grahams emerging on top – Ray was vice-president and general manager, Joseph vice-president of manufacturing, Robert vice president responsible for sales.
In addition, the brothers became Dodge directors, and Dodge exercised an option to acquire a 51 per cent interest in Graham Brothers, paying the Grahams $3million, including an equal amount in options on the remaining Graham Brothers shares. Much of this money was reinvested in Dodge stock; the Grahams were now one of the largest Dodge stockholders.
At this juncture the Grahams looked ensconced for life at Dodge, but their tenure lasted less than six months. In April 1926, the brothers suddenly resigned, while Dodge acquired the remaining 49 per cent of the truck business.
Exactly what caused the upheaval is unknown. The brothers may have had a disagreement with Dodge’s bankers, or they could have felt uncomfortable in an organisation that they did not completely control. They must also have realized that any hope they may have had of producing a car under their own name was futile at Dodge.
The second time around
In 1927, following the upheaval, they launched the Graham Brothers Corporation, based in New York, as a holding company to use for their diversified interests, including an $11million shareholding in Libbey-Owens Sheet Glass in Toledo.
The Grahams obviously could not be content with a passive role. Their ‘re-entry vehicle’ was the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company – the control of which they acquired on June 10, 1927.
Paige-Detroit was a minor independent, started in 1909, that had passed into the hands of Harry Jewett and his brothers in 1911 and successfully engaged in the manufacture of Paige cars and trucks – and later the Jewett light six – with peak production of 43,500 vehicles in 1923.
But in 1927, with sales declining and the company not as profitable as it once was, Jewett was anxious to sell. The Grahams were attracted, at least partly because Paige was completing a new, modern factory on a forty-five acre site in Dearborn, Michigan.
To acquire control, the Grahams put in $4million and pledged another $4million for improvements. At this point the Jewetts resigned and Joseph became president of Paige, Robert vice-president, Ray secretary-treasurer.
Along with their father, the brothers became Paige directors and Joe announced that they were “in the automobile business as manufacturers to stay.” At the next stockholders meeting the corporate title changed to Graham-Paige Motors Corporation.
For a time the existing line of Paige cars was continued. Some improvements were made and prices reduced, but the Grahams were busy creating a new series of cars bearing their name. They moved quickly and just six months after they had arrived at Paige, the new line was ready.
The new Paige commercial cars were mounted on the Special Six chassis, and fitted with a three-speed transmission. Body types included various open and closed, light delivery vehicles.
This extension of the brothers’ interests back into truck building came as an unpleasant surprise to Chrysler Corporation (the owners of Dodge), who filed suit against Graham-Page early in 1931, contending that the agreement between the Grahams and Dodge in 1926 prohibited the brothers from manufacturing trucks in competition with Dodge for the following five years.
The Grahams denied the charge, claiming the document applied only to heavy-duty trucks and buses, but the dispute became rather academic as the economic slow down had caused the Paige trucks to sell poorly.
The suit was ended by mutual consent in October 1931 and the Paige commercial line ceased with the 1932 models. The Brothers also dropped the Paige name, badging the cars Graham.
The Great Depression had hit Grahams hard, as it did with automotive industry as a whole and the majority of the smaller manufacturers either merged in an attempt to stay afloat or just sank.
The Grahams tried all manner of smart marketing, creating new but less expensive models, to no avail. The company managed to exist on orders for war material up until 1945, but in 1947 the automotive business was sold to Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.