The Dodge Brothers Weren’t Ford Employees; Died Long Before The Challenger & Charger Were Made

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In a series of recent ads exploring the creation and evolution of Dodge and its famous Challenger and Charger models, the car maker harkens all the way back to its origins as the Dodge Brothers Company to evoke a sense of spirit and competitiveness. While these commercials are successful in eliciting the desired emotional response, the company isn’t quite telling the truth about John and Horace Dodge and their role in creating these popular muscle cars.

To evaluate the truthiness of the Dodge Brothers history presented in these commercials, we looked at the stories told in each of the ads.

Origins Of A Brand

The above commercial — the second of the ads to aired by Dodge — tries to establish the company’s origins.

Dubbed “Ahead of Their Time,” it centers on the beginning of the Dodge Brothers Company and the differences between it and Ford Motor Company.

“By 1914, the Dodge brothers quit Ford Motor Company and set out on their own,” the commercial proclaims.

While this statement works to establish an environment of competition between the two companies, it implies that John and Horace were just a pair of Ford employees with dreams of stepping out on their own. In truth, the brothers didn’t technically work for Ford Motor Company.

In 1900, they founded Dodge Brothers Company, which produced engine and chassis components for a number of companies, including Olds Motor Vehicle Company and Ford.

According to a 1920 article from the New York Times, Henry Ford struck a deal with the brothers in 1902 that gave the Dodges a $5,000 interest in Henry Ford Automobile Company for building 650 chassis.

Several years later, the brothers set out to make their own cars instead of just car components. In 1914, they did just that, producing the Dodge Model 30, a direct competitor to the Ford Model T.

Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a strained relationship between the Dodge brothers and Ford, in which Ford stopped paying dividends to shareholders, including John and Horace.

The Dodge brothers then brought a lawsuit against Ford claiming that he was using his control over the company to restrict dividend payouts, even though the company was enormously profitable and could afford to pay large dividends to its shareholders, according to a Cornell University report [PDF] titled “Why We Should Stop Teaching Dodge v. Ford.”

In the end, the Dodge brothers received $25 million from Ford when the court ordered the payment of special dividends to shareholders.

Competitive, Stubborn Brothers

So while there is a decent kernel of glossed-over truth to the “quitting Ford” claim in that Dodge ad, this next commercial attempts to draw a connection between the siblings’ competitive spirit and two of Dodge’s signature cars — the Challenger and Charger:

In the ad, we see John and Horace horsing around and finally jumping into what we can only presume are Dodge vehicles, racing each other down a deserted highway.

The way in which the commercial is crafted – with the vehicles seamlessly transforming from era to era – gives the impression that the Dodge brothers played some important part in the evolution of the company that carries their name, and the Charger and Challenger models.

That simply isn’t the case. Sadly, both Horace and John died in 1920, decades before the first Charger or Challenger would hit the market.

According to, the Challenger, which has encompassed three different generations of automobiles, first appeared on dealership lots in the late 1950s. Likewise, the Charger brand wasn’t produced until the mid-’60s.

While it’s entirely possible the Dodge brothers envisioned a fast, muscle car of the future, they weren’t around to see those models produced or evolving the way in which it is presented in the advertisements.

Spirit Of Dodge

The final commercial in the series focuses on the Dodge brothers’ spirit and drive to create a cutting-edge company:

“Their lives were big, but their dreams were bigger,” the commercial states, while panning to the newest models of Dodge vehicles. “One hundred years later this is how their spirit lives on.”

As we’ve shown, the Dodge brothers spent only a few years at the helm of their vehicle manufacturing business. Since that time, the company has undergone significant changes and more than one acquisition.

After the brothers’ deaths in 1920, the company was sold to Dillon, Read & Co. for $146 million, Auto Evolution reports. Just three years later, the company underwent another transformation when it was acquired by Chrysler Corporation.

Although it’s plausible that the brothers’ way of thinking and presence is considered when creating new Dodge vehicles, with the evolution of the company and its vehicles it may be difficult to hold onto the same motivation held by the founders nearly 100 years ago.

In a way, it’s much like McDonald’s, which owes its name to the McDonald brothers who opened the first restaurants, but owes its legacy to Ray Kroc.

True, True-ish, or Full of Hot Air?

On one hand, the “Dodge Brothers” commercials do their job of trying to make people want to buy Dodges. At the same time, the omit some very important facts about the company’s timeline in an effort to establish historical connections that are, at best, a stretch.

Then again, advertisements only run between 30 to 60 seconds, and we can’t reasonably expect the advertiser to include every relevant piece of information about its history, so perhaps this is a case of picking nits.

While certain omissions and the presentation of the Dodge models through the years aren’t exactly rooted in the complete truth, it doesn’t look like the company was attempting to maliciously mislead consumers by glossing over this information.

Final verdict: True-ish

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