Category Archives: Cadillac History

The Legendary Cadillac, a Classic American Icon – One of our Favorite Vehicles


 In the photograph above, Henry Leland is pictured standing on the left while Charles Kettering stands beside him on his right.“Founded more than 100 years ago in Detroit, Cadillac has stood for uncompromising performance, daring design and groundbreaking technology. From developing the world’s first electric self-starting engine and pioneering the integration of computer technology into vehicles, to being the first to offer drivers a color other than black and creating the fastest family of production cars with the CTS-V Series, it’s all a part of our history. Learn more about this iconic American brand and how it has shaped—and continues to define—the automotive industry.

 Henry Leland, the man who introduced the Cadillac to the world, (after Henry Ford began it’s work),  is pictured on the left, while Charles Kettering is on the right. The connection with Ford to the Cadillac is kept fairly murky in the company’s history, as Ford later became GM’s biggest competitor.








Side Notes:  How the Battery Ignition was Born

Resource: (2015) Retrieved 1/30/2015

“Electrical genius Charles F Kettering worked at National Cash Register (NCR), but tinkered in his barn in his spare time. In his 1909 tinkering, Kettering devised an ignition system for an automobile superior to the ones used at that time. Kettering experimented on a Cadillac automobile, a matter of luck for GM. Automobiles at that time typically used two types of ignition system, battery and magneto, drivers switching from one to the other. Dry cell battery ignition was used at low speeds while magneto ignition used at high speeds, each had its issues otherwise. Kettering devised a holding coil to produce one “fat” spark from the battery ignition. This improved performance at high speed and extended battery life ten times, a great improvement over the limiting 200 miles expected battery life. Kettering then approached Cadillac and in July 1909 Cadillac placed an order for 8,000 ignition sets for the 1910 Cadillac. Kettering remained at NCR, but formed a side business Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO)

In the summer of 1910, a dear friend of Henry Leland’s, automobile producer Byron T Carter, attempted to aid a woman with a stalled engine, a common occurrence. The spark lever was not set to retard and the crank kicked back and broke Carter’s jaw, a hand cranking injury also not too uncommon. Carter later died from pneumonia as a complication from the incident. Shortly afterwards, Kettering approached a grieving Henry Leland suggesting he could develop a self-starter. Leland responded “I’m sorry I ever built an automobile.” “I won’t have Cadillacs hurting people that way.” A practical self-starter was not a new idea. Even RE Olds stated the 1800s Olds Trap included an electric push button starter. Various mechanical and electrical starters were in use, but they were bulky and inefficient. Kettering developed a small, powerful, short-pulsed electric motor with an electrical system which operated at 24 volts in the starting position, then switched to 6 volts running. The starter operated with a small storage battery and outfitted with a generator to keep the battery recharged. With a storage battery and generator on the vehicle, it seemed logical to include electric lights, eliminating the need to refill the acetylene canister and the nuisance of exiting the car to match light the headlights which rain or wind could put out. The electrical system was declared ready on February 27, 1911. The system would first appear in the 1912 Cadillac Model 30. The self starter is one of the most important technological advances of the automobile. It became especially popular with women. The sale of electric automobiles peaked in 1912, the decline influenced by the Kettering self starter.”




1903 Cadillac1900s – Pioneering Interchangeable Parts

In 1902, Henry Leland, a master mechanic and entrepreneur boldly founds Cadillac, naming the new company after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit.  In fact, the Cadillac family’s historic coat of arms serves as the inspiration for the company’s Crest.  Six short years after its inception, Cadillac lays the foundation for modern mass production of automobiles by demonstrating the complete interchangeability of its precision parts.  As a result, Cadillac is the first American car to win the prestigious Dewar Trophy from the Royal Automobile Club of England.  Consequently-and-appropriately-Cadillac adopts the slogan “Standard of the World”






1910s – Introducing the Electric Self-Starter.

With its Model Thirty, Cadillac debuts “the car with no crank” – the first production car to feature an electric self-starter, ignition and lighting.  Not only does this open up the driving experience to women, it also brings the Dewar trophy back to Detroit, making Cadillac the only car manufacturer to claim the distinction twice.  In 1915, Cadillac introduces the first mass-produced car with a V-Type, water-cooled, eight cylinder (V8) egine which goes on to become a signature of the Cadillac brand.







1923 Cadiac



1920s – Elevating Style and Customization

The Roaring Twenties mark a new phase in the relationship between art and design.  In 1925, Cadillac pioneers the use of lacquer pain and, in 1926, offers customers more than 500 color combinations to choose from at a time when competitors offer dark and drab colors.  Then in 1926, the company recruits Harley Earl to design the 1927 LaSalle convertible coupe, making it the first American car designed by a stylist instead of an engineer.  The result is elegant, flowing lines, chrome-plated fixtures, and an overarching design philosophy that ensures that, by the end of the decade, the name Cadillac is synonymous with beauty and luxury.






1930s – Making History with the V16

In the height of the Depression, an undaunted Cadillac raises the bar yet again with the world’s first V-type 16-cylinde engine in a passenger car, which becomes on of the first iconic vehicles in Cadillac history.  In the words of a review of the time, the V16 was “so smooth and quiet throughout its range as to make it seem incredible that the car is actually being propelled by exploding gases.” A V-12 version follows, providing an alternative between the signature V8 and the V-16.  By mid-decade Cadillac is manufacturing some 68 body styles.  In 1937, a Cadillac-built V8 proves its worth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, breaking all previous stock car records.




1940_Cadillac_901940s- Introducing the Cadillac Signature Tail Fins

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Cadillac discontinues car production and devotes its resources to the war effort.  V8 engines, transmissions and power units are successfully used in M5 light tanks and M8 Howitzer Motor Carriages, helping the company live up to its slogan “Famous in Peace-Distinguished in Battle!”  After the war, Cadillac designer Harley Earl changes the profile of the American automobile once again, this time with the introduction of the tail fin.  Modeled after the Lockheed P-38 “Lightning” fighter plane, the tail fin is destined to become a integral part of American automobile styling for almost 20 years.  Now an industry staple, the first-ever Car of the Year award is presented to Cadillac in 1949, reaffirming the company’s impact on the automotive industry.



1950's Cadillac

1950s-Making Power Steering the New Standard

Cadillac embraces the post-war boom with open arms in 1950 and 1951 – car production exceeds 100,000 vehicles a year, nearly double that of prewar years.  As an added bonus, V8-powered Cadillacs finish third, tenth and eleventh at the 224 hours of Le Mans, one of the most grueling races in the world.  Setting the course for the rest of the decade, Cadillac becomes the first manufacturer to provide standard power steering on its entire fleet of automobiles.  The company follows this up with a string of safety innovations, including an “autotronic eye” which dims headlamps automatically.  With the Eldorado Convertible tail fins reach their highest expression.  By the end of the decade, they have secured their place as ne of the definitive icons of the fifties.

1960s – Unveiling Innovations in Performance and Comfort

Cadillac continues to make technological and stylistic strides in the sixties.  Self-adjusting brakes are adopted at the beginning of the decade.  The Wreathed Crest probably the most recognized Cadillac emblem of all, is reintroduced on the 1963 Eldorado.  In 1963, Cadillac made front seat belts available, which were made standard by law the following year.  Then , in 1964, introduces automatically-controlled headlamps and redefines luxury with Comfort Control, the industry’s first thermostatically regulated heating, venting, and air-conditioning system.  Over the next few years, variable-ratio power steering, electric seat warmers, and stereo radio are introduced in rapid succession.  In 1965, an American era comes to an end when tail fins are discontinued.

1974 Cadillac

1970s- Debuting Electronically Fuel-Injected Engines

Cadillac inaugurates the seventies by unveiling the  400 HP, 8 2L engine Eldorado.  Its completely redesigned axle boasts the highest torque capacity of any passenger car available at the time.  In 1974, the company pioneers the use of air cushion restraints (air bags) for passenger safety and catalytic converters to lower emissions. Then in 1975, Cadillac becomes the first car manufacturer to provide electronically fuel-injected engines in U.S. production cars.  And in 1978, the Seville ushers in the era of the computerized automobile with an onboard microprocessor in its digital display.





1980s- Bringing Computer Technology to Vehicles

Cadillac faces the dynamism of the eighties head-on with the dramatic Seville Elegante. A modern interpretation of the classic car designs of the thirties and forties, its sleek, sports car physique and distinctive “bustle-back” style are widely imitated throughout  the industry.  On the innovation front, Cadillac becomes the first car manufacturer to use integrated microprocessors to control ignition, fuel injection and vehicle diagnostics.

Reference: (2015).  Cadillac Heritage and History.  Retrieved January 30, 2015 from