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4 of the Most Influential Automakers

If the American automobile industry had its own Mount Rushmore (on the side of a cliff somewhere outside Detroit), the sculptor creating the monument would have plenty of faces from which to choose. Here are four pioneers who fit the bill, whose visions and innovativeness in the automotive sector helped make the car what it is today.

Henry Ford

Born on his father’s Michigan farm in July 1863, Henry Ford made automobiles affordable for middle-class Americans with his revolutionary Model T cruiser. In 1913, he built the first moving assembly line at his company’s Highland Park, Mich., plant, which reduced the time it took to build one of his cars from 12 hours to less than three.

Ransom E. Olds

The son of a blacksmith, Ohio-born inventor Ransom Eli Olds was the force behind two major American automobile companies, Oldsmobile and REO. Before Ford’s moving assembly line, Olds used the first stationary assembly line to build the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, a process that essentially introduced mass production into the automobile industry.

William C. Durant

Boston-born businessman Billy Durant went from selling cigars and horse-drawn carriages in Flint, Mich., to founding General Motors, the automobile industry’s first multi-brand holding company, in 1908. While he had arguably as many failures as successes, many of the brands he once led, including Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet, still exist today.

Charles B. King

A mentor to Ford and Olds, Charles Brady King was the first person to build and drive a gasoline-powered car on the streets of Detroit – a feat accomplished way back in 1896. He may not be a household name, but with over 40 automobile patents to his credit, including steering gears and transmissions, his impact on the industry cannot be denied.

Illustration: A Mount Rushmore of automakers might include, from left, Henry Ford, Ransom E. Olds, William C. Durant and Charles B. King.
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