In 1902, at Cornell University's Sibley College, a young student of Mechanical Engineering named Clarence Winfred Spicer was assigned a project that had intrigued some of the finest scientific minds in history -- to design a self-propelled carriage, or automobile. Both Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton had drawn plans for such a vehicle, while the first road tested steam vehicle was built by Louis Cugnot in the 1760s.
Clarence Spicer had been fascinated by mechanics since the day his dairy-farmer father had bought cooling machinery for the farm creamery and told Clarence to look after it. Clarence Spicer's lifelong competitiveness and dedication to quality was also instilled early. One year his father won an award for the highest-quality butter at a World's Fair. The next year he was beaten in another butter competition -- by Clarence.
Clarence Spicer left the Illinois farm to study at Alfred University, then in 1899 entered Cornell's Sibley College to study engineering. There, under the tutelage of Dean Thurston, he worked on his design for an automobile and became increasingly fascinated with the issue of power transmission. Dissatisfied with sprockets and chains, Spicer determined to use a propeller shaft, which he attached to the engine and rear axle with specially designed "universal" joints. Spicer's universal joints were a major engineering breakthrough. They were not just easy on the eye and ear -- they were foolproof against dust and dirt, and were easy to lubricate.
Spicer showed his drawings to Dean Thurston, who immediately recognized the originality and commercial viability of the universal joint design, and advised his pupil to file for a patent, which was granted in May 1903. The design was duly published in a patent journal, where it caught the admiring attention of several automobile manufacturers. These people contacted Spicer and asked him to supply the joints, or license their manufacture.
The new universal joints were so good that soon they soon became the industry standard for power transmission. Spicer was rightfully proud that his joints were used at both ends of the market. The best and most expensive American cars regularly used his joints, as did the good low-priced cars, demonstrating that Spicer joints were the best money could buy, yet were still competitively priced.
In 1914, Clarence Spicer learned one of harshest lessons that can be taught in business -- his universal joints had become so popular that his company was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. Over-hurried expansion had increased the cost of production, sales and delivery, and, because Spicer joints had become the industry standard, many competitors had simply resorted to imitation. Spicer's only defense had been lengthy, expensive and inconclusive lawsuits. Near desperation, he traveled to New York to put his case to the investment bank, Spencer Trask & Co. Spicer's was far from a unique story. Some 1,500 automotive companies had already failed by 1914, and Mr. Trask did not fancy betting his money that Spicer's company wouldn't be the next. He did, however, see enough promise in the company to hand the papers to a young lawyer named Charles Dana. Dana saw enough promise to visit South Plainfield -- where, lore has it, he found Clarence Spicer's desk piled high with papers. "What are those?" asked Dana. "New orders," answered Spicer. "And where are your bills?" In answer Spicer opened a drawer and showed Dana a bare handful of invoices. The huge pile of orders next to the small stack of bills was all the encouragement Dana needed to become involved in the business.
In exchange for a controlling interest in the company, Charles Dana lent $25,000 to Spicer, then dedicated himself to leading the company through its hard time. Dana was no engineer, but he was a great salesman. Convinced that Spicer's universal joints were without equal, he proceeded to share his opinion with the leaders of the automotive world, with dramatic success. With Charles Dana in charge, and with a surge in demand in the automotive industry because of World War I, Spicer was soon back in the black. In 1916, with the help of Charles Merrill of Merrill Lynch, the company was re-organized as the Spicer Manufacturing Corporation.
The new corporation boomed and Dana took advantage by acquiring a series of complementary automotive suppliers, including Chadwick Engine Company, Salisbury Axle, Sheldon Axle, Parish Pressed Steel, Snead & Co, Almetal and Brown-Lipe. In the twenties, Dana also led the company overseas, expanding a licensing agreements and acquiring interests in Hardy Spicer in England, Societe Spicer Glaenzer in France and Hayes Wheel and Forging in Canada.
Even after Charles Dana became Managing Director of the Spicer Corporation, Clarence Spicer remained intimately involved with the company he had founded. Dedicated to quality, he once turned down an offer to leave Dana and join General Motors because he wanted to ensure the leadership of the Spicer name. He kept tabs on the competition by installing their equipment in cars and driving his family thousands of miles across the country, stopping every two hundred miles or so to check how the rival equipment was holding up.
As the company's Chief Engineer, Clarence Spicer also worked on many new products. He invented a machine for balancing propeller shafts, and another for producing welded tubing. He also designed a railroad generator drive and a safety clutch for a generator drive. He was a member of both the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Engineers Society of Detroit, and treasurer and president of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Clarence Spicer died in Miami in November of 1939. A tribute from the Society of Automotive Engineers acclaimed his life as "a beacon of example and inspiration in the engineering profession."
As the company expanded with acquisitions and new plants at Pottstown and Reading, demand grew and Spicer Corporation looked to consolidate its manufacturing operations. At the same time, the company needed to deal with another issue that was becoming more and more pressing. Most Spicer customers were no longer on the East Coast. If Spicer wanted to keep its reputation for responsive service, it needed to move it's manufacturing facilities. The harsh truth was, New Jersey no longer meant much in the automotive world. Detroit had taken over.
Why Detroit should have become so dominant in an industry founded in Europe and originally based on the East Coast is not easy to answer. Michigan had abundant raw materials, shipyards and foundries, but it also had the right people at the right time, which was fortunate. Legend has it, for example, that Henry Leland had originally determined to settle in Chicago, but when he arrived there he was greeted with "pistol shots and flying brickbats," so he bought a ticket on the first train out -- which just happened to take him to Detroit.
Along with Leland, R.E. Olds and Henry Ford were already established in the Detroit area by 1900. William C. Durant acquired Buick of Flint, Michigan, in 1904, and proceeded to build General Motors. Because of the incredible success of these pioneers, suppliers and associated companies gravitated towards Michigan and Ohio. When Walter Chrysler reorganized Maxwell Motor Company as Chrysler in the 1920s, and built it into one of the Big Three, Detroit's domination of the industry was complete.
It was not surprising then that Spicer Corporation determined to relocate. Toledo was referred to Detroit partly because an overnight train service would allow Charles Dana to continue living on the East Coast and still visit the company on a regular basis. In 1928, therefore, land was acquired on Bennett Road in Toledo, and a new plant was erected. In early 1929 manufacturing equipment was moved from South Plainfield. Within two years Brown-Lipe and Salisbury Axles had also relocated to the Toledo plant.
The company grew under DANA's direction, acquiring Wix, Perfect Circle and in 1947, Auburn Clutch. Later, Brown-Lipe and Monmouth clutches were consolidated into the company, and Auburn was renamed the Spicer Clutch Division.
World War II was a conflict of unprecedented movement -- with faster, more flexible machinery covering vaster distances and more diverse terrain than ever before. Yet almost every type of vehicle used by the Allies in combat service, on land, on sea or in the air, was equipped in some way with one or more Spicer products. That Spicer people were able to contribute so greatly to the war effort testified to their dedication, and the preparations they had been making as far back as the early 1930s.
Because of their heavy truck experience, for example, Spicer people worked with the army on developing equipment that would be suitable, with minimal change, for military use. Most famously, though, Spicer was intimately involved in the design and manufacture of the Jeep, the light reconnaissance car that was the envy of the Axis powers. Robust, capable of fast transportation of men and military equipment, the Jeep gave the allied armies a significant advantage in mobility. Spicer not only designed the four-wheel drive and axle, but also supplied the parts in huge volume. Salisbury, Victor and Perfect Circle products were everywhere. Parish manufactured heavy frames, while Weatherhead supplied artillery shells and parts for the B29 bombers. The General Drop Forge Co provided equipment for the B-29, as well as the Aircobra, the Wildcat and others.
Spicer's enormous contribution during this era was recognized by the armed services. In particular, America's two senior armed forces jointly awarded Spicer the Army-Navy "E", a coveted recognition of exceptional achievement. Presented to Spicer's Toledo plant in December 1942 for "great work in the production of war equipment," the award consisted of a flag to be flown above the plant and a lapel pin for every person who worked there. By the end of the war, every plant in the Spicer family flew the award.
The acquisition of Auburn Clutch in 1946 created a formidable line-up for Spicer. Formidable, but confusing. Because Spicer, Salisbury, Parish, Brown-Lipe, Sheldon and Auburn were all trade-names owned by the Spicer Corporation, the distinction between Spicer the brand and Spicer the corporation was becoming blurred. The company therefore decided to rename itself.
The Spicer Corporation owed a considerable debt to the leadership of Charles Dana. Hating paperwork, Dana was committed to education, employee benefits and idea sharing. He liked keeping plants to a workable size, and locating them near customers. He also prized growth and success -- both of which the company enjoyed very much under his leadership. In recognition of his 32 years of service, Charles Dana's family name was chosen.
The Spicer Corporation was renamed Dana Corporation in his honor in 1946.
The Spicer name did not disappear. It remained where Clarence Spicer would have wanted it -- on the products that he and his company had designed and made famous, still manufactured to the quality he had insisted on: Transmissions, Transfer cases, PTO's and Propeller Shafts.
DANA is SPICER, and has been. NAPCO used SPICER Model 23 Transfer Cases for the GM's which they procured from SPICER's Toledo manufacturing facility. DANA bought the rights in the early 60's to NAPCO's Powr-Pak 4x4 conversion. Does this mean that DANA bought the rights to use the parts that they had originally sold to NAPCO? Yes. Wow. It does get better!
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