Dodge brothers: cyclists, machinists, crime fighters

John Dodge's bicycle from 1898

Below is an exciting story about the Dodge Brothers which doesn’ t have much to do with cycling — but it’s an exciting story!

To begin, we’ve already mentioned that John and Horace Dodge had a major role in Detroit’s rich cycling history.

  • They both volunteered as judge and timer at various Detroit Wheelmen bike races at Belle Isle and at the track. (The Detroit Wheelmen was the city’s premier cycling club during this era.)
  • “Mr. Dodge” was stoker in a 2-mile tandem race on the Detroit banked track in 1897.
  • They received a bicycle bearing patent (No. 567,851) in 1896 which was part of a unique design for hubs and bottom brackets.
  • They formed the Detroit Bicycle Improvement Company in March of 1897 with $40,000 in capital.
  • They manufactured the Evans and Dodge bicycles in Windsor in partnership with Canadian Fred Evans. They sold their interest in the company in 1900 and opened a machine shop in Detroit’s Boydell Building on Beaubien near Greektown (now home to Nikki’s Club and Pizzeria.)

After opening the machine shop, they began making automobile engines and components for Olds, and a few years later for Henry Ford.

So they stopped biking then, right?

Apparently not.

In 1905, John Dodge ran for a director position on the Detroit Wheelmen board. We’re not sure yet whether he was elected, but we do know that his brother Horace was elected the club’s Second Vice-President the following year.

And it seems they were still involved with Detroit’s premier cycling club in 1908 when this story begins.

Auto Thieves come to Grief

That was the title of a Detroit Free Press article published in September of 1908. John Dodge, then a Water Commissioner for the city of Detroit, parked his car in front of the Detroit Wheelmen’s clubhouse on Adams, just a block east of today’s Cheli’s Chili.

It was a Saturday night and 17-year old George Duplus and a couple friends decided to steal a car, cruise Jefferson, and pick up girls. John Dodge’s car was large enough to carry them and their anticipated passengers, so they stole it. However, after an evening of cruising Jefferson, they never got more than waves from the ladies.

In the meantime, realizing his car was stolen, John called his brother Horace. They decided to hunt for it themselves. This was somewhat realistic since they’re weren’t all that many cars in Detroit at the time.

According to the Free Press, they found the car shortly after 1 AM on Mt. Elliot just north of East Grand Boulevard.

The Dodge brothers followed the machine until they were certain that it was the stolen one and then Commissioner [John] Dodge fired a shot at the rubber-tired wheel. Instantly, the auto containing the three lads came to a standstill. One of the young men was thrown violently over the dash board and landed on his face in the street, while this two companions jumped out of the machine and ran away.

Patrolman [Otto] Taube heard the shot and hurrying to the scene, found Duplus still lying unconscious on the street. The policeman and the Dodge brothers worked over Duplus for 20 minutes before he recovered consciousness.

Is “worked over” to be taken literally or as a euphemism? Perhaps the latter according to this source:

There are numerous anecdotes illustrating [John Dodge’s] volatility. He once, for example, was reported to have threatened a Detroit saloon owner with a pistol, forced him to dance on the top of his bar and then applauded his dancing skills by smashing dozens of glasses against the walls of the saloon. A sober John Dodge returned the next day to apologize and pay for the damages.

Duplus later confessed to the story, adding:

“I was driving the machine and turned north on Mt. Elliot avenue. A minute later someone fired a shot and I reversed the power and the machine came to a sudden stop. That is the last that I knew until I revived on the street and the policeman was standing over me.”

Duplus, who worked at Packard, was charged with grand larceny. He had been arrested on a similar charge .

More Dodge Trivia

From a Chrysler paper, The Dodge Brothers: “At age 13, with the help of brother John, [Horace] built a working high-wheel bicycle from scrap materials.” Impressive.

John Dodge not only served on Detroit’s Water Commission Board (1905 through 1910), he also served on the Detroit Street Railway Commission (1913 through 1920.) He helped settle a transit strike in 1914 and led a campaign advocating for public ownership of the streetcar system.

The Dodge Brothers were multi-modal supporters.

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2 Responses to “Dodge brothers: cyclists, machinists, crime fighters”

  1. Madelyn Says:

    “They formed the Detroit Bicycle Improvement Company in March of 1897 with $40,000 in capital.”
    Hi- could you please tell me where you got the above figure?

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    I’m not certain, but I suspect I got it from the 1898 Polk Directory for Detroit.

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