Master of Precision

Master of Precision – a story of the
automotive pioneer associated with
two of America’s luxury automobiles.

Master of Precision


Master of Precision: Henry M. Leland
by Ottilie M. Leland with Minnie Dubbs Millbrook

Master of Precision is the story of an individual who was in the forefront of those who set the highest standards of workmanship in the early years of the automobile. Henry M. Leland is best known as the developer of two automobiles whose names are best associated with high quality: Cadillac and Lincoln. From the beginning Leland leveraged his precision manufacturing experience into developing automobiles which became the standard by which others were compared. Master of Precision is the first hand account of a figure who played an important part in the early days of the automobile industry.

Wilfred C. Leland, Henry’s only son, shared every aspect of the elder Leland’s automotive career and began writing the book. Ottilie Leland, Wilfred’s wife, and Minnie Dubbs Millbrook finished the work after Wilfred died. The authors researched pamphlets, catalogs, files of letters, and memorabilia that the Leland family had accumulated. They detail the events that shaped Henry’s early manufacturing and management experience. In addition, they share insights into his personal life..

A great deal of Henry Leland’s many theories on the management of men and work in factories were honed at Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company in Providence, R.I.
Later he was as a field representative and consulted with numerous manufacturing companies as to the best machines and processes for their operations..

As he traveled through the mid-west, Leland dreamt of owning a business. In September
1890, Leland & Foulconer was capitalized with Leland as vice-president and general manager. Wilfred Leland was encouraged to join the firm’s gear cutting department. In the 1890’s L&F completed numerous varied projects as a contract machine shop, foundry, and gear grinder..

Henry Leland’s start in the automobile industry came as a contractor producing engines for the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1901. He found that through precision machining and various other improvements the delivered output of their Olds engine was dramatically improved. In August 1902, Henry entered automobile manufacturing as a director and engine supplier in the Cadillac Automobile Company. In 1904, both of the Lelands assumed general direction of Cadillac, and L&F merged with the new Cadillac Motor Car Company..

In February 1909, Cadillac received the Dewar Trophy from the Royal Automobile Club for successfully completing the club’s standardization trial which was open to all automobile companies. The test proved that all parts in Cadillac cars were interchangeable. Thus, Cadillac became known as “The Standard of the World.”.

General Motors Corporation purchased Cadillac and retained the Lelands as managers in
July 1909. Cadillac innovation continued with the introduction of the self-starter and electric lights on it’s 1912 model. Cadillac’s 1914 model was one of the first American autos with a high-speed V-8 engine..

In April 1917, the Lelands resigned from General Motors to develop an American aircraft engine to win World War I. Lincoln Motor Company was the name chosen for their new organization. In August, Lincoln was awarded a contract for the production of 6000 Liberty aircraft engines. In a little over one year, the Lelands built and equipped a new 600,000 square foot plant with 6,000 employees. When the war ended, the Lincoln Motor Company had a plant but no business..

Production of a fine Lincoln motor car was the natural outgrowth of the Lelands’ expertise. The Lincoln, offering a precision built 60 degree V-8 engine, arrived in the marketplace in September 1920. Due to a number of factors, Lincoln operations entered receivership in late 1921. On February 4, 1922, Henry Ford emerged as the successful bidder for Lincoln Motor Company. The Lelands left Ford after four months, ending their long association with the automotive industry.

The authors weave an interesting story of the automotive pioneer associated with two of America’s luxury automobiles. They bring detail to some of the Leland accounts which may have been glossed over elsewhere.

Master of Precision: Henry M. Leland, Ottilie M. Leland with Minnie
Dubbs Millbrook, Detroit, Mi, Wayne State University Press, © 1966 & 1996, ISBN 0-8143-2665-X

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