of the Graham brothers from 1901 to 1932
Michael E. Keller
The Graham Legacy chronicles the achievements of the Graham brothers – Joseph, Robert, and Ray. The brothers began their business careers in the glass bottle industry and agriculture in southern Indiana. Using their creative talents the brothers leveraged their skills into manufacturing tractors, trucks, and fine automobiles. Author Michael E. Keller does an admirable job breathing life into this saga of three brothers with humble Indiana roots who made their mark in the automotive industry.
Joseph Graham began his working life as secretary and treasurer of the Lythgoe Bottle Company in Loogootee, Indiana, in 1901. In 1905, with financial footing secured, Joseph and his father purchased the firm. Robert joined the company in 1907, and the name of the corporation was changed to the Graham Glass Company. Ray joined the new company in 1908 as secretary and manager. In 1916, the Graham brothers sold their glass company to the Libbey-Owens Sheet Glass Company. The sale allowed the brothers to explore other business venues.
While working at the glass company, Ray Graham was also involved with Graham Farms and he saw the need for an inexpensive, lightweight, motor truck for intermediate hauling needs. During his free time he invented a unit that consisted of a rear-axle assembly and telescoping frame to convert the ubiquitous Ford Model T into a one-ton stake or express truck. This product formed the keystone of the brother’s next venture, Graham Brothers, Inc., in Evansville, Indiana.
The formal declaration of World War I on April 16, 1917, would prove a boon to the conversion concept. Converting existing cars into trucks was not only economical, but it also served the nation’s best interests in conservation of materials. By late 1917, Graham Brothers was the world’s largest manufacturer of complete truck units. The next offering was a completely new one-and-a-half ton truck with 130-inch wheelbase assembled from the best proprietary products on the market. The new offering was known as the “Graham Brothers Speed Truck.” As time went on, the Graham operation used an increasing number of Dodge Brothers engines and transmissions.
In April 1921, the Dodge organization announced that it would offer Graham Brothers heavy truck line worldwide through their extensive dealer organization. In 1924 and 1925, Dodge Brothers, Inc., purchased the existing stock in Graham Brothers, Inc. In April 1926, Joseph, Robert, and Ray resigned from their positions at Dodge and began to liquidate their stock holdings. By 1926, sales of Graham Brothers Trucks totaled 37,463 units. Graham Brothers became the world’s largest exclusive truck manufacturer.
The Graham brothers were not the type of people to let grass grow under their feet. In
May 1927, the brothers acted quickly and purchased control of the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company of Detroit. The 1928 Paiges introduced in August 1927, included a more economically priced 6-cylinder model, which was advertised as the first 6-cylinder Paige for less than $1,000. Significant effort was expended by the engineering staff to improve existing engines and chassis wherever possible.
All-new Graham-Paige automobiles were introduced at the 1928 New York Automobile Show. In February 1928, the corporation’s name was formerly changed to Graham-Paige
Motor Corporation. As the year closed, Graham-Paige had produced 72,965 autos and became the 12th largest automobile producer in the United States. Since their assuming control of the company, the Graham brothers had doubled the capacity of the manufacturing facilities.
Graham’s 1928 sales year exuberance flowed over into 1929, which saw the introduction of the second series Graham-Paige autos. Four-cylinder models prices ranged from $885 to $1,865. Eight-cylinder models started at $1,925 all the way up to the swanky LeBaron town car at $4,430. These were heady times for the surging Graham brothers’ operations and the 50,000th Graham-Paige of the year was produced on June 7. All of this affluence foreshadowed the stock market crash of 1929.
The Graham brothers had been through recessionary events before with the recession of the early 1920’s. With the introduction of the 1930 line, the “Graham” name stood alone on all passenger cars. The 1930 line consisted of 6-cylinder models starting at $895 all the way up to the 8-cylinder LeBaron town car at $4,255. When this line was being planned in late 1929, no one thought that the low-end sixes would top the sales tallies for the upcoming year. Sales for 1930 almost reached 50% of the previous year’s total.
The 1931 Grahams were introduced at the New York Auto Show, with pricing ranging from the large Custom Eight 7-passenger limousine at $2,095 (some $2,000 less than its immediate predecessor) down to the Standard Six offerings at $895. Further price reductions were announced in September. Preparations of the 1932 Graham motor cars were demonstrated by a flurry of activity in all departments and offices of the company. This part of the Graham legacy closes at the end of 1931.
The Graham Legacy provides an exceptional account of the Graham brothers, their companies, the people behind the story, and their vehicles. Over 206 photographs in the book cover the progression of the various vehicles and other Graham operations. The author’s keen interest and knowledge comes through. It is a great account of these automotive pioneers, their automobiles, and events in their careers from southern Indiana to the Motor City.
The Graham Legacy: Graham-Paige to 1932, Michael E. Keller, Paducah,
KY, Turner Publishing Company, © 1998, ISBN:1-56311-470-4
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