Categories History

A Look At The Titans Who Drove the Automotive Industry To Where It Is Today

From the visionary pioneers who sparked the birth of the automobile industry to the modern-day titans steering some of our largest corporations, the automotive world has been shaped by larger-than-life executives.

Daring risk-takers, ingenious innovators, and hard-nosed businessmen – these are the captains of industry who have left an indelible imprint on society’s transportation landscape. Join us as we explore the pivotal leaders and powerhouse personalities who have driven the auto industry from its humble origins in the 19th century through today.  

Walter Chrysler

walter chrysler portrait

Walter Chrysler (1875-1940) was an automotive industry executive who founded the Chrysler Corporation in 1925. After working in the railroad industry, he quit when he received an offer to become a manager with Buick. He is credited with rescuing the Maxwell Motor Company by absorbing it into his new brand, the Chrysler Corporation.  Chrysler would go on to become one of the “Big Three” American automakers.

Nicolaus Otto

picture of Nicolaus August Otto
Hellweg-Museum Unna

Nicolaus Otto (1832-1891) was a German engineer who invented the four-stroke internal combustion engine in 1876, which became the basis for most modern automobile engines. Otto would go on to obtain several patents for his inventions. One patent would later be lost when it was found another engineer, Beau De Rochas, was the first to create the concept of a four engine cycle. But, he never actually built one like Otto had. This loss allowed Otto’s engines to be sold, without the need to pay Otto any royalties.

Alan Mulally

alan roger mulally headshot

Alan Roger Mulally (1945-) served as the president and CEO of Ford Motor Company from 2006 to 2014. He is credited with leading Ford’s successful turnaround and transformation during the global financial crisis. He also worked as an engineer for Boeing making many contributions to a variety of projects. 

Gottlieb Daimler

Gottlieb Daimler headshot

The pioneering German inventor Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler (1834-1900) worked with Wilhelm Maybach to contribution to the evolution of the internal combustion engine. Building upon the groundbreaking four-stroke engine design conceived by Nicolaus Otto, Daimler and Maybach collaboratively engineered an innovative variant that presaged the modern gasoline engine. The V-shaped, dual-cylinder, four-stroke engine developed by the visionary duo continues to serve as a blueprint for contemporary automobile engines. Daimler and Maybach established the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (Daimler Motors Corporation) in 1890, dedicated to the commercial production of engines and, subsequently, motor vehicles.

Louis-Joseph Chevrolet

louis chevrolet headshot

Louis-Joseph Chevrolet (1878-1941) was a Swiss-born American race car driver and automobile engineer who co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company with William C. Durant in 1911. Chevrolet became one of the most successful American automobile brands of all time.

Ransom E. Olds

Ransom E. Olds headshot

Ransom Eli Olds (1864-1950) was the founder of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company (later Oldsmobile).  He was the first to establish a system of suppliers, mass-produce automobiles using an assembly line, and extensively advertise and market his cars. This system would become the first of what we know today as an assembly line. The first car to be built using this mass production was the Oldsmobile Curved Dash in 1901. 

Walter Owen Bentley

walter owen bentley portrait

Walter Owen Bentley (1888-1971) was an engineer who founded Bentley Motors Limited in 1919. He already had built a great reputation for his aircraft and auto designs so starting his own firm was the obvious next step. Bentley became known for producing high-performance luxury automobiles and winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans race five times in the 1920s. He would sell his company to Rolls-Royce in 1931.

Carl Benz

carl benz headshot

Carl (or Karl) Benz (1844-1929) was a German engineer who is credited with building the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1885, marking a historic milestone in the automotive industry. His Benz Patent Motorcar was considered the first practical auto and was the first to be put into production. Benz has been referred to as the “father of the automobile industry”. 

Kiichiro Toyoda

kiichiro toyoda headshot

Kiichiro Toyoda (1894-1952) was a Japanese engineer and businessman and son of Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyoda Loom Works. Kiichiro Toyoda would encourage his dad to expand the existing business into the automotive world. This led to him creating the Toyota Motor Corporation brand in 1937. He has been a key reason why Japanese automobiles have a position in the industry. Some believe the Japanese auto industry would be much less developed without his influence.

Wilhelm Maybach

wilhelm maybach headshot

Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929) was a German engineer and close associate of Gottlieb Daimler. Together they developed a high-speed internal combustion that could be used in air, land and water vehicles. He would later start Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH where he and his sone would create Zeppelin engines. In 1919 he would begin producing the luxury car called Maybach. 

Ferdinand Porsche

headshot of ferdinand porsche

Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) is best known as being the founder of Porsche AG. Prior to starting his own company, he was best known for the creation of the Volkswagen Beetle, Mercedes Benz SS/SSK and the first gasoline-electric hybrid called the Lohner-Porsche. He also contributed to war efforts by helping to create a variety of advanced tanks. 

John DeLorean

john delorean headshot

John Zachary DeLorean (1925-2005) was an American automotive engineer and executive who founded the DeLorean Motor Company. He is best known for designing the iconic DeLorean DMC-12 sports car, which was featured in the “Back to the Future” film franchise. He also worked at General Motors and managed the production of several top selling cars like Pontiac Firebird, Pontiac GTO and others. Sadly, DMC did not make it mainstream due to a variety of problems including slowing market, production delays, and not so great reviews. 

Rudolf Diesel

rudolph diesel headshot

Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel (1858-1913) was a German engineer who invented the diesel engine in 1893. This engine would prove to be much more efficient than steam and gasoline engines at the time. Diesel engines and diesel fuel are both named for him. 

Henry Ford

henry ford portrait

Henry Ford (1863-1947) is undoubtedly one of the most recognized names from the auto industry. He left home for Chicago at age 16 and spent years repairing and constructing engines. He would found the Ford Motor Company in 1903. His Ford Model T, introduced in 1908, made automobiles affordable for the average consumer and transformed the industry. It is still considered one of the big three brands in the automotive industry.

William Durant

william durant headshot

William Crapo Durant (1861-1947) was an American entrepreneur who co-founded not one but two car companies. He would co-found General Motors in 1908 with Frederic L. Smith and Chevrolet with Louis Chevrolet. By consolidating several automobile companies, including Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Oakland (which became Pontiac). He would at one point be forced out of GM but bounce back to regain control a short time later – only to be forced out again.

Charles Nash

charles nash headshot

Charles Williams Nash (1864-1948) served as the 5th president of General Motors and founded Nash Motors. He would bring the company huge growth in production and profits. His first venture into autos was when he was hired by William C. Durant of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company (formerly the Flint Road Cart Company). That job allowed him to grow so much he became vice president and general manager of the company. He would eventually move on and buy the Jeffrey Moto Company in 1916. Their best known model was the Rambler. Nash would later rename the company he bought to Nash Motors in 1917 and release the Nash Model 671. 

Henry Leland

henry leland portrait

Henry Martyn Leland (1843-1932) was the founder of both Cadillac and Lincoln. He also invented electric barber clippers and a toy train. The Cadillac brand would form from meeting with the Henry Ford Company. When Leland was asked to appraise the plant and equipment for liquidation, Leland would persuade the company to manufacture a new car with Leland’s single-cylinder engine. This meeting would prevent liquidation and allow Cadillac to be born. General Motors purchased Cadillac in 1909. In 1917, Leland formed the Lincoln brand with a wartime contract that required them to build a V12 aircraft engine. After the war, they would switch to cars. Ford Motor Company would buy the brand in 1922.

Enzo Ferrari

enzo ferrari driving a car in younger years

Enzo Anselmo Giuseppe Maria Ferrari (1898-1988) was an accomplished racer and founder of Ferrari S.p.A. in 1947. Ferrari would join the racing team of Alfa Romeo as a driver in 1920 and win his first Grand Prix in 1923. His passion for driving would be lost after the deaths of other drivers and he would move into the organization of races – which is where he found his passion. He would form his own team called Scuderia Ferrari which would race with Alfa Romeo cars. Ferrari would leave Alfa in 1939 and take on other racing inspired opportunities until he formed his own company. 

This is just a small list of the many people who made amazing contributions to our automotive history. We will be adding more to the list so check back to learn more!  

Museums on the East Coast That Car Lovers Need To Visit

man with beach racing car on the beach
New England Racing Museum

If you are heading to the East Coast this summer, then museums are a great opportunity for fun family days. Too hot for the theme park? A nice cool museum of historic trains, plains and automobiles are what every hot cranky kid will love! 

View the transportation museums on the east coast.

Glowing Tires and Other Car Features That Never Took Off But We Wish They Did

There have been more innovations in the auto industry than we could even imagine. Many never quite make it to mass production – but we wish some did. Check out these unique and innovative car features that were either never produced or had limited production. 

View the car features that never took off.

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