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  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

After Cadillac Henry Leland created Lincoln

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Henry M. Leland was a prominent figure in the early 20th century automobile industry. He was known for his engineering prowess and his dedication to producing high-quality vehicles. In 1917, Leland and his son, Wilfred, embarked on a new venture by starting the Lincoln Motor Company, also known simply as Lincoln.

In the history of Lincoln this will explore the origins of the company, its important role in producing jet engines during World War I, and its eventual acquisition by Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company after facing bankruptcy in 1922.

Henry Leland had already made a name for himself in the automotive industry before founding Lincoln Motor Company. He was one of the co-founders of Cadillac Motor Company and played a significant role in establishing it as a luxury car brand. However, due to a disagreement with Billy Durant, president of General Motors, Leland left Cadillac and decided to start his own company. Thus, the Lincoln Motor Company was born.

The timing of the company's establishment was significant, as it coincided with the United States' entry into World War I. Recognizing the need for advanced technology in the military effort, Lincoln Motor Company shifted its focus from producing automobiles to manufacturing aircraft engines for the war. This decision proved to be crucial, as the company successfully developed Liberty engines, which were used in various aircraft during the war.

The Liberty engine was renowned for its reliability and power, contributing significantly to the Allied forces' capabilities. Despite the success during the war, Lincoln Motor Company faced financial challenges in the post-war period. The demand for aircraft engines decreased significantly as the war came to an end, and the company struggled to transition back to producing automobiles. These difficulties led to bankruptcy in 1922, leaving the future of the company uncertain.

Though an unexpected turn of events occurred when Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, decided to purchase Lincoln Motor Company out of bankruptcy. Ford recognized the potential and value of the brand, as well as the engineering expertise of Henry M. Leland. Henry Leland and Henry Ford didn’t always get along well with each other, though they each respected the other’s engineering capabilities.

With the acquisition, Ford aimed to expand its luxury car offerings and compete with other high-end automotive manufacturers. Under Ford's ownership, Lincoln Motor Company experienced a revival. The company introduced new models that combined Ford's manufacturing efficiency with Leland's commitment to quality and luxury. The Lincoln brand became synonymous with elegance, attracting a wealthy clientele and establishing itself as a formidable competitor in the luxury car market.

Major innovations led by Lincoln over the years include:

· Introduction of the Lincoln Continental: The Lincoln Continental, introduced in 1939, was a flagship luxury car that became an iconic symbol of American automotive design. It featured a sleek and elegant design, luxury amenities and advanced engineering for its time.

· Development of the First V12 Engine: In 1932, Lincoln introduced one of the earliest V12 engines in a production car. This engine offered smooth and powerful performance, setting a new standard for luxury automobiles.

· Introduction of the Electrically Powered Convertible Roof: Lincoln was one of the first automakers to introduce an electrically powered convertible roof in the 1940s. This innovation allowed for easy and convenient operation of the convertible top.

· Introduction of the Personal Luxury Car: In the 1950s, Lincoln introduced the concept of a personal luxury car with the launch of the Lincoln Mark II. This car offered a combination of luxury, style, and performance, catering to affluent buyers who sought a more individualistic driving experience.

· Introduction of the Personal Safety System: Lincoln pioneered the Personal Safety System in the 1990s, which integrated multiple safety features like dual-stage airbags, seat belt pretensioners and crash severity sensors. This system aimed to provide enhanced protection for occupants during collisions.

· Development of the SYNC Infotainment System: Lincoln, along with Ford, developed the SYNC infotainment system in collaboration with Microsoft. Introduced in 2007, SYNC allowed for voice-activated control of various functions like music, phone and navigation, revolutionizing in-car connectivity.

· Introduction of the Lincoln Black Label: In 2014, Lincoln launched the Black Label program, offering personalized luxury experiences for customers. This program included exclusive design themes, premium services, and enhanced ownership benefits, elevating the brand's luxury image.

· Embracing Hybrid and Electric Technologies: Lincoln has been actively embracing hybrid and electric technologies in recent years. The brand introduced the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, a plug-in hybrid SUV, and has plans to release more electric and hybrid models in the future, reflecting a commitment to sustainability and innovation.

The story of Lincoln Motor Company is one of resilience and reinvention. Founded by Henry M. Leland and his son Wilfred in 1917, the company played a crucial role in producing jet engines for the military effort during World War I. Despite facing bankruptcy in 1922, Lincoln Motor Company was saved by Henry Ford's acquisition, leading to its revival as a luxury car brand. The merger between Lincoln and Ford Motor Company proved to be a successful relationship, cementing Lincoln's position as a prominent brand and player in the automotive industry.


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