Frederic Latta Smith

Frederick Smith was born in 1870 in Lansing, Michigan, where he attended Lansing High School and the Michigan Military Academy. His personal interests included mainly college football and light-weight wrestling. How exactly did this promising young man become involved in automotive industry?

The Smith family was among the most influential in Detroit, earning their reputation and wealth in several different sectors. Most famous investments included lumber, shipping, mining and railroad ventures. Later known as one of the founders of Olds Motor Works, Frederic Smith wasn't a typical automotive industry pioneer.

The son of a lumber magnate had a good fortune to understand his cousin Ransom E. Olds, a brilliant engineer who was one of the best innovators in the early American automotive industry. In 1899, Samuel and Frederic Smith, together with Henry Russel financially supported the establishment of Olds Motor Works in Detroit, which was a landmark moment for this iconic car brand.

Ransom Olds took over the general manager position and Frederic Smith became secretary and treasurer, keeping all the finances in order. Samuel Latta Smith became the president. Olds Motor Works presented the first mass produced car in the United States named Oldsmobile Curved Dash in 1901. It was reliable, relatively cheap and people loved it.

As an interesting fact, it was pure luck that Curved Dash became the leading Oldsmobile model. When the main factory caught fire on March 9, 1901, it was the only model actually saved by two brave workers. Sales peaked with time mostly because Roy Chapin made huge efforts developing a network of sales franchises. Frederic Smith considered him the brightest and most promising of all the young managers, with large responsibilities.

Frederic Smith always showed great talent in picking good associates. Unfortunately, his character differed from Ransom Olds and they fought frequently on the future vision of the company. Olds wanted to continue building solid Curved Dash models, while Frederic aimed for larger and more profitable cars. It was his desire for profit which helped to creation of the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM).

ALAM was a monopolistic combine where early car manufacturers joined their patent rights, making it impossible for anyone to sell petroleum-based cars without their permission. Henry Ford wanted to enter the automotive industry with his Model T, but Frederic used his power to stop the development of similar competitive models.

He formed a special subcommittee to study Ford's admission to ALAM. There was only one member on this subcommittee – Frederic Smith. Ford was given an ultimatum to dismantle his vehicle and permanently leave Detroit. When he refused, years of litigation between Ford and ALAM ensued. Henry Ford eventually managed to bring his dream into reality, while the Olds Motor Works led by Smith was bought by General Motors in 1908. Alongside William Crapo Durant, Frederic Smith is believed to be one of the most prominent founders of General Motors.

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