Roy Chapin

There is one of the great American automotive pioneers that had never named a company after his own name. Roy D. Chapin was a modest person who deserves a far greater place in the automobile history books, as he helped develop some of the biggest car brands.

Robert Dikeman Chapin was born in 1880 in Lansing, Michigan, where he later learned the basics of business at the University of Michigan. Many historians remember him as the United States Secretary of Commerce during the administration of President Herbert Hoover, but Chapin was also a great entrepreneur.

Even though his father Edward was an established lawyer, the Chapin family wasn't considered wealthy for those days. Nevertheless, they were among the community leaders and had a certain influence.

Roy showed the same industrialist spirit during his high school years, when he developed his first innovation related to the camera business and arranged for it to be manufactured at his friend's small workshop. It was a success, since he was earning far more than his peers.

When he wanted to expand the business, he found a job at the Weather Bureau in order to gain money for additional photographic supplies. Roy Chapin had further developed the flair for earning money while he took several different courses at the University of Michigan. During his study, he met several important automobile pioneers and worked on a steam car prototype made by Edward Coffin.

Since Ransom Eli Olds was looking to bring in a new perspective into the Olds Motor Works, Roy's photographic experience secured him a job on the catalog development. He worked for $35 a month on a junior position that included testing cars. It wasn't especially attractive job because cars were still considered just a weird innovation in the 1900s, but it was a new and exciting business area.

Chapin worked his way up and at the age of 21 became one of the company leaders. When Ransom Eli Olds wanted to prove that his Oldsmobile Curved Dash was highly reliable model, Roy Chapin was asked to drive it from Detroit to New York. Roy managed to achieve this task and arrived at the New York Automobile Show in time. The 860 mile journey through Canada, crossing to the United States over the suspension bridge just below Niagara Falls made him an icon. It also brought good deal of business to Olds, as Ransom returned from the show with a contract for 1,000 cars.

Oldsmobile developed ownership issues shortly after, forcing Roy to plan a new job. He convinced his friends and a wealthy Buffalo businessman Thomas to found another car company called E.R. Thomas Detroit Company. Chapin's salesmanship proved vital in the initial stages, securing a stronger future of the company.

In 1908 Roy D. Chapin was the reputable leader of a business consortium that founded the Hudson Motor Car Company. Even though he was the brains behind the entire venture, the company was named after the biggest investor, the famous Detroit merchant Joseph L. Hudson. The new car company became one of the most profitable independent American automobile manufacturers.

Roy Chapin left Hudson for the Hoover administration upon his appointment in 1932. He considered a system of professionally built roadways a necessity for a successful national automobile industry. In a sense, it was a perfect task for a man with such wide interest to pursue. Roy Chapin friendly nature and the ability to understand business opportunities certainly made him an American automotive legend.

Pictures of Roy D. Chapin

Roy D. Chapin profile   Roy D. Chapin Auto   Roy D. Chapin working

 

Next: William C. Durant | Return to library | Follow on Facebook