MotorCities National Heritage Area

by Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, the Robert Tate Collection and General Motors
Published 11.28.2018


Cadillac brand history 1902 2014 Robert Tate Collection General Motors 6 RESIZEDCadillac brand history 1902-2014 (Robert Tate Collection/General Motors)


One of the longest surviving automotive brands in our automotive history is Cadillac. Cadillac has represented world class leadership for over 100 years and still offers great looking automobiles in 2018.



Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac landing in Detroit NAHC 1 RESIZEDAntoine de la Mothe Cadillac (center) landing in Detroit (National Automotive Heritage Collection)


This story traces the steps that made Cadillac the standard of the world when it comes to great automobiles. Cadillac received its name from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a Frenchman who established the settlement that became Detroit on July 24, 1701. Historians have said that Cadillac spent some 30 years in the New World, and by the end of his career, his name had become part of the history of Maine, Michigan, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Another name that would also be associated with Cadillac's history would be Henry Martyn Leland. It was his company, Leland and Faulconer Manufacturing Co., that made engines, transmissions and steering gears for the first production Cadillac models. The first Cadillac model was completed on October 17, 1902 and was manufactured at Leland and Faulconer. The first Cadillac models were also on display in New York at the 1903 National Automobile Show by William E. Metzger.


Cadillac became an instant success, and the public thoroughly enjoyed the models. The brand was becoming known worldwide. In 1906, Cadillac introduced a completely closed body one-cylinder vehicle. The bodies were from Seavers and Erdman of Detroit, and the model was called the “Osceola.” 



1930s Cadillac undergoing a maintenance checkup NAHC 2 RESIZED1930s Cadillac undergoing a maintenance checkup (National Automotive Heritage Collection)


The 1920s saw Cadillac offer more great looking designs. Harley Earl was the new name at General Motors in charge of styling. He oversaw the new design of the Cadillac LaSalle from 1927 to 1940. The 1930s saw a decline in sales due to the Great Depression, which affected all automobile manufacturers. However, Cadillac announced great news in 1930 with the introduction of the new Cadillac V-16 models, which created a great sensation in the automotive manufacturing world. 



1940s Cadillac advertisement Robert Tate Collection General Motors 31940s Cadillac advertisement (Robert Tate Collection/General Motors) 

The 1940s brought an all-new look for Cadillac, which was the low-line Series 61 Cadillac model that replaced the LaSalle. The model was designed by Bill Mitchell. It should also be noted that many Cadillac enthusiasts consider the 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special the most beautiful model ever built. When the U.S. entered World War II in December,1941, Cadillac transitioned to manufacturing light tanks. The M-5 tank rolled out of the Clark Avenue assembly line in Detroit in April, 1942. After the war, Cadillac was still designing great looking automobiles. The 1946-1949 Cadillac models were looked upon as the most successful American styling innovations due to the introduction of the tailfin element, which proved very popular.


1957 Cadillac advertisement from France Robert Tate Collection General Motors 4 RESIZED1957 Cadillac advertisement from France (Robert Tate Collection/General Motors) 

The 1950s brought additional styling features like more chrome and higher tail fins that represented Cadillac's standard of excellence. In 1950, the Cadillac division sold more than 100,000 units in a single year for the first time in its 48-year history. Styling changes included the popular wrap-around windshield and the “Dagmar” bumper design. Cadillac manufacturing dropped slightly in 1957, and James M. Roche took over as the brand's new general manager on January 1, 1957. One of the most talked about designs for 1957 was the all-new design of the 1957 Eldorado Brougham.

Cadillac's advertising during the 1950s highlighted beautiful gowns for women along with breathtaking scenes related to the brand's style. One of the most iconic automobiles that Cadillac made was a 1959 model designed by Chuck Jordan and Dave Holls.



1964 Cadillac ambulance at airport NAHC 5 RESIZED1964 Cadillac ambulance at airport (National Automotive Heritage Collection) 

The 1960s and 1970s were a part of the new generation. Cadillac led the way with great styling, including the 1967 Eldorado. It should also be noted that Mitchell succeeded Earl at General Motors, leading a great team of talented designers through the 60s and 70s. In 1975, Cadillac introduced the new Cadillac Seville, which was 27 inches shorter and eight inches narrower than the 1975 Sedan de Ville models. The Seville was manufactured through the 1979 model year and was very popular.



Modern Cadillac advertising image Robert Tate Collection General Motors 7 RESIZEDModern Cadillac advertising image (Robert Tate Collection/General Motors) 

In conclusion, Cadillac continued its great tradition of being the standard of the world regarding great quality and design. From the 2018 XTS Crossovers to the CTS sedan or the CT6 Plug-In, Cadillac will always be a part of our automotive heritage and history. For more information on the history of Cadillac, please contact the Cadillac and LaSalle club at or call 614.478.4622. 



McCall, Walter M.P. “80 Years of Cadillac La Salle.” Crestline Publishing, 1988.


The editors of Automobile Quarterly Magazine. “General Motors: The First 75 Years of Transportation Products.”


Hendry, Maurice D. “Cadillac Standard of the World: The Complete History.” 1979.