David Dunbar Buick (David Dunbar Buick)

David Dunbar Buick

Scottish-American inventor and automotive pioneer, best known for starting the car company that became the Buick Motor Division of General Motors Corporation (GM).  He was born David Dunbar Buick on September 17, 1854 at 26 Green Street, Arbroath, Scotland.  His father, Alexander Buick, a joiner, emigrated to America with his wife and son when David was two years old. As a young man, David settled in Detroit, where he started manufacturing plumbing materials.  Buick and his partner William Sherwood prospered modestly from his invention of a patented  process for heat-binding porcelain to wrought iron to make white bath tubs — a much sought-after status symbol in those days. David, however, was infatuated with the gasoline engine and the automobile.  In 1899, David established the Auto Vim and Power Co. to produce gasoline engines for farm and stationary use.  In 1900, David decided to concentrate on gas engines and cars and sold his share of the plumbing business for $100,000 to raise capital for his new venture. David immediately began tinkering, using the engines he produced to power four wheeled vehicles.  In 1902, David Buick organized the Buick Manufacturing Company to make engines for various car makers and to make cars himself.  Although there is some controversy over this, David Buick is credited with developing the modern overhead valve internal combustion engine design that made Buick Motor Division famous and is still widely used in car engines today. David Buick’s mastery of automotive design was unfortunately not matched by his financial acumen or management skills.  By the end of 1902, David had built his first car, but his company was bankrupt.  To keep the struggling company afloat, he borrowed $5,000 from a friend, Benjamin Briscoe, who didn’t doubt David’s mechanical skills but was wary of his business abilities.  When Briscoe heard that a firm at Flint, 115 miles from Detroit, was thinking of starting car production, he persuaded David to team up w! ith them. Briscoe succeeded in selling the Buick company to James Whiting of the Flint Wagon Works company.  A year later, with Whiting as General Manager and Buick as President, the Buick Manufacturing Company turned out its second car…designated Model B.  However, as before, the company was deep in debt and unprofitable.  At that time, the Whitings began looking for a buyer for the company. At this point, William C. Durant came onto the scene.  A brilliant business man, he’d already made a fortune in the carriage industry.  He took over the Buick company and recapitalized it, substantially diluting the equity interests of Buick, the Briscoes and the Whitings. On November 1, 1904, Durant became general manager of the Buick Motor Co. with Buick as president. Durant, who would later create General Motors, was a go-getter.  Like Ford, he knew the industry’s future lay in speeding up production and cutting assembly costs.  But Buick was a craftsman who regarded each car as a unique invention.  One of the two had to go.  It was David Buick.  In 1906, aged 52, he severed his last link with the firm he founded and returned to Detroit with his wife and son. Under Durant, the Buick company went on from strength to strength.  In 1908, Durant acquired Oakland (later renamed Pontiac), Oldsmobile and Cadillac to form General Motors.  Chevrolet joined in 1915.  Britain’s Vauxhall was acquired in 1926, and Germany’s Opel some years later.  Buick production reached 100,000 cars a year in 1923.  Today there is a 300-acre complex employing 20,000 people and producing 350,000 cars a year. But David Buick died of colon cancer, penniless and forgotten, in Harper Hospital, Detroit, on March 5, 1929.  Until a few weeks earlier, though 74, he was still working as an inspector at Detroit’s trade school.  His wife died some years later and his son Thomas died in 1943. Ben Briscoe wrote sadly in 1921 that had David been able to keep his shares in the firm, they would have been worth more than $10,000,000 at that time. Their value today would be almost incalculable. The house where David Buick was born no longer stands.  It was demolished years ago to make way for new council houses.  But as the birthplace of a man who greatly influenced transport, its setting is appropriately close to the burgh’s new four-lane throughway, Burnside Drive. Arbroath could do worse than rename it Buick Way, as a tribute to Scotland’s most remarkable forgotten son. (bio by: Edward Parsons)  Family links:  Spouses:  Caroline K Buick (1853 – 1916)*  Margaret D Buick (1897 – ____)* *Calculated relationshipCause of death: Colon cancer


  • September, 17, 1854
  • Scotland


  • March, 03, 1929
  • USA

Cause of Death

  • Colon cancer


  • Woodmere Cemetery
  • Michigan
  • USA

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