Henry M. Leland

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Henry Leland, 1909.

Henry Martyn Leland (February 16, 1843 – March 26, 1932) was an American machinist, inventor, engineer and automotive entrepreneur. He founded the two premier American luxury automotive marques, Cadillac and Lincoln.

Mr. Sloan, Cadillacs are made to run, not just to sell.


  • Mr. Sloan, Cadillacs are made to run, not just to sell.
    • Henry M. Leland, cited in David Farber. Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors,p. 14
    • Leland, as car builder, explained Alfred P. Sloan, the supplier of Hyatt bearings, that his bearings not (yet) met the requirements.

Master of Precision: Henry M. Leland, 1966


Ottilie M. Leland, ‎Minnie Dubbs Millbrook (1966), Master of Precision: Henry M. Leland.

  • The teams at times could go but a short distance every day. In bad weather at night there would be as many as 150 horses at one of the small frame inns which were not more than five or eight miles apart. Each driver had to care for his eight horses, feed, clean, card, harness and unharness. For all this work my father received the wages of $15 per month.
    • p. 20; Lelands father was farmer and drove an eight-horse wagon between Boston and Montreal. Leland gave a description of the working conditions of those drivers.
  • There always was and there always will be conflict between Good and Good Enough, and in opening up a new business or a new department one can count upon meeting resistance to a high standard of workmanship. It is easy to get cooperation for mediocre work, but one must sweat blood for a chance to produce a superior product.
    • p. 59
  • At first we were of necessity slow in putting out those motors, but after we had gotten under way we delivered them so rapidly that Mr. Olds said we must have a motor incubator at our place.
Oldsmobile advertisement, 1903
  • Our car was an Oldsmobile, delivered to our home by Mr. Olds himself. I recall how our family went out to the street curb to look at it. Mr. Olds worked quite a while cranking it, muttering something about each car having an individuality of its own. But after we began to make motors for him, father took the individuality out of them. After our own little Oldsmobile was properly equipped, it acted in quite an exemplary fashion.
    • p. 65. About the Leland family buying their first automobile around 1901
  • If they had made that longer six-cylinder crankshaft strong enough and had supported it well enough, they would have obtained the smoother action they talks about in their advertisements. But they could not do that, and those early sixes had a very undesirable period vibration at certain speeds. That vibration more than offset the gain that they would have realized, if they had treated the crankshaft properly.
    • p. 146-7: About the development of a six-cylinder motor in 1913-14
  • On the train I was going over the problem of Sixes versus Fours and the disturbing periodic vibrations with which the 'six-cylinder manufacturers were contending. I realized the emphasis our competitors were placing on the fact that six smaller cylinders, producing the same maximum power as four larger ones, would result in smaller individual impulses, and consequent smoother action.
I knew that we were having good results with well-balanced four-cylinder motors. I first reasoned that if six light cylinders gave the same maximum power and lighter impulses than the tour, then eight still smaller cylinders would give still lighter impulses than the six cylinders. I also reasoned that, because of the lighter weight, those eight cylinder pistons could be run at higher speeds than either sixes or fours. Furthermore I did not like the six crankshaft. If made small enough to be in proportion with those light pistons, the extra length might introduce those undesirable vibrations; if made heavy enough to avoid; if made heavy enough to avoid these periodic vibrations there was the wight problem contend with.
As I lay awake pondering these factors, the idea came to me that we were having good success with four-cylinder motors; we would surely have equally good results with blocks of lighter four cylinders and pistons. Why not make up those smaller blocks of lighter four cylinders and pistons, and put two of the blocks together at an angle and avoid that troublesome long crankshaft. The more I thought of this idea on that trip, the more convinced I became that it could be worked out.
  • p. 147; Leland talking about his idea for a V8 engine around 1913-14. Partly cited in: Alexander Richard Crabb (1969), Birth of a giant: the men and incidents that gave America the motorcar. p. 315

Quotes about Henry M. Leland

  • I had trouble at first, in the early 1900s, in selling Mr. Leland our roller bearings. He then taught me the need for greater accuracy in our products to meet the exacting standards of interchangeable parts. Mr. Leland came to the industry with a mature experience in general engineering and in gasoline engines, which he had long made for boats. One of his specialties was precision metalwork, which went back to his experience in toolmaking for a federal arsenal during the Civil War, and which he afterward developed in the Brown and Sharpe Company, machine-tool makers of Providence, Rhode Island. It has been called to my attention It has been called to my attention that Eli Whitney, long before, had started the development of interchangeable parts, a fact which suggests a line of descent from Whitney to Leland to the automobile industry.
  • After getting to know the young Daytonians (Edward A. Deeds) Henry Leland told them about a friend of his who had stopped to help a woman whose car had stalled. As he cranked the starter, it kicked back and broke his jaw. The man later died from an infection as a result of that accident. This led Leland to ask Kettering and Deeds if they could use electricity to start a car. Of course, they accepted the challenge. A self-starter would not only prevent such accidents but would also open up the car market to women who were unable to crank a car. They returned to the Barn to try and make the first self-starter for automobiles...
It was an intense period of hard work, trials and errors, but they ultimately had the system functioning well enough to submit the patent in November of 1910 and had it running on a Cadillac in January 1911. Following extensive testing in Detroit, Deeds and Kettering received an order for 12,000 systems from Henry Leland. The size of this order caught them by surprise and they were unable to find anyone to make such a quantity. So now they had to become manufacturers and moved into a new building downtown, effectively ending the need for the barn. But from 1908 to 1911, it was the birthplace of automotive electrical equipment.
  • Henry M. Leland was the guiding genius of the Cadillac Motor Car Company. He was the company’s founder and became the Division's first general manager when it was purchased by Billy Durant and General Motors in 1909. Religiously devoted to accuracy of machining and quality construction, Leland recognized that in true interchangeability of parts lays the key to a great future automobile industry.
    • The General Motors Heritage Center. "Henry M.," at gmheritagecenter.com, accessed 08. 2016
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