Detroit Diesel Corporation (Specimen)

Detroit Diesel Corporation (Specimen)
Item# 4286ddc

General Motors pioneered the development of practical, lightweight, powerful, and fast two- and four-cycle diesel engines. Initially the incentive to develop such engines came from the enormous profits available if diesel could replace steam in the locomotive industry. According to Alfred P. Sloan, president of GM during the 1920s and 1930s, Charles F. Kettering can be credited with the foresight and drive behind the practical application of diesel power. Kettering supervised experiments at GM as early as 1921 to develop a smaller, more efficient diesel. As Sloan tells the story in his memoirs My Years With General Motors, he dropped by Kettering's office at the research laboratories one day and said, "Ket, why is it, recognizing the high efficiency of the diesel cycle, that it has never been more generally used?" Kettering explained that technical problems in diesel engine design up to that time had meant that the engines simply would not perform the way the engineers wanted them to. Sloan replied in his typically forthright manner, "Very well—we are now in the diesel engine business. You tell us how the engine should run and I will see that available manufacturing facilities are provided to capitalize the program."

The small, practical GM diesel engine might never have been developed, however, if Kettering had not also been a yachtsman. Kettering's fascination with diesel engines led him to purchase a diesel engine built by Winton Engines for use in his personal yacht. Kettering was so impressed with the Winton engine that he convinced Sloan to buy the Cleveland Ohio company. Alexander Winton, one of America's pioneer auto makers, was reportedly enthusiastic about the sale of his company to GM. He wanted to see the potential of diesel realized but knew that the cost of developing such an engine was beyond his scope. The apparently happy takeover was almost derailed by the market crash of 1929, but the sale went through in 1930. Simultaneously, GM purchased another Cleveland-based company, Electro-Motive Engineering Company, which had worked closely with Winton in the 1920s in their endeavor to develop a diesel-powered locomotive engine. The purchase of these companies was a great risk for GM in those economically turbulent times. The risk paid off but only after a number of years of intensive and often distressing research and development. The break for the two-cycle GM diesel engine came when the company decided to use it as the power source for its dramatic reconstruction of an assembly line for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The diesels required continual repairs, prompting Kettering's son to comment that "the only part of the engine that worked well was the dip-stick." Nonetheless, locomotive companies were impressed with the power and efficiency of the engines compared to the steam locomotives they had been operating for years. Demonstration runs showed that a diesel-powered locomotive could cut the running time from Chicago to the West Coast by more than 20 hours. Once the industry decided to convert to diesel, GM had a corner on the market. No other major manufacturer built a diesel locomotive engine until after World War II. The success of the locomotive diesel foray prompted GM in 1937 to set up Detroit Diesel Engine Division to research, develop, and promote smaller diesel engines for marine and industrial use.

In the 1980’s Roger Penske (whose printed signature appears on this piece), the famous auto racer and wunderkind of the auto business world, was immediately intrigued at the prospect of reviving the lumbering old giant of the auto industry. By early 1988, Penske and GM had signed an agreement wherein Penske obtained ownership of 60 percent of Detroit Diesel's stock and GM secured the remaining 40 percent.

In 1997, Penske attempted to expand Detroit Diesel's presence in the marine market with the acquisition of Outboard Marine Corporation. Part of the plan was to use Outboard Marine to convert 50 of 800 auto centers Penske had acquired from Kmart Corporation in 1995 into marine and boat centers. The deal fell through, however, after two Outboard Marine shareholders topped Detroit Diesel's offer.

Close Up of Vignette

Certificate: Common Stock, specimen, late 1900’s

Printer: Security-Columbian / United States Bank Note Company

Dimensions: 8” (h) x 12” (w)

State: MI-Michigan

Subject Matter: Automotive and Related | Auto Parts and Service | Engine Makers | Specimen Pieces

Vignette Topic(s): Male Subject | Female Subject | Engine Featured | Automotive Theme | Truck Featured

Condition: No fold lines, punch hole cancels in the signature areas and body, very crisp.

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