Brothers August and Fred Duesenberg began designing automobiles in 1905. They worked with investors Elmer Maytag and Edward Mason. In 1912 they had achieved success with a car that reached speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. The Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company was founded in 1913.
In 1914, Fred and August moved the company to Auburn, Indiana. (Auburn is not a suburb of Indianapolis, the corporate headquarters. It is close enough to explain the connection with The Indianapolis 500.) Here, they continued to produce a line of cars that were popular for their speed and luxury. Duesenbergs were renowned for their extravagant styling and the use of high-performance components. These included powerful engines and advanced suspension systems.
Their vehicles raced in many competitions during their heyday in the 1920s and early 1930s:
Indianapolis 500: Duesenberg won the Indianapolis 500 four times, in 1924, 1925, 1927, and 1932.
French Grand Prix: Duesenberg won the French Grand Prix in 1921, with driver Jimmy Murphy.
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb: Duesenberg won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb twice, in 1926 and 1929.
Le Mans 24 Hours: A Duesenberg entered in the 1921 Le Mans 24 Hours, but it did not finish the race.
Leaders in Technology
While Duesenbergs boasted power and speed, they were also known for advanced technology:
Inline Eight-Cylinder Engine: Duesenberg was one of the first American car manufacturers to produce a car with an inline eight-cylinder engine. This was a significant innovation at the time. The engine was powerful and smooth. It had features like dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and aluminum pistons.
Hydraulic Brakes: Duesenberg was also an early adopter of hydraulic brakes. These were more powerful and reliable than the mechanical brakes that were commonly used in cars of the era.
Supercharger: In the 1930s, Duesenberg introduced a supercharged version of its inline eight-cylinder engine. This boosted horsepower from 265 to 320. This was one of the earliest uses of supercharging in a production car.
Four-Wheel Independent Suspension: Duesenberg also introduced a four-wheel independent suspension system in the early 1930s. This produced a smoother ride and better handling than the solid-axle suspension systems that were commonly used at the time.
Automatic Chassis Lubrication: Duesenberg was one of the first car manufacturers to offer an automatic chassis lubrication system. This reduced the need for frequent manual oiling and made maintenance easier.
Pinnacle of Luxury
Duesenberg also produced some of the most luxurious passenger cars ever made in the United States Here are some of the most notable features:
Custom Coachwork: Each Duesenberg was hand-built, and buyers could select from a wide range of custom coachwork designs. There were open touring cars, roadsters, coupes, and sedans. These coachworks were often designed by the world’s most renowned coachbuilders. These included LeBaron, Murphy, and Rollston.
Expensive Price Tag: In 1926, the company introduced the Model J, which was an ultra-luxurious car that featured a powerful straight-eight engine. The Model J cost a staggering $13,000. This was equivalent to the cost of an entire house at the time.
Inline Eight-Cylinder Engine: Duesenbergs had an advanced inline eight-cylinder engine that was designed specifically for the company. This engine was one of the most powerful of its time, and it could produce up to 265 horsepower, which was a significant amount of power for a car in the 1920s and 1930s.
Hydraulic Brakes: Duesenberg was one of the first car manufacturers to offer hydraulic brakes, which were more reliable and powerful than the mechanical brakes that were commonly used at the time.
Art Deco Styling: Duesenberg automobiles had elegant Art Deco styling. They featured streamlined shapes, ornate grille designs, and intricate chrome details.
Interior Comforts: Duesenbergs featured a range of luxurious interior features. They had plush leather seats, rich wood trim, and advanced heating and cooling systems. Some models even had built-in radios and telephones, which were rare and expensive luxuries at the time.
The Choice of Celebrities
Many celebrities and wealthy individuals owned Duesenberg automobiles during their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of the notable owners of Duesenberg cars include:
Gary Cooper – The Hollywood actor owned a 1935 Duesenberg Model JN convertible.
Clark Gable – The legendary film star owned a 1935 Duesenberg Model JN convertible.
Greta Garbo – The Swedish-born actress owned a 1933 Duesenberg Model JN convertible.
Al Capone – The notorious Chicago gangster owned a customized 1929 Duesenberg Model J.
Howard Hughes – The billionaire aviator and businessman owned a 1934 Duesenberg Model JN convertible.
William Randolph Hearst – The newspaper magnate and publishing tycoon owned several Duesenberg cars, including a 1929 Model J and a 1930 Model J convertible.
George Gershwin – The famous composer owned a 1936 Duesenberg Model JN convertible.
Here is a brief overview of the ownership history of the company:
Duesenberg Brothers (1913-1926): Fred and August Duesenberg owned and operated the Duesenberg Motor Company from its founding in 1913 until 1926. During this time, they produced some of the most successful racing cars and luxury automobiles of the era.
E. L. Cord (1926-1929): In 1926, E. L. Cord, a prominent automotive entrepreneur who also owned Auburn and Cord bought the Duesenberg Motor Company . Cord invested heavily in the Duesenberg brand, launching a new line of luxury automobiles and expanding the company’s production facilities.
Duesenberg, Inc. (1929-1937): In 1929, Cord reorganized the Duesenberg Motor Company as Duesenberg, Inc., with Fred Duesenberg serving as chief engineer. The company continued to produce some of the most advanced and luxurious cars of the era, including the famous Model J.
Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg (1937-1938): In 1937, financial troubles forced Cord to merge his three automotive brands (Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg) into a single company called Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. However, the company struggled to stay afloat and eventually ceased production in 1938.
Other Ownership (1938 and Beyond): After the closure of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg, various parties acquired the rights to the Duesenberg brand. They included collector and restoration expert Randy Ema, who now owns the Duesenberg trademark. However, no new Duesenberg automobiles have been produced since the original company ceased production in 1938.
- Year Started: 1913
- Year Ended: 1937
- Origin Of Name: Name of Founders
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: Maytag-Mason Automobile Company
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Duesenberg Family
- Owner While In Use: Publicly Traded
- Owner Successor: E. L. Cord and others
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Porsche
- Naics Code: 336110
- Location Headquarters: Auburn, Indiana, United States