October 1915: The Beginning of a Legacy
Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States; the Green Bay Packers did not yet exist; the United States was two years away from joining World War I; the cost of a stamp was two cents, and Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland was founded.
This is when it all began. It was 100 years ago in October 1915 that Rockville automobile pioneer Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, signed a franchise agreement with Horace and John Dodge in Detroit; less than one year after the first Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line. Since then, the business that Lewis Reed founded, grew and transformed into the oldest family-owned and operated Dodge dealership in Maryland, and one of the oldest in the entire nation.
The photo shows the Rockville Garage where Lewis Reed got his start by becoming a partner with Robert L. and Griffith Warfield in 1915. Previously Lee Ricketts and Sons who ran the local Overland Agency, used the building until selling it to the Warfield brothers in July 1915. The Rockville Garage continued to operate under this name until Lewis Reed bought out his partners in 1918.
Lewis Reed and his brother Edgar, who joined him in business in 1919, were the first to sell Dodge cars in Montgomery County Maryland. The company continued for two generations later under the Gartner family and sold tens of thousands of cars to generations of local drivers.
In 1928, when Walter P. Chrysler took over after Horace and John Dodge died, Lewis Reed became an original member of the Chrysler family. By 1929, the year of the stock market crash that began the Great Depression, nobody could afford to buy cars. Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard. Reed Brothers had to rely on its Service Department to make ends meet. But, the dealership survived through these lean times.
Reed Brothers faced another setback during World War II. All U.S. car manufacturers stopped production of cars in order to concentrate on equipment for the military. Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years. When manufacturers halted car production and many dealers went bankrupt, Lewis Reed converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines and other large appliances.
The dealership survived The Great Depression, World War II, the first Chrysler Bailout and resurgence under Lee Iacocca, the sale of Chrysler to Daimler and the sale to the private equity firm Cerberus. Reed Brothers has, in fact, survived everything but Chrysler itself. Whether a franchise is run by a second- or third-generation dealer or is older than even Chrysler itself didn’t seem to matter when Chrysler decided to cut dealership ranks during their 2009 bankruptcy process. After almost 95 years selling Dodges, Reed Brothers was one of the 15 dealerships in Maryland and 789 dealerships nationwide notified by Chrysler that their franchise agreement would not be renewed.
During this time when many car dealers had to close their doors, Reed Brothers made behind-the-scenes tweaks to withstand the economic downturn and the loss of their franchise. The signs standing outside on Rockville Pike still said Reed Brothers Dodge, but inside, a new business was forming: Reed Brothers Automotive.
A business landmark in the Rockville area since 1915, Reed Brothers underwent a change in its structure – and its name – but still catered to the local community as it had for decades. Reed Brothers changed its name from Reed Brothers Dodge to Reed Brothers Automotive, and continued on as a used car dealer and repair shop until May 2012, when Reed Brothers announced the closing of their 97-year old Rockville, Maryland dealership.
When Lewis Reed opened his car dealership in 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. When I stop to think about what Reed Brothers Dodge has experienced over the last decade, from World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, to economic recessions and numerous Chrysler setbacks, I could not be more proud to be part of such an amazing story.
Our family will be eternally grateful for Lewis Reed’s foresight and thankful for our employees and their families, and the surrounding community that have allowed Reed Brothers Dodge to achieve such an historic milestone.
It is in keeping with Lewis Reed’s spirit, that I proudly honor and preserve the legacy he left as the founder of his family’s 97-year old dealership that spanned three generations and over nine decades.