Happy Anniversary to Lewis and Ethelene Reed, married 100 years ago on this day June 15, 1920! Shortly after their wedding, the newlyweds left on an extended motor trip to Niagara Falls and other points north. They will be at home after July 1, in Gaithersburg, near the place of business of the groom.
In addition to this photo of their wedding, here is a clipping from the Frederick Maryland “The Daily News”, describing the ceremony.
Prior to World War I and before he opened his Rockville Garage, Lewis Reed worked as a chauffeur, receiving some of his training at the Pierce-Arrow factory in Buffalo, New York, whose car he is pictured with below. Pierce-Arrow was once one of the most recognized and respected names in the automobile industry. For 38 years, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company produced some of the finest automobiles made. Their models could easily cost ten times the price of a standard touring car.
Pierce-Arrow became known for its luxury autos, as film stars and heads of state made sure to have at least one Pierce in their collection (William H. Taft made the Arrow the first official car associated with the White House). Later, however, since Pierce-Arrow didn’t have a moderate-priced line, the company suffered during the Depression and closed its Buffalo factory, which has since been declared a landmark.
In the factory’s early days, the roof held a giant illuminated billboard spelling out the word “PIERCE” with a giant arrow displayed behind it.
Lewis Reed was born in Darnestown, Maryland on November 25, 1887 and was the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge. When Lewis Reed opened his car dealership in October 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. He founded what would become the oldest Dodge dealership under the same family ownership in the state of Maryland, and one of the oldest in the entire nation.
Lewis Reed was just 27 years old when he started selling cars built by brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. Few people jumped onto the Dodge Brothers bandwagon earlier than Lewis Reed, and not many have lasted longer. Reed Brothers was franchised as a Dodge dealership and service facility less than one year after the first Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line.
Lewis Reed was the first to sell Dodge cars in Montgomery County, Maryland and his company was the first Gulf gas dealer in the Washington, D.C. area. During the early years, Reed Brothers represented several franchise nameplates along with Dodge, including Oldsmobile, Hudson and Essex. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917 through 1923.
Before becoming interested in automobiles, Lewis Reed was one of the original employees of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, a Georgetown-based manufacturing firm that eventually became International Business Machines, Inc. He received his automotive training at the Pierce-Arrow factory in Buffalo, New York, the Dodge Hamtramck and Hudson Motor Car factories in Detroit, Michigan and the Washington Auto College.
A Charter Member and Past President of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Volunteer Fire Department, Lewis Reed was also a member of the advisory board of the Rockville branch of the First National Bank of Maryland, and belonged to the Masonic Lodge of Rockville, the Pentalpha Chapter of the Eastern Star, and the Rockville Rotary Club.
At his death on January 28, 1967 at the age of 79, the Senate of Maryland passed Senate Resolution No. 10, expressing “the deepest regret and sympathy of every member of this body,” describing Reed as “a kindly and loyal person completely devoted to his duties” which he carried out “with fairness and human understanding.” The resolution was sponsored by Senator Thomas M. Anderson, Jr. and Senator Louise Gore.
When you look back and consider what has taken place in the world in the past 100 years or so, you gain a perspective of what Lewis Reed faced. He overcame a lot of obstacles throughout his life. He steered his dealership through World War I, The Great Depression and World War II. When Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years and many dealers went bankrupt, he converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines and other appliances. Reed Brothers Dodge occupied two locations, the original at the Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike intersection and the second at 15955 Frederick Road in front of the Shady Grove Metro.
Lewis Reed set an outstanding example through his success, but more importantly through his sacrifices and commitment to the community he served. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.
On this day in September 17, 1908, Orville Wright and Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge test flew the Wright Flyer in a demonstration for the U.S. Army at Fort Myer, Virginia. Less than a thousand people witnessed the first flight at Fort Myer, because the general public was still doubtful that powered flight had been achieved. But Lewis Reed was there… and to commemorate that milestone, I have posted six original snippets of history that Lewis Reed captured through the lens of his camera that day.
A Rex Smith Aeroplane Company School can be seen on the side of the building in the background. The founder, Rex Smith, was an inventor and a patent attorney. The Rex Smith Biplane was used in the successful April 3, 1911 U.S. Army Signal Corps experiments in wireless communications. The Signal Corps did not buy any Smith Biplanes, they did however use them from time to time to train pilots to fly the Curtiss aircraft at the same field.
The Wrights would prove their machine’s qualifications at Fort Myer. They met or exceeded all of the Army’s specifications, including flying at 40 miles per hour, carrying a combined passenger weight of 350 pounds, maneuvering in any direction in the air, landing without damage, and flying for at least an hour non-stop, which was a world record at the time.
Today, the Wright brothers are legends, with their accomplishments being the storybook example of American perseverance and ingenuity.
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. It is a family business history that parallels the evolution of the American automobile industry itself.
One hundred years ago, the direction of the auto industry was uncharted territory to be explored by many people. Lewis Reed was an enterprising young man who put his future in the fledgling automobile industry. Although the specific motivation for Lewis Reed to go into the automobile business is not clear, the 1910s was a period of exponential growth in the American automobile industry, and with a location on the major east-west route through Rockville, a town that was on its way to becoming a satellite community of Washington, D.C., he was well positioned for success.
The 1910 census indicates that 23-year old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist. In 1915, Lewis Reed and brothers Robert L. and Griffith Warfield established Rockville Garage after acquiring the building from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. In 1918, Lewis Reed bought out Rockville Garage from the Warfield’s and changed the name to Reed Brothers Dodge. Soon after opening the doors to his dealership, Lewis Reed started to expand. In 1917, a two-story addition was added. The first floor housed the Service Department and upper floor was used for parts storage. At the left side of the two story building was a narrow vehicle entrance that led to the service department in the rear. A house can be seen behind the addition. Lewis Reed later purchased the remaining five residential lots to expand his dealership in the back.
In addition to Dodge Brothers Motor Cars, Rockville Garage carried Hudson and Oldsmobile. To survive the early days in the automobile business, most dealerships sold several makes of cars. Cross-selling was an acceptable business practice until the late 1940s when brand loyalty took hold. Also by then, the vast number of automobile manufacturers had been pared down. Reed Brothers got a new remodel in 1921, and an island with three new modern gas pumps were added. By this time, gasoline retailers had determined that placing gas pumps on an “island” in front of the station, where drivers could approach from either side, provided the most efficient station layout.
In the late 1920s, a second story was added to the showroom with a glazed front looking out onto Rockville Pike on the right. A modern drive-through canopy was added along with new gasoline pumps and Dodge Brothers Motor Car and Graham Brothers Truck signage. “That Good Gulf” was one of the the Gulf Refining Company’s marketing slogans for a number of years during the twenties and thirties. Another interesting detail is the placement of floodlights on the canopy roof pointing at the signs.
The new car showroom below is filled with late 1920s Dodge Brothers new car models. The high ceilings and mezzanine floor gives an air of elegance to the showroom and the expanse of windows on the front extends the full width of the building. Locating a showroom “in relation to traffic” was of the utmost importance. The showroom faced the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike which gave the dealership maximum visibility to the largest volume of cross traffic. Behind the large plate glass windows and an awning above was the product — the new car. It appears the showroom could accommodate 4-5 new automobiles. An upper floor mezzanine housed the dealership’s Parts Department and storage area. This level was accessed by a wide, open staircase. All of the elaborate design features inside, such as the high ceiling, wood railings, and mezzanine were usually reserved for upscale dealerships. To find this level of construction expense in a dealership selling mid-priced cars was extremely rare.
In 1930, Reed Brothers added the Plymouth line. Even though times were tough during the Great Depression, Reed Brothers was doing well enough to finance another facelift and renovation; the front of the Gulf Gasoline Station and the canopy was remodeled as shown below during the mid-thirties.
After years of hard work that also helped to establish an excellent reputation, once again Reed Brothers Dodge needed to expand. At about the same time as the gas station was remodeled, Lewis Reed split up the sales and parts and service operations by constructing a complete new building; it was located at the intersection of at East Montgomery Avenue and Dodge Street. The showroom was ideally located at the intersection of two streets, with a large curving window placed within the field of vision of approaching traffic and designed in such as way as to increase drivers’ viewing time. The corner showroom window simulated a “corner statement.”
At this point, eight new cars and trucks were being sold each month, along with a number of used car sales. Many purchases at the time, as had been the custom for years in the automobile business, were still initiated at a prospect’s home or job site; as many of the customers were farmers, the Reed’s had an active team of salesman in place who called on prospects right on their property.
Due to changes in the highway, Reed Brothers began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. Two-thirds of the original location at the junction of then Route 240 and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected. Below is a mid-1960’s photo of the Reed Brothers Dodge Gulf Gasoline station. The famous Gulf “ice box” design dates back to late 1930’s and there were probably more of these built than any single one of the later Gulf designs.
Two great entrepreneurs, Lewis and Edgar Reed, built and sustained a business that lasted for more than a half-century at one location under one ownership, and earned a place not just in the history of Maryland, but in American automobile history as well. For 55 years at the triangle, Reed Brothers Dodge became a community icon and a local landmark for motorists traveling to and through Rockville.