Duesenberg History

During the early evolution of the automobile, many companies emerged vying for their stake in the rapidly growing market. One such company was the Mason Motor Car Company of Des Moines, Iowa, which formed in 1906. This company was poised for greatness, as it was the brainchild of Fred S. and August Duesenberg. The name 'Mason' was used in reference to the money source - a local attorney named Edward R. Mason who had provided the necessary capital to build their two-cylinder car. The brothers had intended to name the company 'Marvel', but were quick to change after the financial persuasion. The brothers had opened a garage in 1903 and built their first car a year later.

The Mason slogan for their car was 'The Fastest and Strongest Two-Cylinder car in America,' which was a bold claim, however with the mechanical genius of the Duesenberg brothers, it was a possibility.

As 1908 was coming to a close, the company was reorganized as the Mason Automobile Company. In June of 1909, F.L. Maytag and his son Elmer H., purchased a controlling interest in the Mason company and moved it to the former plant of the Waterloo Motor Works in Waterloo. A short time later, in 1910, the company was again re-organized as the Maytag-Mason Motor Car Company. The plan was to continue production of the two-cylinder car as the Mason, while a new four-cylinder model would be built and carry the Maytag name. This continued until 1911, when both lines were given the Maytag name.

Slow sales later convinced the Maytags to opt out of the venture, and on January 12th of 1912, the firm was once again re-organized as the Mason Motor Company. Edward R. Mason was again in control and all cars were once again known as the Mason.

In 1913, the Duesenberg brothers left Iowa to establish their Duesenberg Motor Company in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Although the Mason Company introduced a new Duesenberg-powered four-cylinder model for 1913, the Mason Motor Company had slipped into receivership, and their creditor refused to grant an extension. The company limped along for a little while longer, finally going out of business near the close of 1914. In September of 1914, the Mason factory in Waterloo was sold. While the Mason chapter was closed to history, the Duesenberg's took their lessons learned and would go on to build some of the greatest automobiles the world has ever witnessed.

Racing was in the Duesenbergs' blood, and in 1913 they moved from Iowa to St. Paul, Minn., to manufacture auto and marine engines based on the unique Mason racing engines, which used horizontal valve rocker arms. These 'walking beam' engines, as they were called, continued in Duesenberg race cars from 1914 on. Top drivers such as Ralph Mulford and Eddie Rickenbacker campaigned Duesenbergs with great success prior to WWI. During that conflict, the Duesenbergs produced airplane engines in a plant in Elizabeth N.J. Willys would eventually acquire this factory, but in the meantime Duesenberg had begun building a prototype straight -eight passenger car along with a SOHC inline-eight racing engine.

The first Model A Duesenberg, introduced at New York's Hotel Commodore in November 1920, used a straight eight for power, but instead of an overhead cam, the old reliable 'walking beam' configuration was applied. But when production actually began in 1922 this engine was superseded by the overhead cam eight. These Model A's also carried a further innovation: hydraulic brakes on all four wheels. Despite these sophisticated features, the Model A found tough going in the luxury car market. With a base price of $6,500, it was priced $2,650 more than a Packard and $1,250 more than a Pierce-Arrow; despite the high price tag, the cars were never profitable.

In racing, however, it was quite the opposite, with Duesenbergs racking up a phenomenal winning record at such diverse venues as the French Grand Prix and the Indy 500. Then in 1926, Auburn president E.L. Cord acquired Duesenberg and gave Fred Duesenberg the dream assignment of designing a supercar that could meet and surpass the world's best motorcars. The result was the Model J Duesenberg and the rest, as they say, is history.