Edward Gowan Budd

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Edward Gowan Budd

Edward Budd
The history of the industry's development is studded with the names of men of vision and tremendous ability who, between them, and sometimes in spite of themselves, have brought about fundamental changes which in many ways have touched the lives of everyone.

One such motor industry pioneer was Edward Gowan Budd, born in 1870 in Delaware, USA. Edward Budd was born a little too late to be considered a true founder of the motor industry, but his innovations in the specialised sphere of motor car body building can be considered as fundamental to the size and success of the present day motor car business.

By the age of 18, Budd had moved to Philadelphia and had begun to study mechanical engineering at the city's famous Franklin Institute. A very quick learner, Budd joined the American Pulley Company in 1899 and began his education in the world of pressed steel and its uses.

In particular, Budd learned that, correctly handled, pressed steel could be used to replace the more traditional wood and iron in industry and could provide a lighter, cheaper and better substitute in many applications. These basic lessons were to serve him well in his career, and early indications were that he learned them thoroughly.

Budd left American Pulley after a while and joined the Hale & Kilburn Manufacturing Company, another firm specializing in pressed-steel techniques, in the production of steel hubs for the rapidly growing railroad industry and in the building of railroad cars. As an ancillary to this work, Budd also set about teaching himself the various techniques and disciplines associated with both gas and electric welding.

This knowledge stood him in good stead in the building of thousands of steel-bodied railroad cars for the Pullman Company. They were lighter, gave better resistance in a crash and were considerably less of a fire risk than their timber bodied predecessors. As proof of his prowess as a salesman for his company's services, Budd was also instrumental in selling the concept of pressed-steel bodywork panels for the motor car to Emil Nelson, the Chief Engineer of the Hupp Company, in 1909.

The First All Steel Bodies In Volume Production

A disagreement over how far Hale & Kilburn should go in developing some of Budd's growing concepts of what could and could not be achieved led to Budd's resigning from that company in 1912 and setting up his own manufacturing concern. With Joseph Ledwinka as his right-hand man, Budd is sometimes erroneously credited with selling the first all-steel motor car bodies produced. This is not strictly true, as many American motor vehicle manufacturers were experimenting with the idea around the time Budd formed his company. However, it is true to say that the Budd Company was the first to supply all-steel bodies in volume production, and this the company certainly did when it entered into a contract with Dodge, having already sold examples of the company's work to Charles Nash, President of Buick and General Motors, to Willys-Overland, Garford, Studebaker, Franklin, Cadillac, Hupp and Oakland.

The First All-Steel, Fully Enclosed, 4-door Saloon Body

It was Dodge, then, that first committed themselves to the principle in volume, and they ordered 70,000 units for 1916 and a mammoth 99,000 in 1917. These first bodies were comparatively crude examples and were all of the open tourer variety, the first models being made up from around 1200 separate stampings. However, such was the pace of the rapidly growing U.S. automobile industry, that by 1916, Budd was building bodies for Dodge fitted with a 'permanent steel hard top' and, by 1917, the Budd designers had developed an all-steel, fully enclosed, 4-door saloon body.

By the time the U.S. entered World War 1, Budd was employing 2000 people in his various plants and offices. Dodge again backed their foresight and commercial courage, by putting the all-steel saloon body into production in 1919 and further gambled in 1922 by introducing an all-steel coupe body, made for them in the Budd plants. That Dodge chose right, is illustrated by the fact that 1919 saw the company achieve its highest production record and that by 1923, Dodge sold its millionth car - an all-steel saloon.

Edward Budd Steel Body Crash Testing
A series of shots showing the rigorous crash testing that Budd put his cars through.

William Morris Sets Up The Pressed Steel Company

By the late 20s, Budd's plants occupied well over three million square feet, one plant alone consumed 1000 tons of strip steel a day and, by 1929, the Budd Company had 600 presses working to supply car bodies in an ever increasing stream to the still expanding American automobile industry. Budd, however, was not the kind of man to ignore other potential markets. He was generous with his time and with his ability. William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, visited the Budd plants in 1925 and returned to England to set up the Pressed Steel Company at Cowley. Budd provided 50% of the finance and retained technical control which lasted well into the history of the company that was eventually to be swallowed up by BMC.

Andre Citroen Collaborates With Budd

Even Citroen, perhaps the most inventive of the European motor manufacturers, were not averse to learning from the acknowledged master of production-car body building. In 1924, Andre Citroen began a period of collaboration with Budd which was to lead to the introduction of the very successful 'Traction-Avant' models. During the period 1929-30, Budd demonstrated his mechanical engineering foresight by producing a prototype car featuring an all-steel body and front-wheel-drive; it was this prototype which was developed by Citroen to become one of Europe's most popular cars until it was superseded by the majestic D Series of cars.

Other Budd licences were purchased by manufacturers in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Sweden and with all these firms, Budd was an understanding and not a particularly profit-conscious partner, preferring to help infant industries get on their feet rather than exploit them when they were still in the embryonic stage. However, Edward Budd also possessed a finely honed set of commercial claws - as Louis Renault learned to his cost just prior to World War 2.

The Burlington Zephyr

Budd attacked Renault through a German company, in which he had an interest, and contested in a German Court over patents infringed in the Renault Juvaquarte model. He was successful, and Renault learned his lesson - over Budd patents anyway. Budd didn't forget his first love though, when the automotive side of his business was proving to be an outstanding success. He still retained a keen and inventive interest in the American rail roads and, in 1934, introduced the Burlington Zephyr, a train built from stainless steel (the properties of which had fascinated Budd for some time).

He also helped in the development of disc brakes for the railroad, during the 1930s, and spread his commercial net into a variety of other industries with the result that his company would have interests in most aspects of those industries using pressed steel from refrigerators to aeroplane manufacture.

Other technological breakthroughs followed with the quickly improving techniques of Edward Gowan Budd. The demise of wood in the automobile industry led to the development of new concepts in vehicle upholstery and the formation of the spring clip industry. The drumming of unsupported metal panels led to sound deadening compounds being developed, as was arc welding, when both gas and electric types became unsatisfactory for the demands being made upon welding by Budd.

Without wood in the bodies, and with upholstering being a job that could be carried out after the body was built, high-temperature paint baking techniques were brought in, with a resulting increase in the quality of finish achieved and the expected longevity of the body. The basic requirements of Budd's craft led to major advances in die production and in the design of presses, as well as in the draughting techniques required to produce these essential tools. When Edward Budd died in November 1946, at the age of 76, he left behind a legacy that everyone should appreciate - not just motoring enthusiasts, but those who consider the car only a means of getting from A to B.

Also see: Honour Roll - Founding Fathers Of The Automotive Industry | How It Works: The Body
Citroen C6 Familiare
The Citroen C6 Familiare of 1930, one of the many cars that came from the successful partnership of Edward Budd and Andre Citroen.
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