'Body by Fisher': A family affair
6 sons of an Ohio carriage maker became a vital part of the GM tradition
There also was a baby brother, Howard, who wasn't in the auto business, and there were four sisters. Howard worked for the family company that managed the joint financial interests.
They came from Norwalk, Ohio. Their father was a blacksmith and carriage maker, and his boys became the world's largest manufacturers of automotive bodies.
The Fisher brothers built millions of bodies for General Motors, each of which wore a tiny badge on the body panel just ahead of the front door. It read: "Body by Fisher." GM currently has an insignia that it calls the "mark of excellence." "Body by Fisher" was GM's first mark of excellence.
Fred was the first of the brothers to come to Detroit. That was in 1902, and he got a job at the Wilson carriage works. Brother after brother joined him in Detroit as each one came of age, and in 1908, they established Fisher Body Co.
From $1,000 to $4 million
Early on, the company struggled, but in 1910, it received an order for 150 bodies from Cadillac and was on its way.
Fred Fisher's official GM biography reports: "So swift was the Fisher company's growth that an investment of $1,000 by one of Fred's sisters was worth $4 million a few years later."
From the start, Fisher Body built closed bodies — for cars you could drive in the rain and in the winter. In 1916, Fisher Body hooked up with Alvar Ternstedt, inventor of the first practical car-window regulator. Suddenly the windows could go up and down!
In 1912 Fisher Body built 105,000 bodies. In 1916 it could turn out 370,000. It sold them to all comers — Ford, Hudson, Packard and Studebaker, as well as GM.
It was, perhaps, inevitable that GM and Fisher Body would get together, and in 1919, they did. For $27.6 million, GM obtained 60 percent of Fisher Body. The Fisher family would retain managerial control for 10 years, and GM would buy all its bodies from Fisher at cost plus 17.5 percent.
In 1925, when annual capacity was 575,000, Fisher Body acquired Fleetwood Metal Body Co., which was famous for turning out special bodies for such notable makes as Packard and Pierce-Arrow and for such luminaries as Andrew Carnegie, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers and Mary Pickford.
In 1926, GM paid $208 million for the other 40 percent of Fisher Body.
Fisher Body no longer exists as a GM division. It was folded into the GM Assembly Division in 1984.
The Fishers' futures
But what of the brothers? Fred retired in 1923, and Bill took over as Fisher Body president (general manager after the GM buyout). Bill bowed out in 1934, and Ed ran the show for the next 10 years.
Five of the six became vice presidents of General Motors, and five served on GM's board of directors — all except Al, who was Fisher Body's chief engineer.
Larry left the family store. He was general manager of Cadillac from 1925 to 1934. He brought designer Harley Earl to GM, and he was Cadillac's boss when it introduced the LaSalle in 1927.
Four of the Fisher brothers — Bill, Larry, Ed and Al — retired from GM in 1944. Fred and Charlie had retired earlier. Ed and Larry continued as directors.
Ed, the final survivor, retired from the board in 1969.
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