- Magnus Bennett
- BBC News Scotland
When it comes to innovators, David Dunbar Buick needs to be remembered among the best.
He created a lawn sprinkler system, a toilet cleaning device, and a process for drying bathtubs and metal sinks that are still in use today.
But his greatest creation was a car that would become the first production model for one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, General Motors. More than 50 million cars have been named Buick in the last century.
But despite getting not one, but two fortunes, he ended up with nothing.
His story made a modern American businessman and philanthropist say, “He ate the cup of greatness and poured out the rest.”
Buick’s history shows that he was a brilliant inventor but had little business acumen.
Buick immigrated to the United States from Arbroath, Scotland in 1856 when he was still a child. He would continue to look for a plumbing company.
The project served to prove one of his greatest achievements, while furthering his inventive talent.
But Buick didn’t stop there. By the end of the 19th century, he had found another inspiration – the internal combustion engine.
He sold his shares in the plumbing business for $100,000 ($3.3 million in today’s currency) and formed his own automobile company.
Buick Auto Vim would develop the overhead valve engine – still in use today – but, by 1902, it had only produced one car and had run out of money.
Buick was replaced by William Crapo Durant, who took over the Detroit-based company and founded General Motors (GM), which until recently was the world’s largest automobile manufacturer.
GM recognizes Buick’s legacy and says that “its importance to the Buick brand and General Motors today cannot be overstated.”
A company spokesman said: “Although the story of David Buick itself is very complicated, there is no doubt that without him, the Buick car would not exist.”
Buick was fired from the company a few years later for more than $100,000 – a portion of what he would have received if he had kept his stock in the company.
But he ended up losing his second fortune with bad investments in oil exploration in California and land in Florida, in the United States.
In 1924, at the age of 69, Buick returned to Detroit jobless and penniless, not even having a telephone at home.
He eventually managed to get a job as a teacher at the Detroit Business School, but his health was failing.
“When his health failed, he took a simple job in the news desk, where he was remembered as a thin, wrinkled old man who looked at visitors from behind his heavy glasses,” says retired journalist Ian Lamb, a resident of Arbroath. Lamb led a campaign to build a statue in the city in Buick’s honor.
In March 1929, Buick died of pneumonia at Harper Hospital in Detroit after an operation to remove a tumor from his colon. He was 74 years old.
Being interviewed shortly before going to the hospital, Buick said, “I’m not worried, the person who fails is the one who sits down when he falls, who sits and worries about what happened yesterday instead of getting up and planning what to do.” do the next one. he will do today and tomorrow.”
“That’s what success is: looking forward to tomorrow. I’m not accusing anyone of cheating. It’s part of the game I lost in the company I started,” he said.
In June 1994, a commemorative plaque was placed on the walls of the old Arbroath Masonic Hall – the only building left on the street where Buick was born.
When the plate was unveiled, Robert Coletta, CEO of General Motors, said: “Buick was one of the biggest names in the North American automotive industry, present almost throughout the 20th century”.
“It certainly makes sense to honor this man, not just because his name identifies our cars, but because his inventiveness and hard work created the beginning of an unprecedented success story in the automotive industry that is still being written,” he said.
Since then, Buick’s star has been fading and he seems in danger of becoming Arbroath’s forgotten son.
Two years ago, The New York Times reported that the Buick name would no longer be emblazoned on the back of North American models. In China (where most Buick models are currently sold), the nameplate has disappeared.
And despite the efforts of Ian Lamb and others, there is no plan to write Buick’s name in the history books and statues in his hometown.
All that remains of Buick’s heritage in Arbroath is a memorial plaque on a wall hidden from most locals.
Ian Lamb claims the statue would be a fitting tribute to the pioneers of the car.
“David Buick was responsible for important developments in the development of cars. These developments are still relevant around the world, even today. But how many people know that this innovative idea was born here, in Arbroath?”, he asks.
“Yes, we have a sign that marks the last remaining building on the street where he was born, but even most people who live in the city would have a hard time finding it.”
“Buick deserves to be remembered,” concludes Lamb.
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