A Bit of Plumbing Trivia

Published by The Bee News

January 19, 2023

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They were bestowed with a rather dubious form of immortality. Their last name is known throughout the world, but the men behind the name, and their many accomplishments, are mostly forgotten. Who today remembers that Walter Chrysler was credited with transforming Buick into a profitable company? Who today remembers that Henry Ford played an important role in the founding of Cadillac? And who remembers that David Buick made his first fortune in the plumbing business?

Buick, an immigrant from Scotland, was only able to attend elementary school. At age eleven he went to work to lend financial support to his mother and family. He delivered newspapers. He was a farm laborer. And then came his break, an opportunity to apprenticice as a machinist at the James Flower & Brothers Machine Shop, the same shop where Henry Ford had apprenticed in 1880.

At just 15 years of age, Buick used his fledgling skills to land a job with the Alexander Manufacturing Company. This Detroit based company was the nations largest manufacturer of enameled iron toilet bowls and wooden toilet tanks. Buick was ambitious, dilligent, and hard working. And so in a relatively short amount of time he was promoted to foreman of the shop.

The company failed and went bankrupt in 1882. But Buick saw this as an opportunity, partnered with William S. Sherwood and then assumed the Alexander Manufacturing Company’s assets to create the Buick & Sherwood Plumbing and Supply Company. Sherwood had the business acumen. Buick was the innovator and by 1890 had received thirteen patents, all plumbing related. One of these was a game changer, a method for affixing porcelain onto metals such as cast iron. The patent proved a valuable asset to the company.

And that was, essentially, the last financially successful endeavor for Buick. His genius was easily distracted and the automobile piqued his interest. So, he turned his attentions toward experimentation and development of a gasoline engine. To fund the endeavor in December 1899, Buick and Sherwood sold the plumbing company for $100,000 to the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company. His entire share of the sale was invested in the formation of a new company, Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company.

This company would evolve into the Buick Manufacturing Company. And that company would serve as the foundation for William Durant’s foray into the auto industry. And Durant transformed Buick into a leading auto manufacturer with promotion through the creation of a factory racing team headed by three brothers from France – Louis, Arthur, and Gaston Chevrolet. Durant would then use Buick as the cornerstone for a revolutionary new business concept that was made manifest as General Motors. Streamling the manufacturing process of Buick automobiles was how Walter Chrysler launched his automotive career.

David Buick soon became irrelevant to the company that resulted in his dubious immortality. He launched an array of other businesses. With each endeavor he made a fortune for others, but not for himself. He would die destitute.

But his contributions to plumbing changed the world. And those contributions are the foundation for modern plumbing companies such as Retro Plumbing Inc. of Kingman, Arizona. Rehabing a home or rental property, building a new home, maintenance on your mobile home or just a simple faucet repair, Retro Plumbing Inc is here to meet any plumbing need.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America

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