Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
David Dunbar Buick lived from 17 September 1854 to 5 March 1929. He was the founder of the Buick Motor Company. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
David Dunbar Buick was born in Arbroath in Angus. His parents emigrated when David was two years old, settling in Detroit in Michigan. Buick left school at the age of 15 and went to work for a company producing plumbing goods. The company ran into financial difficulties in 1882 and Buick and a partner took it over. Buick quickly proved himself able to innovate to stay ahead of the market. He introduced a way of permanently coating cast iron with vitreous enamel that allowed white baths to be produced. He also produced a very early lawn sprinkler. Before long, the ailing company he had helped take over was doing well.
The plumbing company was sold in the 1890s to allow Buick to work on his new passion, the internal combustion engine. In 1899 he set up a new company, the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company, to develop and produce engines for agricultural use. Before long, however, he turned his attention to the development of a complete vehicle. One result was that he ran through his working capital without actually making anything that could be sold.
In 1902, Buick established the Buick Manufacturing Company. This was intended to produce engines for use in other manufacturers' cars and make its own cars. The money again ran out in 1903. By now, however, Buick had managed to produce an engine that offered far more power than anything else being built at the time. The overhead valve engine, or "Valve-in-Head" as it was known at the time, was revolutionary and offered car manufacturers benefits unavailable from any other engine then on the market. On the back of his new engine, Buick borrowed $5,000 loan from a friend, Benjamin Briscoe. With it he launched the Buick Motor Company. In 1904 this was also struggling when it was taken over by James H. Whiting and moved to his home town of Flint, Michigan. It was Whiting who built the company up to become a major force in US motor manufacturing, before being taken over by General Motors. David Dunbar Buick himself only received a modest amount for his shares in the infant Buick Motor Company. He died in 1929.