Just try and picture a world without these two things: white bathtubs and boattail Rivieras. Now, please, stop, just stop. That world, with its iron-black bathtubs and no distinctive-reared classic American coupés is just to horrific to imagine. Now we need to take a moment and thank David Dunbar Buick.
That's right. The namesake of GM's China-pleasingest division was also the man who developed the enamel annealing process used to make cast-iron bathtubs white, which were the 19th-century equivalent of bathroom iPhones, and as such were a huge hit. Buick's plumbing fixtures company did very well. And, around this time, he developed an interest in cars, which would prove both his greatest legacy and his undoing. As GM tells us
Around 1895, David Buick developed an interest in automobiles and the gasoline internal combustion engine. This interest led him to sell the profitable Buick & Sherwood Manufacturing Company in 1899 to the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company of Pittsburg for the sum of $100,000. With his half of the sale, Buick started the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company in order to further his quest to improve upon conventional L-head internal combustion engine design. It was at Auto-Vim that Buick and fellow engineer Walter Marr developed the valve-in-head (or overhead valve) engine and the first prototype Buick motor car.
Buick was a gifted engineer, but a lousy businessman and, from contemporary sources, kind of a jerk. He went into debt, sold companies to get out of debt, got in it again, in a depressing cycle of near-failure until good old William Crapo Durant, the man with the world's funniest middle name, bought the company and soon utilized it to form the anchor of a new company, General Motors.
Buick himself didn't fare nearly as well as the cars that bore his name, eventually dying broke. As GM again tells us
David Dunbar Buick died penniless on March 3, 1929 at Harper Hospital in Detroit. But his obituary maintains that he was not bitter over his lost fortune nor was he envious of those who gained fame because of his contributions to the advancement of the automobile. Buick told an interviewer in 1928 that “Success consists in looking ahead and forgetting the past. I just got a few bad breaks. Anyway, money is useless, except to give one mental security.”
Not bitter? Well, I hope that's true, Mr.Buick. And, one correction, the one thing money is good for is not dying penniless, at least.