Fred Duesenberg

Frederick Samuel Duesenberg (December 6, 1876 – July 26, 1932) was a German-born American automobile pioneer designer, manufacturer and sportsman.

Frederick Samuel Duesenberg
Friedrich Simon Düsenberg

December 6, 1876
DiedJuly 26, 1932 (aged 55)
OccupationEarly automobile designer, manufacturer, racer
Known forDuesenberg automobile
AwardsMotorsports Hall of Fame


Fred Duesenberg was born in Lippe, Germany and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was eight years old. They settled in Rockford, Iowa. He was actually born Friedrich Simon Düsenberg, and not with the middle name of Samuel as most sources say. Samuel was the middle name of his brother, August Duesenberg.

Entrance into engineering industry

In the 1890s, Fred began building and racing bicycles with his brother August. In 1900, they began playing with gasoline engines and began building motorcycles. In 1906 the brothers got money from Edward Mason, an Iowa lawyer, to manufacture cars. Fred Maytag, Maytag washing machine and appliance magnate, bought 60 percent of the company. The result was the Maytag-Mason Motor Company in Waterloo, Iowa, which manufactured two-cylinder cars. Fred often demonstrated the cars' power in public demonstrations; in one instance, he drove a car up the steps of the Iowa state capitol building.[1] But neither Maytag nor Mason were experienced in the car business and the company gradually folded. The Duesenbergs went off to St. Paul, Minnesota to work on racing car engines. In 1913 the Duesenberg brothers founded Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc, in St. Paul to build engines and racing cars.

Having raced their bicycles and motorcycles, it was natural that, as with other automobile builders, Duesenberg would use the Indianapolis Speedway as a laboratory, and for nearly twenty years his own entries participated in races there. By World War I their engines had made a good showing in the Indianapolis 500. Eddie Rickenbacker, World War aviation ace, drove cars powered by those motors before he flew in the war, piloting the first Duesenberg-powered automobile to prize money in 1914, finishing tenth.

Design changes during World War I

With the coming of World War I the Duesenberg brothers had cause to change many of their engineering ideas. The catalyst was a Bugatti engine. This straight-eight engine consisted of two straight-four engines. They were mounted in series on a common crankcase with two flat crankshafts which were both linked at 90 degrees to form a single shaft. The Duesenbergs were granted an American contract to produce the engine for the French government, and it was their experience with the Bugatti masterpiece that led to the design of the famous Duesenberg straight-eight engine. At the end of World War I, they ceased building aviation and marine engines in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1919 the Duesenberg brothers sold their Minnesota and New Jersey factories to John Willys and came to Indianapolis, Indiana where the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company was established in 1920. Fred was the manager and chief engineer and later president. The result was the Duesenberg Model A.

Although a self-made man lacking technical university training, Fred Duesenberg exerted a profound influence in the engineering development of the motor car. As a designer of racing models, he was internationally famous and many of his developments in this field were later incorporated in stock passenger automobiles. He was credited with the introduction in this country of the eight-cylinder car and of the four-wheel hydraulic brake and was instrumental in the perfecting of other mechanical advancements including overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. These were found in Indianapolis-manufactured cars (including the Stutz as well as the Duesenberg) but didn't make the journey to Detroit for almost seventy years.

Winning the Grand Prix

The Duesenberg was the first American car to win the famous Grand Prix at Le Mans, France, in 1921. Driven by Jimmy Murphy, the car established a new road record by outdistancing the entire field by fourteen minutes. Other Duesenbergs won Indianapolis 500 races three times in the 1920s, making the brothers the first to be three-time winners of that race. The reputation of the unparalleled Duesenberg was founded on a brilliant racing heritage.

Downfall and late days

Despite being world-class engineers, the Duesenbergs were unable sell their Model A car, their first mass produced vehicle. A minor shareholder unsuccessfully attempted to put the company into receivership in 1923 based on rumors. In 1926, the company was discussing merger with Du Pont Motors, indicating some level of financial concern. Duesenberg was only able to survive to the classic era because E. L. Cord wanted a "supercar" to round out his automotive duo of Auburn and Cord. Cord admired the Duesenberg Model A and in 1926 proposed a financial rescue, but it came with a price — Fred Duesenberg was to design the most extravagant car of its era. Cord insisted that the Model J be bigger (and heavier) than Fred would have liked, but the rest was pure Duesenberg. The Duesenberg Model J was the supercar Cord wanted. In October 1926, E. L. Cord told the Indianapolis Star, "The purchase of the Duesenberg factory is the culmination of my plans to be able to offer the world an automobile of undisputed rank. In fact, the finest thing on four wheels. Duesenberg cars will be strictly custom built, the owners selecting their own body styles, their own body makers and selecting their own colors. The price probably will be $18,000, no matter what model, from racer to limousine. We will give the buyer 120 mile-an-hour [190 km/h] speed if desired. Naturally, the production of this type of automobile, which carries a warranty of fifteen years, will be limited and we are now taking orders..."

From that time on, Fred would cease to build racing cars and focus instead on passenger cars. Until his death, he served as vice president of Duesenberg, Inc., of Indianapolis, a subsidiary of the Cord Corporation. Early in 1927 the test board of the American Automobile Association presented to Mr. Duesenberg a bronze tablet in recognition of the leading part he had played in the development of several fundamental improvements in automotive engineering. In June 1931, at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers, he predicted that speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) on the highways would soon be common. However, his prediction soon became an irony when his car overturned a year later during a high-speed attempt. Today, speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h) are still considered as speeding on most highways.


On July 2, 1932, Fred was driving his Duesenberg on a wet Lincoln Highway on Ligonier Mountain near Jennerstown, Pennsylvania when his automobile overturned, apparently at high speed. Mr. Duesenberg was expected to fully recover from the spinal injury and dislocation of the shoulder when pleural pneumonia developed. An oxygen tank brought from Pittsburgh was employed and he again was thought out of danger. On July 25, he suffered a relapse and died. His wife and son were with him at the end.

Frederick Samuel Duesenberg is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.[2]

He was a member of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce and a member and councilor of the Society of Automotive Engineers, on several of whose committees he served.



  • "F. S. DUESENBERG DIES OF AUTO INJURY." New York Times, 27 July 1932, page 17.
  • "9 Named to Auto Racing Hall Of Fame." New York Times, 22 May 1963, page 69.
  1. ^ Marsh, Elisabeth. "Frederick S. Duesenberg." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified September 10, 2014.
  2. ^ "Indianapolis Auto greats" (PDF). Celebrating Automotive Heritage at Crown Hill Cemetery. Crown Hill Cemetery. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2012-09-10.

External links

Automotive Hall of Fame

The Automotive Hall of Fame is an American museum. It was founded in 1939 and has over 800 worldwide honorees. It is part of the MotorCities National Heritage Area. The Automotive Hall of Fame includes persons who have contributed greatly to automotive history—defined broadly to include persons who may not be household words but who are automotive giants nonetheless. They include award recipients from advertising, car rental, dealerships, designers, racing, financiers, engineers, mechanics, drivers, executives, managers, dealers, inventors and union officials. It includes the automotive industry, suppliers, dealers, and support.The Automotive Hall of Fame has conferred four different awards.

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Duesenberg Motors Company (sometimes referred to as "Duesy") was an American manufacturer of race cars and luxury automobiles. It was founded by brothers August and Frederick Duesenberg in 1913 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where they built engines and race cars. The brothers moved their operations to Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1916 to manufacture engines for World War I. In 1919, when their government contracts were cancelled, they moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and established the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. (Delaware). In late 1926, E.L. Cord added Duesenberg to his Auburn Automobile Company. With the market for expensive luxury cars severely undercut by the Depression, Duesenberg folded in 1937.

Duesenberg (disambiguation)

Duesenberg was an automobile manufacturer active from 1913-1937. Duesenberg may also refer to:

August Duesenberg, German-American automobile manufacturer

Fred Duesenberg, German-American automobile manufacturer

Duesenberg Guitars, a German company producing electric guitars and basses

Duesenberg Model J

The Duesenberg Model J is a luxury automobile made by Duesenberg. Intended to compete with the most luxurious and powerful cars in the world, it was introduced in 1928, the year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. The Model J, available with a supercharger after 1932, was sold until 1937.

Hydraulic brake

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Indianapolis 500 pace cars

The Indianapolis 500 auto race has used a pace car every year since 1911. The pace car is utilized for two primary purposes. At the start of the race, the pace car leads the assembled starting grid around the track for a predetermined number of unscored warm-up laps. Then if the officials deem appropriate, it releases the field at a purposeful speed to start the race. In addition, during yellow flag caution periods, the pace car enters the track and picks up the leader, bunching the field up at a reduced speed.

Prior to the first "500" in 1911, in the interest of safety, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher is commonly credited with the concept of a "rolling start" led by a pace car. Nearly all races at the time, as well as all Formula One races even to the present, utilize a standing start.

In almost every year since 1936, it has been a tradition that the winner of the Indianapolis 500 be presented with one of that year's pace cars (or a replica). In most years since 1911, the driver of the pace car at the start of the race has been an invited celebrity, a former racing driver, or notable figure in the automotive industry. Historically, the honor of supplying the pace car was, and continues to be, a coveted honor by the respective automobile manufactures and a marketing showcase for the particular make/model.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is an automotive museum on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, United States, which houses the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. It is intrinsically linked to the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, but it also includes exhibits reflecting other forms of motorsports, passenger cars, and general automotive history. In 2006, it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The museum foundation possesses several former Indianapolis 500-winning cars, and they are regularly rotated onto the display floor exhibits.

The museum is independently owned and operated by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, Inc., a registered 501(c)(3) organization. The museum dates back to 1956, and moved to the current building in 1976. It is located in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway race course, and is open year-round, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

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Maytag-Mason Motor Company

The Maytag-Mason Motor Company of Waterloo, Iowa manufactured Maytag automobiles from 1910 to 1915. The company's founder was Frederick Louis Maytag I, who is better known for his development of the Maytag washing machine company.

Mr. Maytag formed the automobile company by purchasing the Mason Automobile Company of Des Moines, Iowa in 1909. That company, which had been created by Fred Duesenberg, August Duesenberg, and lawyer Edward R. Mason, had been producing an automobile called the Mason. Mr. Maytag renamed it to the Maytag and began producing it in 1910.Mr. Maytag soon sold his interest in the company, and by 1912 the name had reverted to the Mason Motor Company. The company went bankrupt in 1915 and was totally out of business by 1917. Approximately 1,500 cars were built.

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