The Packard Motor Car Co. had its origins in the New York & Ohio Co., an electrical manufacturing operation owned by brothers J.W. and W.D. Packard, of Warren, Ohio. In 1898, J.W. Packard purchased a Winton automobile that was so plagued with problems he complained to Alexander Winton, who apparently told Mr. Packard to build a better car if he thought he could. Mr. Packard took that advice to heart and the brothers produced their first automobile in November 1899. In September 1900, the Packards' car business, the Ohio Automobile Co., exhibited and sold three of its cars at the first U.S. auto show in New York.
In 1902, Henry B. Joy, a wealthy resident of Detroit, purchased one of the Packards' cars. He was so pleased with the vehicle that he traveled to Ohio to meet J.W. Packard and invested $25,000 in the company, which was renamed the Packard Motor Car Co. Messrs. Packard and Joy agreed that a new manufacturing facility would be needed to meet their goal of producing 200 cars per year, and Mr. Joy secured additional capital and a production site in Detroit.
When the company moved to its new factory and headquarters in 1903, Mr. Joy took over general management. Although he stayed in Warren, J.W. Packard retained the title of president until 1909, when he became chairman of the board; he died in 1928.
With the Detroit-built 1904 Model L, Packard automobiles began to achieve recognition for setting speed and endurance records. In 1904, the company sold 272 cars in the U.S., though it failed to turn a profit.
The introduction of the Packard Thirty in 1907 established Packard's reputation as a marketer of luxury cars. More than 1,400 units were sold that year. In 1915, the automaker introduced the Packard Twin Six&mdaash;the first U.S. production car with a V-12 engine. Sales the following year exceeded 10,000 units, and Mr. Joy became chairman of the board.
The engineering expertise the company had developed with its powerful engines led Packard into the field of aviation, and the company began producing the Liberty aircraft engine in 1917. It continued to supply engines to the Allied forces during World War I.
The 1920s saw Packard sales steadily increase, and by the second half of the decade, Packard was far outselling other luxury cars such as Pierce-Arrow, Peerless and Cadillac. The company touted its cars' reputation for quality and durability in its ad campaigns.
As the Great Depression hit, however, the demand for luxury cars decreased sharply. In response, in 1932 Packard offered a reduced-price model backed by a newspaper ad blitz. That same year, the company tapped Young & Rubicam to handle the Packard account. In 1935, a new, less-expensive model called the One-Twenty (and later an even cheaper One-Ten) dramatically increased the automaker's U.S. unit sales, which soared from around 6,500 in 1933 to more than 95,000 in 1937.
In April 1941, Packard introduced the Clipper, a new line of sleekly styled models, but early the following year the company switched to wartime production as the U.S. entered World War II. As in World War I, Packard again was a supplier for the Allied military forces, producing both marine and airplane engines.
After the war, Packard struggled to reconvert to civilian production. A series of labor problems and difficulties with steel suppliers hampered the company's efforts and contributed to its financial losses. And it was not until August 1947 that the first completely new postwar Packards were introduced. Production and sales began to improve in 1948, and in 1949, Packard saw its best U.S. sales year, moving nearly 100,000 units.
For 1951, Packard launched a completely redesigned lineup supported with its biggest ad effort ever, encompassing newspapers, magazines and TV sponsorship on ABC. Those measures, however, were not enough to overcome a downturn in the domestic auto market, and a big ad push for the 1952 Packards would be Y&R's last for the company. Maxon Inc. became Packard's new agency in July 1951, moving the automaker away from targeting traditional luxury car buyers and aiming instead at buyers stepping up from mid-market cars.
In May 1952, James J. Nance became president-general manager of Packard. Under his direction, Packard offered an extended model range for 1953, reviving the old Clipper name for a line of mid-price cars. A shake-up in the marketing staff accompanied a huge ad push, with $8 million budgeted for 1953, up from $4.5 million in 1952. Packard's 1953 sales, however, fell short of target and worsened in 1954, despite another huge outlay in ad spending.
As it was becoming more difficult for independent carmakers to turn a profit, Mr. Nance and leaders of other independents began to consider mergers. In October 1954, Packard bought and merged with the financially troubled Studebaker Corp., creating Studebaker-Packard Corp. Shortly after that, Ruthrauff & Ryan was named the new ad agency for the automaker's Packard division.
A hot U.S. auto market and redesigned cars helped Packard's sales increase in 1955 to slightly more than 52,000 units, but Studebaker-Packard's losses totaled $29 million that year. In January 1956, the company moved the Packard account to D'Arcy Advertising Co., but by late summer the automaker had decided to close the venerable Detroit plant and cease production of Packards.
In August 1956, Curtiss-Wright Corp. agreed to invest $35 million and assume management of the automaker. Production and marketing were consolidated at the Studebaker facilities in South Bend, Ind., and in October, citing the consolidation, D'Arcy resigned the Packard account. Benton & Bowles, then Studebaker's agency, took on Packard as well.
In early 1957, Studebaker-Packard began producing a car in South Bend that it dubbed the Packard Clipper. The new model, however, was little other than a rebadged Studebaker; it was poorly received, selling only about 5,000 units.
In April, Benton & Bowles resigned the Studebaker-Packard account, and Burke, Dowling & Adams took it over briefly until D'Arcy again was appointed the Studebaker-Packard agency. By that time, however, production of Packard-badged cars had ceased for good.