August 14 marked the anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Wheewall Holden – the man considered by many to be the father of the Australian automotive industry.
Edward Holden was born in South Australia in 1885, although the Holden name goes back further than that.
In 1856, James Alexander Holden (Edward’s grandfather) started a leather and saddlery business in Adelaide called J.A. Holden & Co. In 1885, a German man named Henry Fredrick Frost joined the business, and it became Holden & Frost Ltd.
Edward, who had a keen interest in automobiles, joined the firm in 1905. By 1908, the company evolved to specialise in repairing vehicle upholstery.
After producing motorcycle sidecar bodies in 1913, Holden & Frost built its first car body for an imported Lancia chassis.
By 1917, restrictions enforced during the First World War led to the company beginning full-scale production of vehicle body shells.
In 1919, Edward Holden registered Holden’s Motor Body Builders as its own company that specialised in car bodies. It fitted bodies to Chevrolet, Dodge, Durant, Hupmobile and Overland vehicles, producing 12,000 vehicle bodies per year by 1923.
The following year, Holden was appointed the sole body builder for General Motors in Australia, and produced 22,000 bodies in 65 different styles.
The ‘lion and stone’ badge was designed in 1928, signifying the triumph of the invention of the wheel, and features on all Holden products to this day.
By 1929 the company employed 3400 people and was the largest automotive body builder in the British Empire.
The Great Depression forced Edward to the US to discuss merger talks with GM, and led to the amalgamation of Holden’s with General Motors Australia in 1931, forming General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd. GM paid £1,116,000 for Holden’s, a significant amount at the time.
As a part of the merger, the ‘Holden’ name was chosen in honour of Edward. Other potential names for the company included Austral, Boomerang, Canbra (from Canberra), Emu, GeM, Melba and Woomerah.
Edward was appointed chairman and joint managing director of General Motors-Holden’s in 1931, and held the position as chairman until his became ill and passed away in 1947, one year before the first locally produced Holden – the 48-215 – rolled of the production line.
What are your greatest memories of Holden? What is your favourite model from the brand’s history? Feel free to reminisce in the comments section below.