The Only Known Surviving WWI Cadillac

I was there


1918 Cadillac

I was there...

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by an Enthusiastic Cadillac Owner

It had been generally understood until recently that there are no surviving examples of WWI Army Cadillacs. This being said, I stumbled across a very interesting car in a storage facility in Spokane, Washington a few years back... my 1918 Cadillac touring car. It was in untouched, not restored condition, with a single overcoat of OD (Ordinance) Green paint (at least 50 years old) over a primary coat of OD green paint with military markings still in place on the primary paint. The gentleman who had the car in Spokane, had traded a metal building for it a decade or so earlier. That's right; he traded a metal building for it! The Cadillac had previously belonged to a military vehicle collector and life time member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Society. He had a number of tanks, some trucks, and also this Cadillac. At the time, he needed a new building to house a number of his larger vehicles that were sitting outside (tanks!) Luckily, the fellow from Spokane that got the Cadillac, just put it away to restore later, and never got back to it. So the car remained untouched, sitting in a few different locations for a total of 70 or so years. The engine still turns freely with excellent compression, having been stored very well in desert dry areas.

We began doing research on the subject of Cadillac's relationship with the military, and it turns out that Cadillacs were being used, and modified, by our military as early as 1904, some in the form of fully armored cars with Colt Machine guns mounted on top! General Black Jack Pershing had Cadillacs (Dodges also) in Texas in 1916, while fighting Pancho Villa in the border war with Mexico, prior to U.S. involvement in WWI. Cadillac's quality and superior design was the reason it was chosen for military service. I have spoken with civilian and military historians at museums across the country about this Cadillac. Many people have contributed in the quest for the historical facts. I have condensed much of the research into the following, describing what is known so far about how this Cadillac helped win The Great War!

1918 Cadillac Type 57 touring car, Vin# 57-A-704, is very likely the first Cadillac used in official capacity by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on French soil! It arrived with its original owner in Brest, France in August of 1917.

Record of Service
I will begin with the time line and key individuals. 57-A-704 was shipped from the Cadillac plant on July 31, 1917. It went to the Uppercu Cadillac Distributor in New York City (the largest in the East), and was originally ordered by J.H. Denison. He took delivery of his Cadillac on August 9th. It took a while to figure it out, as I was initially informed that the car was ordered by a J.M. Denison, of which there was no good historical fit to an individual living in the New York area at the time. But upon receiving a copy of the original order form from the Cadillac Archive, I noticed that they had misread the middle initial. What was thought to be an M was actually an H. This changed everything, and we immediately found only one J.H. Denison. The J.H. in his name stood for John Hopkins. Dr. John Hopkins Denison ordered 57-A-704. He is the grandson of Mark Hopkins, who was one of the most influential men of the 19th century. Mark Hopkins was president of Williams College for 40 years, and is affectionately remembered as "The Great Educator". Dr. John Hopkins Denison was the author of a number of books, including Emotions as the Basis for Civilization, The Enlargement of Personality, and Emotional Currents in American History. These books give great insight into what Dr. Denison found to be important, and I highly recommend that everyone find copies, and read them! They are timelier than ever and incredibly interesting.

J.H. Denison
J.H. Denison was, to say the least, a patriot to the American cause! He travels to France with 57-A-704 in the official employ of the AEF-YMCA. His record with this organization puts him in the earliest group of men to have traveled to France and it appears he moved among the top brass of the AEF. He was there, actually starting, the first embarkation station in France where more than 750,000 American GIs eventually arrived. He was there before them all and Dr. Denison and this Cadillac were still in France after the soldiers left in 1919. Dr. Denison and this Cadillac were present at the Second and Third Battles of the Marne, before Pershing even had his own Army, and while Americans were still fighting alongside French Troops. The Second Battle of the Marne was the first major battle in which our AEF ever took part, in its history! More than 33,000 Americans lost their lives. He then went on to drive Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Eleanor, all around France in this very car, from September through November of 1918. This commission is in the official employ of the AEF to choose all of the Leave Areas in France for our 2 million troops when off duty. I have found a copy of the official telegram, requesting that Dr. Denison go on this commission.

Baseball at Aix-les-Bains
He and Mrs. Roosevelt drove in 57-A-704 to casinos and resorts in France and rented them for our troops. The name Roosevelt opened doors, as they were, and are, the most important family in our nation's history. Mrs. Roosevelt, the late ex-President's daughter in-law, just back from France, was the first American woman sent abroad for war service by the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Associations). She reached Paris, indeed, only a few weeks after Pershing, and she had a French class for Americans in those far-off days when most of the pupils were ambulance drivers, because so few soldiers had arrived. Then, when Mrs. Roosevelt had been about six months in France, came the army order creating "leave area" for the men.

It was creation pure and simple: nothing of this sort had ever been done before in any army; the American soldiers, it was decided, ought to have leave areas, and therefore leave areas must be "arranged". That was the Army plan, and that was as far as the army's "general order" went; the execution was turned over to the YMCA, and the YMCA turned over the women's end of the work over to Mrs. Roosevelt.

Dr. Denison and Mrs. Roosevelt set up and directed the first Leave Area to open, in March of 1918. There is a wonderful photograph of a dark blue Cadillac with what looks like Dr. Denison sitting behind the wheel, in uniform, watching the 1st organized AEF baseball game in History (yes, in history), held at Aix-les-Bains in March, 1918. This photo was found in a book published in 1928 on the subject of the Leave Areas.

"The Other Eleanor"
Mrs. Roosevelt was kind enough to write in her autobiography, written one year before she died in 1959, over forty years after the war ended, "When the Army asked the Y to establish twenty more leave areas as soon as possible, I was sent with four other Y people on a tour of southern and central France. We went in luxury in a big open Cadillac touring car belonging to Dr. J.H. Denison, a lame clergyman who had turned it over to the YMCA with his services as driver. Our job was to select suitable places from a list given to us by the Paris office, preferably resort towns, and to make advance arrangements by renting casinos and inspecting possible hotel accommodation's for the troops." Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt (the wife of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. known as "the Other Eleanor") is among the first women, possibly the first, to ever serve in official capacity with the AEF in a time of war, on foreign soil.

Yeah, I know, WOW.

The following is from an article in the June 8, 1959 edition of Time Magazine:

On June 20, 1910, in Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, a pretty, impressible girl of 21 named Eleanor Butler Alexander was overshadowed at her own wedding. So, two summers out of Harvard, was the groom. Behind them, in a front pew, sat the groom's father —famous spectacles, famous mustache, famous teeth, famous granite jaw—the great Theodore Roosevelt, not two summers out of the White House. Among the guests in the church: no fewer than 500 of T.R.'s old Rough Riders.

Then, and for 34 years thereafter, Eleanor Alexander Roosevelt* was determined that her husband, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the ex-President's oldest son, should derive the deep strengths of the T.R. tradition from his father without being blotted out by it. "You know. Father," she said to T.R. one day at Sagamore Hill, "Ted has always worried for fear he would not be worthy of you." T.R. replied: "Worthy of me? I walk with my head higher because of him."

Poison Gas & the Y. It is this quality of a woman's pride in her husband, "cloaked inevitably and perpetually by the shadow of his father's fame," that lifts these meticulous, glittering reminiscences by Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. into the category of memorable U.S. biography. Her book is dedicated to her belief that Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (1887-1944) is an undiscovered great American.

Ted Roosevelt himself, a small man, clean-shaven, weighing never more than 150 lbs. was himself determined to follow in his father's footsteps. Like T.R., he went to Harvard, and like T.R., he went to work roughing it—two years, starting as a $7-a-week millhand in a carpet factory at Thompsonville, Conn., two years as a bond salesman in Wall Street, whose leaders hated his father. Like T.R., he joined the Army as the U.S. got into war; in June 1917, a Reserve Army officer, he went to France with the 26th Infantry Regiment, First Division, was followed by Eleanor, a volunteer worker for the Y.M.C.A. Old T.R. liked that. When told that Woodrow Wilson's son-in-law had joined the Y.M.C.A., T.R. said: "How very nice. We are sending our daughter-in-law."

Whereas T.R. made his battle name in one slamming charge, Ted had a rough time in the trenches. He was gassed at Cantigny, shot in the leg at Ploisy; at war's end, a lieutenant-colonel, he staggered through the Meuse-Argonne offensive on two sticks.

57-A-704 has a delivery date, from the Cadillac factory, of July 31, 1917. The build date creates a time line that is extremely tight when compared to events taking place within the government. The U.S. government conducted an official test in July 1917 (less than two weeks prior to the build date of this car). At the time, the reason was unknown. They took many makes of automobile to Marfa, Texas on the Mexican border. There was located an early Air field and Army Base, which remained after the border disputes involving General Black Jack Pershing and Pancho Villa in 1916. Most likely not a coincidence, Pershing had Cadillacs in his fleet while fighting in Texas. He also had a large fleet of trucks in action. It is the first time our country went to war, on the ground, using mechanized vehicles instead of horses and mules. This was very problematic from a mechanic's or engineer's stand point. As there were no standards for procurement in 1916, Pershing ended up with numerous different makes of truck, and no military mechanics. He literally had millions of truck parts and no interchangeability. When Pershing returned to Washington, he reported his problems with the lack of standardization. By 1917, the Liberty Truck, as it would be known, would be designed so that all truck builders could build the same truck with interchangeable parts. However, Pershing must have been pretty happy with his Cadillacs, as he continued to use them in official practice until at least 1920. The government test, in July 1917, proceeded to run various cars across the desert for 2000 miles. The Cadillac touring car finished the test, and then continued on for another 5000 miles after the test, in the heat of July 1917. It performed almost perfectly. One 30 cent fan spring and 1 1/2 gallons of water were added during the test. The Cadillacs, a 7-passenger touring car and a sedan, were then chosen by the government as the vehicles for Military Officers.

A57-A-704, a seven passenger touring car, was delivered to the NYC distributor on or before August 9, 1917. The distributor was named "Detroit Cadillac Motor Car Company" and was owned by Ingles M. Uppercu. Most all military ordinances and everything military related including the men, left from New York City bound for France. The Cadillac was tested and approved by the military in Marfa, Texas. Within a week or so, car 57-A-704 was built and delivered to Ingles Uppercu's in NYC. As it turned out, Mr. Uppercu, besides owning the largest Cadillac distributor on the East Coast, also owned the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company. This company had been building airplanes and motors since 1914 under that name. It just so happened that Mr. Uppercu's Aeromarine Co. had received a major military contract to provide airplanes and liberty engines to the military at the outset of the war, which for the United States, started on April 8, 1917. Mr. Uppercu was playing a major role in the Allied war effort himself!

So as it happened, 57-A-704 turned out to be one of the earliest examples of American output directed towards the war effort on French soil, most likely before the first military designated Cadillac touring car even rolled off the assembly line, with their M VIN numbers. When Cadillac started delivering the M cars, they were shipped from the factory in pieces, in crates, and assembled after shipping. There were approximately 2000 of the M cars shipped by the war's end. According to the factory build document, 57-A-704 was delivered to Dr. Denison on August 9th. It was ordered in Blue with a Black top. Blue, at this time, was still the official color for all military vehicles in the U.S. Army. The military changed from Blue to OD Green during the war. According to Army Motors Magazine, published by the Military Vehicle Preservation Society, "In the early days...there were no established standards for procuring motor cars for the army....officers simply bought what they desired. If there were standards, which we doubt, we haven't found them. Leading up to WWI, standards remained lax. We find in September 1917 (two months after this car was produced) the first reference to standards for painting, numbering, and marking motor vehicles were - a General Order from Pershing. This order requires that all vehicles be painted in olive drab (OD) green to a specification. This war was the first in which the army used OD green. Prior to that it was blue (as this car was ordered) and gray, dating back to the Civil War and earlier." Now, A-57-704 is OD Green, as the military prepared it, after gathering all useful ordinances, and sending these vehicles to the military motor pools for complete rebuilding and recommissioning. A-57-704, having been used for largely diplomatic purposes, was likely still in excellent condition, and therefore retained in service. It's still in great condition for that matter. The rest were sold and parted and lost to time. The original top bows are excellent and still wrapped in original military material, khaki brown sleeves. The remnants of the top are still in place, khaki too.

The Bullet Hole
As it stands, the 57-A-704 is an untouched survivor car, literally. There is a bullet hole shot through next to the hood on the driver's side. This happened sometime prior to the second coat of OD Green paint, which is at least 50 years old now. The hole is at the base of the hood, next to the latch, near the driver's feet, and angling down steeply. As mentioned, it was clearly done long ago. If the hole is from the war, it would seem logical that a shooter would be leading the driver, and a miss would hit there. Or, it was strafed from the air, which would make since too, as the trajectory is rather steep. The hole goes through two layers of heavy gauge steel at a very high velocity. As Denison was present for only one major battle it is likely deduced that the bullet hole would have been sustained in the Second or Third Battle of the Marne. The layers of paint on the car are bare metal, primer (black), OD Green with military markings on that coat, and then the second overcoat of OD green. Although there are two coats of OD Green on the car, the second coat is protecting and preserving the military markings on the original coat. The military markings are: The Air Service Star on both sides between the doors (still under the second coat of paint on the driver side), USA #33863 on hood and rear of car (still covered by paint at the rear), and "For Official Use Only" on the front doors (still under the second coat). The military markings would not have been painted on the car until after it was delivered to the military ordinance depot, and they would have been updated as necessary by the military. For example, on the front doors it says, "For Official Use Only". This phrase was not stenciled on military vehicles until 1919.

After the war, 57-A-704, known by its ordinance number - #33863, continued to live its life in OD green. Where it was stationed after WWI, we don't know yet. It stays in the service for almost twenty years, finally getting retired and sold from surplus in Southern California on January 1, 1936. On this day, the first civilian owner took possession, a Major M.C. Bradley. The original California registration papers are intact. Original title information from California, states that M.C. Bradley took possession of the car on January 1, 1936. M.C. Bradley entered the National Guard at Los Angeles in 1925, as captain, and was assigned to the Los Angeles headquarters of the 160th. The National Guard Headquarters gave M.C. Bradley access to the surplus ordinance that he would collect with great vigor! His would become one of the world's greatest and earliest WWI collections. A vast military collection, which included everything; airplanes, numerous tanks, liberty trucks, ambulances, motorcycles, uniforms, and Cadillac #33863. It was a huge WWI collection, by all standards... He kept the collection at 220 Victory Blvd. in Burbank, Calfornia. The car remained at the Victory Blvd. location for decades (desert dry), and is credited with #33863 remaining completely free of rust or rot and remaining the only "survivor" condition example known in the world.

Some YMCA Info

Pershing and the Women of the Y
In the years before World War I, the YMCA movement developed the type of building and mobile equipment later used during the conflict in Europe. When the United States entered the war in 1917, the YMCA had developed the know-how, skill and experience to launch a massive program of morale and welfare services for the military — both at home and overseas. Its services were offered to the government, and President Woodrow Wilson quickly accepted them. Never in history had an organization brought aid to so many men, over such wide geographic areas and under such adverse conditions, as did the YMCA during the First World War According to Gen. John J. Pershing, the YMCA conducted 90 percent of the welfare work among American Forces in Europe during the war.

Several innovative projects created by the YMCA during WWI were destined to become institutionalized:

  • Overseas entertainment for the troops, which would be carried on by the United Serviceaef Organizations (USO), an organization the YMCA would help create 20 years later.
  • Overseas "exchanges" for the convenience of the troops, which was continued by the services.
  • Educational scholarships for veterans, which would give rise to the GI Bill.
  • The concept of R & R for battle-weary personnel, which would become routine in future conflicts. Who knew?

I would like to thank the following for their contributions; The Smithsonian Institution, The U.S. Army Ordinance Museum, The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, The National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, The General Motors Heritage Center Collection, the Williams College Archives and Special Collections in Williamston Massachusetts, and the Kautz Family YMCA Archive at the University of Minnesota Elmer L. Andersen Library.

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