Henry Leland started the Lincoln Motor Company in 1917 after being ousted from Cadillac, a company he also founded. He named the new company after his favorite U.S. president and set out to directly compete with Cadillac in the luxury car market.
Catering to the high-end buyer
The company did well and immediately became a formidable competitor to Cadillac and Packard, the two high-end luxury car makers of the day. But the company still ran into fiscal troubles and sold out to Ford in 1922.
The acquisition of Lincoln gave Ford an opportunity to hit the high-end car market in a way that none of its then-current line could. GM had Cadillac to entice high-end buyers, but Ford was still making the practical, reliable and boxy Model T. As Ford branched out to other areas of the market, created Mercury in 1939 to compete with GM's Buick line of higher-end mid-range cars.
Henry Ford cared little about aesthetics or luxury styling. His son, Edsel, was put in charge of revamping the Lincoln line into the elegant standard of its day. Later, Edsel also headed Mercury. Sales increased almost immediately under Ford's leadership. The wealthy public was impressed by the car's craftsmanship, attention to detail and comfort. Each car was built almost entirely by hand. Contented Lincoln owners of the day included Herbert Hoover, Thomas Edison and W.C. Fields.
In 1949, two years after Edsel Ford's death from cancer, Henry Ford merged the two divisions to create Lincoln-Mercury. Rather than marketing them as a higher-end Ford, they were marketed as a "junior" division of Lincoln.
Starting in 1957, the division became known as Lincoln-Edsel-Mercury in the hopes that Ford's new, higher-end Edsel line would catch on. But the car became notoriously unpopular with the public and critics alike. It was discontinued, and the division was returned to the Lincoln-Mercury name.
Lincoln has also supplied most of the presidential limousines for the White House. Cadillac has assumed the duty since 2004, but for most previous years, they were made by Lincoln. The first, the Sunshine Special, was built for then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Lincoln. Since that time, all presidential limousines have been built with armor plating.
An enduring legacy
Lincoln's devotion to providing vehicles to a high-end consumer continues to this day. The company remains one of the world's leading suppliers of higher-end luxury vehicles.