Henry Leland started the Lincoln Motor Company in 1917 after being ousted from his own company, Cadillac. He named the new company Lincoln after his favorite U.S. president and set out to directly compete with Cadillac in the luxury car market. The company did well at the outset, but soon ran into financial trouble. It was bought by Ford in 1922 to add a high-end luxury car to its roster and compete with GM's Cadillac division.
Ford creates Mercury
Mercury, named after the swift messenger of the Roman gods, was created in 1939 as a separate Ford division to provide higher-end mid-range cars like GM's Buick division. Henry Ford cared little about aesthetics or luxury styling. His son, Edsel, was put in charge of the new Mercury division.
The first Mercury models were an instant hit with the pre-war populace. In addition to stylish design and sturdy construction, the cars offered buyers 95 horsepower, which was 10 more than available in the standard V8 used in most Ford cars. More than 155,000 Mercurys were sold before the division was shut down to build jeeps and other pieces of hardware for the war effort.
In 1949, two years after Edsel Ford's death from cancer, Henry Ford merged the two divisions to create Lincoln-Mercury. Rather than marketing the Mercury as a higher-end Ford, they were marketed as a "junior" division of Lincoln.
During the 1960s, Mercury distinguished itself with sportier models called by space-age names. These cars earned their popularity by pushing performance and luxury to the absolute edge of what was available at an affordable cost. Toward the end of the decade, Mercury distinguished itself once again by retooling the Ford Mustang platform into its own stylish version of the so-called "muscle car."
The 1970s and 1980s
The fuel crisis of the 1970s hit many automakers hard. But sales were brisk for Mercury through the decade. However, the fuel crisis also fueled a taste for smaller, more economical cars from the American car-driving public. Mercury responded to those needs through the 1980s with more economical models.
The new century
The luxury car has seen a decline in the last 20 years, due partially to the rise of the SUV. While Lincoln has always remained profitable, Mercury has struggled to find its way in the 21st century. As higher-end technology and luxury has become more and more standard in Ford's lineup, Mercury has fought to remain relevant. As early as 2009, Ford had announced the possibility of discontinuing the line.
For now, at least, Mercury remains a very much alive division of Ford. As always, the line remains responsive to the times and to its buyers and continues to offer quality vehicles for a reasonable price.