James Alexander, Henry James and Edward Wheewall Holden

James Alexander Holden arrived in SA in 1852, as a 17 year old lad (b. 1 Apr 1835 Walsall STS) and started a leather goods business in King William Street Adelaide in 1856. James married Mary Elizabeth Phillips on 24 Sep 1857 at her home. They had nine children: Edward Thos (d. 1858 age 3 mo), Henry Jas, Catherine Mary (d. 1862 age 2), Ellen Elizabeth, Mary Winifred, Hubert Wm, Alexander Phillips (d. 1870 age 1), Mabel Janette, and Charlotte Alice Lynette.

The company progressed from mainly saddlery work to coach building and repairs. In 1885 Henry Adolphe Frost joined as a junior partner and the company was later badged as Holden & Frost Ltd. This was expanded into the production of truck bodies, by Henry James Holden, after his father's death on 2 Jun 1887 at Semaphore. Henry James married Mary Ann Dixon Wheewall on 7 Apr 1881. They had five children: Edward Wheewall, Ida Caroline Mary, Florence Muriel, Dorothy Edith, and William Arthur.

I hereby notify that I have this day SOLD the BUSINESS now carried on by me as RETAIL SADDLER, as well as the FACTORY with all its Tools and Material, situated in GRENFELL-STREET, ADELAIDE, to my former Partners, Mr. H. A. FROST and Mr. H. J. HOLDEN, and that after the first day of September next I shall have ceased to have any interest in the said Business. As my Son has so thoroughly studied the mechanism and working of portable gas-making machines, I have transferred to the New Firm my Agency, and I have Sold them all Muller's Patent Automatic Gas Machines and Gasoline in stock or to arrive.
I need hardly say how grateful I feel to my hundreds of Customers who for nearly thirty years have given me their patronage, as I am compelled by ill-health to give up active business. In retiring I desire to inconvenience my friends as little as possible, and although I must close my books by the end of this month, I shall be glad to hear from any customer if he desires longer credit, and try to arrange accordingly.
JAMES A. HOLDEN. Adelaide. August 12, 1885.

South Australian Advertiser 15 Aug 1885 p2.

After the death of Frost in 1909, Henry Holden bought his late partner’s shares. In 1913, they began producing motorcycle sidecar bodies, and by the next year they were producing custom car-bodies. Henry joined with Frederick Hack in 1918 formed what was known as Holden Motor Body Builders. The company was building bodies for Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, Essex and Hupmobile by 1920 and was building more than 500 bodies a month by 1922.

In 1924, Holden Motor Body Builders was contracted to build entire car bodies for all General Motors chassis imported into Australia. This deal ensured at least 10,000 units per year would be produced.

Henry Holden died in 1926, leaving the company in the hands of his son Edward Wheewall Holden (many online biographies incorrectly report this man as b. 1896 when in fact it was 14 Aug 1885) and the company was producing 36,000 units per year. Edward married Hilda May Lavis on 18 Mar 1908 and they had three children: Margaret Helen, Nancy Ellen and John Jas.

General Motors set up headquarters in Melbourne, Victoria and installed assembly plants in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. By 1927 over 100,000 units per year were being sold. The 1930s Depression hit this American company particularly hard with huge losses and a growing stockpile of unsold cars. GM director, Graeme Howard, realised that GM had no assets other than unsold cars, whereas Holdens had assets including buildings, land and production equipment to keep the company afloat through the hard times.

Graeme Howard and the now Sir Edward Holden agreed that the merger of both companies would enable them to pool resources and survive the low car sales. Vehicle prices were dropped and by 1934 sales slowly but steadily increased. At this time the company developed the famous Australian ute. (Technically a coupe-utility—a car combined with a pickup bed originally a Ford concept when a few units were built at Geelong from 1931!) When the second World War came about, the economic recovery was complete. The new company, GM-H, concentrated on building armaments engines and ships at Fishermen's Bend, Melbourne. When the end of the war came about General Motors Holden had already been considering plans for the first all Australian car. The car would go under the name of Holden.holden

Designers had to design a car which could be used in Australian environments. It had to have enough power and be able to handle the harsh road and bush conditions. Australia's first locally produced car (Model FX) rolled off the production line on 29 November 1948. Unfortunately Sir Edward died in 1947.

The price was set at £733, which represented two years wages for the average worker at the time. Despite this, the car was an immediate success and Holden could not satisfy demand quickly enough. Eighteen thousand people had signed up and paid their deposit without even having seen the vehicle.

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