Joseph W. Frazer

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Joseph Washington Frazer (March 4, 1892 – August 7, 1971) was a mid-20th century American automobile company executive. Over the course of his life, Joe Frazer was employed in half a dozen different companies as a mechanic, instructor, financier, salesman, president and board chairman. He held down top executive positions in Chrysler, Willys-Overland, and Graham-Paige, before partnering with Henry J. Kaiser to form the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.[1] He was an important figure in the classic era of American car building.

Early life[edit]

Frazer was born March 4, 1892 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the son of James Frazer, an attorney and judge, and Mary Washington.[2]


Frazer graduated from The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut and went to engineering school at Yale University Sheffield Scientific School in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated with a science degree in 1911.[2]

Early career[edit]

Frazer joined his brother’s Packard dealership in Nashville as a mechanic's assistant. He then changed his focus to selling and marketing new cars at the dealership and subsequently at another Packard franchise in New York City. He then moved to Cleveland and operated a sales office for the Michigan-built Saxon. Frazer was then hired by General Motors, where his understanding of purchase loans made him a key early organizer of GMAC. On loan from GM's executive staff, he set up a similar lending arm for Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.[2]


Frazer first met Walter P. Chrysler in 1923 at Maxwell Chalmers. Chrysler was aware of Frazer's growing reputation in the business as a thinker who made large-scale sales a possibility. Frazer joined Chrysler and, with him on board, Maxwell tripled its annual sales, helping Chrysler obtain the resources build his own car.[2] In 1925 Chrysler founded the Chrysler Corporation.[3] Frazer suggested to Chrysler that the company build a low-priced car that would directly challenge Ford and GM. Frazer suggested calling the car "Plymouth". "Why not call it Plymouth? That's a good old American name. Ever hear of Plymouth Binder Twine?" While others were unimpressed by Frazer's proposition, Chrysler (himself once a farmer) replied, "Every farmer in America knows about Plymouth Binder Twine. Let's give them a name they're familiar with." [4] On January 11, 1928, the first car was produced [5] and by 1931 the car was ranked third in automobile sales in the U.S.[2]


In 1939, Frazer moved to Willys-Overland which was in dire financial straits with sales stalled at 16,000 units annually. During his time at Willys the company built and unveiled its new military vehicle, with Frazer approving trademark filings to make "Jeep" an automotive nameplate. Frazer claimed to have coined the word jeep by slurring the initials G.P. but this is disputed.[6] Willys won the U.S. Government contract to build the Jeep ["General Purpose" - ("G.P.") military utility vehicle]. The Jeep began production in 1940-1941. Frazer also directed the development of a low-priced car called the Willys Americar which was a sales success.[7] By the time he left in 1944 Willys-Overland had rung up yearly sales of $212 million.

Graham-Paige Motors[edit]

In August 1944 Frazer took control of Graham-Paige Motors Corporation and became president.[8] He announced that the company would resume manufacturing automobiles after the war with a completely new car to be called the Frazer. While looking for financial backing for this venture, he met California industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, who also had plans for a postwar automobile. The two agreed to work together and formed the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation on July 25, 1945.[8] Henry Kaiser became the chairman of Kaiser-Frazer, and Frazer became president. Kaiser-Frazer Corporation and Graham-Paige became equal partners. Kaiser-Frazer would make the Kaiser car, Graham-Paige would build the Frazer and agricultural machinery.[8]

By the end of 1946, Graham-Paige was losing money, and couldn't meet its financial obligations to Kaiser-Frazer and in 1947, Frazer sold Graham-Paige's automobile operation to Kaiser.[8] He retained the farm equipment division which he moved to a plant in York, Pennsylvania.[8][9]

Personal life[edit]

Joseph married Lucille Frost (born January 3, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois – ?) died on November 18, 1914). They had one daughter Arielle (born August 23, 1917 – died February 7, 2006 in Newport, Rhode Island).

In April 2012, Frazer was inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame.[7]

He died of cancer at his home in Newport on August 7, 1971.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e "Joseph W. Frazer". American City Business Journals. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  3. ^ "Chrysler Models". jbcarpages. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  4. ^ "Kaiser- Frazer:The Last Onslaught On Detroit", by Richard M. Langworth; Collectible Automobile, April, 1988
  5. ^ "How Plymouth Was Named". Allpar LLC. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  6. ^ Brown, Arch (2001). Jeep: The Unstoppable Legend. Publications International. p. 42. ISBN 0-7853-5562-6.
  7. ^ a b "Joe Frazer, Father of the Jeep". Richard Langworth. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e Odin, L.C. A concise guide to Graham-Paige. Belvedere Publishing, 2016. ASIN: B01G8X5Z34.
  9. ^ "Graham-Paige, Joseph Frazer and the Forgotton Frazer Tractor". farmcollector. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  • He was featured in a "Time" Magazine article in April, 1945 in an article entitled "From Riches to Riches." [1]
  • Don Sherman. "A Few who Failed - unsuccessful automakers." Automotive Industries, September 2000. [2]

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