Hale & Kilburn was sold and the new owners disagreed with the direction Budd had taken the company. He left Hale & Kilburn, and with his savings and borrowed capital Budd opened a metal pressing business, Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Co. in Philadelphia in 1912. His reputation attracted skilled staff, including a brilliant Viennese engineer named Joseph Ledwinka. Over the years they would become inseparable confidantes.
Because the young company lacked sufficient building space, it kept its key asset, a large stamping press, in a circus tent beside the plant. A break came when General Motors ordered an all-steel Buick body and 2,000 Oakland bodies. Progress was rapid and in 1914 Ledwinka was granted a patent for the world’s first all-steel, all-welded automobile body.
John and Horace Dodge in Detroit had been supplying engines and other components to Henry Ford, and when they broke with Ford and established their own car company they decided that steel bodies were the future. They turned to Budd, and the 1914 Dodge Brothers car became the first all-steel automobile produced in large quantities.
This was only the beginning for Budd. He went on to provide steel bodies, components, and body engineering to many companies, including General Motors, Chrysler (including the Airflow models), Delage, Citroen, Mercedes, and Morris.
Budd saw the future as the “chassisless” car, now called unit construction, and Budd’s Chrysler Airflow was a big step in that direction. They built the 1941 Nash Ambassador 600 model that pioneered the American industry’s full unit construction car.
He established Germany’s largest steel stamping company, Ambi-Budd, which designed the Volkswagen “Jeep” model. Unfortunately the plant was lost during the Second World War. With Morris Motors in England it established the Pressed Steel Co., which was later sold. Budd also had stamping plants in France and Italy.
In the 1930s Budd began developing railway trains, and in 1934 it sold its first stainless steel three-car train with the engine in one of the cars. An early advocate of diesel trains, Budd made such stainless steel railway legends as the fast Super Chief and El Capitan trains. Self propelled “Budd Cars” were once a common sight on Canadian tracks.
Edward Budd worked right up to his death on Nov. 30, 1946 at almost 76. He left as his legacy the all-steel car body and the current Troy, Michigan based Budd Company, now ThyssenKrupp Budd, a leading automotive engineering enterprise.