How Did Pontiac Get It’s Name?

PontiacIf you search for the name Pontiac on Wikipedia, the result shows you a now defunct car brand owned by American automaker General Motors, a city in the US state of Michigan and war leader of the Ottawa tribe during Pontiac’s War among others.

Let’s start chronologically to get a better understanding of who inspired whom for the subsequent naming ceremonies. We’ll take you across two centuries and the four Cs of Pontiac.

The Chief

Pontiac was an American Indian and the leader of the Ottawa tribe in the Pontiac war fought in 1763 to 1766 between the Native Americans and British. Born in 1720 in the Ohio area, Pontiac rose to prominence when he along with 300 followers laid siege to British’s Detroit Fort. Prior to the siege, the British had gained control of the Ohio region and cut off supply of trade goods provided by the French to the Native Americans. Pontiac managed to unite all the tribes including the Shawnee, the Munsee, the Wyandot, the Seneca-Cayuga and the Lenape against the English. Although he was unsuccessful in the siege, his stature grew considerably. Some historical accounts go as far as describing him as “the most famous Indian of the 18th century”!

After the failure in the Pontiac War and his rise to an eminent status, Pontiac attracted the envy of other tribal leaders. Several historians claim that his power and imperialism was greater than any Indian leader before him. The other tribal leaders, jealous of his imperial ways, banished him from Ottawa. Tragically, he was killed by a fellow Indian in 1769. There are different accounts and rumors of his death as well. Some say he was stabbed in the back, while other records say he was clubbed on the head. Some say it was the British who got him killed.

The City

Some 50 years after his death in 1818, the city of Pontiac, near Detroit, in Michigan saw its first settlement as a small town. It was named in his memory, by now recognized as a hero by the Indians.

The Carriage

Fast forward another 70 years in 1893, the name Pontiac was used for the first time for a company – the Pontiac Buggy Co. Founded by Edward Murphy, the company produced horse-drawn carriages in the city of Pontiac. The name of the company was later changed to Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works Co. After the turn of the century, a gentleman named Alanson Brush approached Brush with a design for a small two-cylinder car, which was rejected by Cadillac. Keeping up with changing times, Murphy decided to jump wagon and shift focus to manufacturing automobiles. Thus, Pontiac was changed to Oakland Motor Car Co. in 1906.

The Car

Sadly for Murphy, he did not live long to witness the success of his car company. He passed away in 1908. However, before his untimely death, he met William Durant, the co-founder of General Motors. Soon after Oakland Motor Co. was taken over by General Motors in 1909 and rebranded as Pontiac! The brand was highly successful in the 1920s and 30s. It lived for 101 years before being phased out in 2010.

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