Packard was founded by James Ward Packard, his brother William, and their partner, George Lewis Weiss, in the city of Warren, Ohio, where 400 Packard automobiles were built at their factory on Dana Street Northeast, from 1899 to 1903. A mechanical engineer, James Packard believed they could build a better horseless carriage than the Winton cars owned by Weiss, an important Winton stockholder, after Packard complained to Alexander Winton and offered suggestions for improvement, which were ignored; Packard's first car was built in Warren, Ohio, on November 6, 1899.
In September, 1900, the Ohio Automobile Company was founded to produce Packard automobiles. These quickly gained an excellent reputation and the name was changed on October 13, 1902,to the Packard Motor Car Company.
All Packards had a single-cylinder engine until 1903. From the very beginning, Packard featured innovations, including the modern steering wheel and, years later, the first production 12-cylinder engine and air-conditioning in a passenger car.
While the Black Motor Company's Black went as low as $375, Western Tool Works' Gale Model A roadster was $500, the high-volume Oldsmobile Runabout went for $650,and the Cole 30 and Cole Runabout were US$1,500, Packard concentrated on cars with prices starting at $2,600. The marque developed a following among wealthy purchasers both in the United States and abroad, competing with European marques like Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz.
Henry Bourne Joy, a member of one of Detroit's oldest and wealthiest families, bought a Packard. Impressed by its reliability, he visited the Packards and soon enlisted a group of investors—including Truman Handy Newberry and Russell A. Alger Jr. On October 2, 1902, this group refinanced and renamed the New York and Ohio Automobile Company as the Packard Motor Car Company, with James Packard as president. Alger later served as vice president. Packard moved operations to Detroit soon after, and Joy became general manager (and laterchairman of the board). An original Packard, reputedly the first manufactured, was donated by a grateful James Packard to his alma mater, Lehigh University, and is preserved there in the Packard Laboratory. Another is on display at the Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio.
The 3,500,000-square-foot (330,000 m2) Packard plant on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit was located on over 40 acres (16 ha) of land. Designed by Albert Kahn Associates, it included the first use of reinforced concrete for industrial construction in Detroit and was considered the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world when opened in 1903. Its skilled craftsmen practiced over 80 trades. The dilapidated plant still stands, despite repeated fires. Architect Kahn also designed the Packard Proving Grounds at Utica, Michigan.
Packard was still the premier luxury automobile, even though the majority of cars being built were the 120 and Super Eight model ranges. Hoping to catch still more of the market, Packard decided to issue the Packard 115C in 1937, which was powered by Packard's first six-cylinder engine since the Fifth Series cars in 1928. While the move to introduce the Six, priced at around $1200,was brilliant, for the car arrived just in time for the 1938 recession, it also tagged Packards as something less exclusive than they had been in the public's mind, and in the long run hurt Packard's reputation of building some of America's finest luxury cars. The Six, redesignated 110 in 1940–41, continued for three years after the war, with many serving as taxicabs.
In 1939, Packard introduced Econo-Drive, a kind of overdrive, claimed able to reduce engine speed 27.8%; it could be engaged at any speed over 30 mph (48 km/h). The same year, the company introduced a fifth, transverse shock absorber and made column shift (known as Handishift) available on the 120 and Six.
The endStudebaker-Packard pulled the Packard nameplate from the marketplace in 1959. It kept its name until 1962 when "Packard" was dropped off the corporation's name at a time when it was introducing the all new Avanti, and a less anachronistic image was being sought, thus finishing the story of the great American Packard marque. Ironically, it was considered that the Packard name might be used for the new fiberglass sports car, as well as Pierce-Arrow, the make Studebaker controlled in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
In the late 1950s, Studebaker-Packard was approached by enthusiasts to rebadge the French car maker Facel-Vega's Excellence suicide-door, four-door hardtop as a 'Packard' for sale in North America, using stock Packard V8s, and identifying trim including red hexagonal wheel covers, cormorant hood ornament, and classic vertical ox-yoke grille. The proposition was rejected when Daimler-Benz threatened to pull out of its 1957 marketing and distribution agreement, which would have cost Studebaker-Packard more in revenue than they could have made from the badge-engineered Packard. Daimler-Benz had little of its own dealer network at the time and used this agreement to enter and become more established in the American market through SPC's dealer network, and felt this car was a threat to their models. By acquiescing, SPC did themselves no favors and may have accelerated their exit from automobiles, and Mercedes-Benz protecting their own turf, helped ensure their future.