The company was founded in 1917 by Henry M. Leland. Leland, one of the founders of Cadillac, left the Cadillac division of General Motors during World War I and formed the Lincoln Motor Company to build Liberty aircraft engines. After the war, the company's factories were retooled to manufacture luxury automobiles.
The company encountered severe financial troubles during the transition, and was consequently bought by Ford Motor Company in 1922, who still owns and manufactures cars under the Lincoln marque in its Lincoln-Mercury division. The purchase of Lincoln was a personal triumph for Ford who had been forced out of his second company by a group of investors led by Leland. That company was renamed Cadillac. In 1927, Lincoln adopted the greyhound as their emblem.
The Continental which became the most important car made by Lincoln began as a one-off project car for Edsel Ford to drive around on vacations in Florida. Edsel wanted a European-style car unlike the boxy designs his father's company produced. The Continental proved popular and plans were made to sell it.
The Continental Mark II was produced by the short-lived Continental division from April 1955 to July 1956 before it was returned to the Lincoln marque. The Mark II had a basic list price of $10,000, the same price as a Rolls-Royce that year. The Edsel division was merged with the Lincoln-Mercury division in January 1958 to form the Lincoln-Edsel-Mercury division until the Edsel was discontinued in 1960.
As recently as 1998 Lincoln was the best-selling luxury brand in the United States, helped by the massive success of the Navigator SUV. In recent years, however, the company has fallen behind Japanese, European, and American competitors for a lack of new models. The company is working to remedy this, however, and is sharing parts and platforms with other Ford divisions worldwide in an attempt to bring more new models to market faster. The company promises five new models in the four years 2004-2008, and has already begun with the new Mark LT pickup and a revival of the Zephyr name.
Leland named the brand after his longtime hero Abraham Lincoln, for whom he had voted in 1860 in the first presidential elections he was eligible for.
Lincoln had a long history of providing limousines for the U.S. President. The first car specially built for Presidential use was the 1939 Lincoln V12 convertible called the "Sunshine Special" used by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It remained in use until 1950. A 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan called the "Bubble Top" was used by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and once by Johnson. It was retired in 1965. The Kennedy car was a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible. It was in use from 1961 to 1977, having undergone extensive alterations which made it an armor-plated sedan after Kennedy's assassination. A 1969 Lincoln was used by Nixon and a 1972 Lincoln used by Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. A 1989 Lincoln was the last Presidential Lincoln as of 2004. Cadillac supplied Presidential limousines in 1983, 1993 and 2001.