Roy D. Chapin, automobile manufacturer and secretary of commerce in the administration of Herbert Hoover, was born February 23, 1880 in Lansing, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan but did not graduate, leaving in 1901 to join the Olds Motor Works. Desiring to establish his own company, Chapin and other Olds employees went out in 1906 in search of the money needed to produce the car that had been designed by one of their number Howard E. Coffin. They first received financial backing from E. R. Thomas, then later in 1908, when Thomas dropped out of the picture, from Hugh R. Chalmers. The company they formed was Chalmers-Detroit Motor Company.
Within the Chalmer organization, Chapin and Coffin still had dreams of producing the Coffin-designed car. With backing from department store giant Joseph L. Hudson, they established the Hudson Motor Car Company. Originally part of Chalmers, the Hudson became independent when Chalmers bought out the interest of Chapin and Coffin in his company. With this restructuring, Chapin became president of Hudson.
During World War I, Chapin served as chairman of the highway transport committee of the Council of National Defense. After the war, Chapin initiated changes in his company. He introduced a popularly priced car, the Essex, in 1919; in 1922, he began offering closed cars similarly priced to the traditional touring car; and in 1922 also, he reorganized the company's finances which provided new capital for expansion.
In 1923, Chapin resigned as president to become chairman of the board. This move allowed him to devote more time to other interests, such as the good roads movement. Chapin was vice president of the Lincoln Highway Association chairman of the good roads committee of the Automobile Board of Trade, and chairman of the highway transport committee of the International Chamber of Commerce.
In 1932, Chapin was appointed Secretary of Commerce. He served briefly, returning in 1933 to Hudson to take over again as president. Chapin died February 16, 1936.