Saturday, December 3, 2011

Buggy Makers: Gone But Not Forgotten

It is customary to say when something becomes obsolete that it “went the way of the horse and buggy.” Certainly the invention of the automobile in the late 19th Century doomed thousand of carriage makers in the United States. By the early 1920s, except for specialty builders (e.g. for Amish), virtually all were out of business. Earlier, however, a number of those companies had preserved their finest flivvers on glass paperweights that have survived through ensuing decades, many for a century or more.

This post celebrates that industry by depicting ten weights depicting buggies and providing a bit of history on each, as possible. The first, from C.H. Armstrong & Son is one of few employing color. It displays a large wheeled carriage and claims not only to provide “regular styles” but also “original novelties.” This firm was located in Wakefield, Rhode Island. It was a large carriage operation manufacturing in a long three story building with accompanying sheds. C.H. Armstrong & Son had its beginnings in 1861 and closed in 1921 when its attempts at invading the automobile business failed.

The Columbus Buggy Company was formed out of earlier companies in Columbus, Ohio, about 1875. By 1900 it was the largest buggy manufacturer in America, employing more than 1,000 workers. It is reported that both Harvey S. Firestone and Eddy Rickenbacker got their early business experience while working at the Columbus Buggy Company before moving on to other ventures. With the advent of the motor car, the company began to produce automobiles early in the 20th Century, both electric and gas powered. The vehicles failed to attract customers and the Columbus Buggy Company went bankrupt in 1913.

One of the classiest buggy paperweights in my view is one from the Buffalo Spring and Gear Company of Buffalo, New York. My research into this company has not resulted in much information, including not determining if the company made complete carriages or only springs and gears. I did discover that the Buffalo firm went out of business in 1902, well before the automobile took over. Little information is available as well on A. Meyer & Bro. They were a San Francisco firm and listed in a directory there in 1886-1887.

Henry Hooker was the head of the carriage company that bore his name, located in New Haven, Connecticut, and probably the individual most responsible for the paperweight with a photogravure picture of a buggy. A direct descendant of the Civil War general, Thomas Hooker, Henry was born in 1809 in Kensington, Connecticut. In 1840, he married Charlotte Lum of Oxford in that state and they had two children, both born in New Haven. Hooker died in 1873, before the automobile age, and a school in New Haven is named in his honor.

Wm. D. Rogers Son & Co. of Philadephia was one of America’s largest and most important carriage builders of the mid to late 1800s. This firm about 1894 moved from manufacturing the stage coach shown on the paperweight to constructing automobile bodies. It is said to have turned out the first limousine and first touring car bodies ever made in Philadelphia, constructing them for prominent local businessmen. Despite the fact that the Rogers company had a reputation for fine work, it went out of business in the 1920s.

I have been unable to find information on the Pierre Brault company of Montreal. But the J.D. Mockridge Carriage Repair was a Montclair, New Jersey, firm that operated from a large three-story building on Greenwood Avenue. There is a 1892 photo of the establishment that displays its production of buggies, wagons, and a horse drawn ambulance it was building for a local hospital. The paperweight, characterized by a multi-color format, is marked as the product of the Pyrophoto Company of New York City.

Samuel E. Bailey established his first company in 1890 in York, Pennsylvania. He specialized in the manufacture of wagons and later opened a factory for carriages in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He became the region’s largest employer, opened a show room in Philadelphia and erected a new, larger factory in 1896. The epitaph for the company, written by a historian of the buggy industry, reads: “Unfortunately the firm’s directors did not anticipate the success of the automobile, and in the mid-teens the region’s largest manufacturer was forced into bankruptcy.”

Our final paperweight is from the Burr Coach Builders of New York City. Note that it is straddling both worlds as other buggy makers tried to do, featuring both horse-drawn carriages and automobiles. Burr is reported to have experimented with automobile bodies as early as 1897 when they built the body for Henry W. Struss’s 4-cylinder Struss automobile. Burr was listed as a manufacturer of automobiles in the 1901 Hiscox directory, but historians doubt that complete vehicles were ever produced. Like so many similar manufacturers, Burr & Company did not survive, going out of business after 1910.

Ten paperweights tell ten somewhat different stories, the common thread being attempts to meet the threat to the horse and buggy from the newly invented internal combustion engine. Carriage manufacturers responded in diverse ways, but ultimately all memorialized here did not survive the technological revolution. But the artifacts they left us help to keep their memories fresh: gone but not forgotten.

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