On December 10, 1915, the one-millionth car produced by the Ford Motor Company rolled away from the assembly line at Henry Ford’s River Rouge plant on the Detroit River just south of Dearborn.
However, there was no celebration. Here’s how The Ford Times would remember the event:
“With twenty-five assembly plants… and with a big factory in Detroit assembling so many Ford cars a day, we passed the million mark without knowing it.”
But while times may have been just fine for Ford, and for some other automakers as well, 1915 wasn’t necessarily the best time to be starting a new car company. There was war in Europe and debate here about whether the U.S. should or would become involved.
Nonetheless, several new American car companies were launched 100 years ago. But don’t look for big centennial celebrations in the next 12 months. Most of these companies and their products were pretty much forgotten a long time ago:
All-Steel Motor Car Co., Macon, Missouri: The company planned to produce the All-Steel or Alstel, but by 1916 the car was to be known as the Madison, which would be produced with an electrically welded steel frame and attached to the body in only three places. The car was to be built in a factory proclaimed the largest in the world. But the factory burned in 1917 and only one or two prototype vehicles are known to have been built.
Bell Motor Car Co., York, Pennsylvania: Bell, which survived into 1922, produced more than 1,900 cars and was notable for having a number of dealers who were African-Americans.
Dort Motorcar Co., Flint Michigan: Joshua Dallas Dort and William Crapo Durant were partners in one of the largest carriage-building companies in the country. Durant went on to found General Motors while Dort kept building horse-drawn vehicles until 1915, when he started producing motorcars. His company produced more than 120,000 cars in 10 years, but they were expensive and not of the highest quality. He ended production in 1924 but kept a Canadian assembly plant and the Gray Dort brand in operation for another year.
Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Corp, Sharon, Pennsylvania: Driggs-Seabury made guns for the military — supplying the British, French, Russians and Americans during World War I — and decided to try its machine-making expertise to motorcars as well. The experiment lasted only two years, though Driggs returned in 1921 to build taxi cabs for a few years.
Elco (Bimel Buggy Co.), Sidney, Ohio: Bimel started making buggies in 1844, but its interest in motorcars was apparent as early as 1904, when it operated under the name Bimel Spoke & Auto Wheel Works. But it didn’t build its first car until 1915, when it took over plans from a bankrupt Indiana firm. Production ended in 1917, in part because of its relationship with the Caille Engine Co., a Detroit operation that produced not only engines — primarily for boats — but slot machines for gambling.
Fostoria Light Car Co., Fostoria, Ohio: Fewer than 300 vehicles were built in a two-year period. The company reorganized as Seneca Motor Co., found a new engine supplier (reportedly the big problem with the early cars was the engines sourced from Sterling) and did better, selling some 5,000 cars, half of them to overseas customers, in an eight-year period.
Harvard (Pioneer Motor Car Co.), Troy, New York: The original plan was to produce cars for the lucrative export market to New Zealand, but one of the partners took the prototype and headed to South America, presumably to build cars there. But he’d left the plans to the car in his partner’s safe so Harvard-Peioneer started production of a car that may have been the first with its spare tire stored in a hidden compartment. The company moved to Hudson Falls, New York and in 1920 to Hyattsville, Maryland, where it soon succumbed.
Herff-Brooks Corp., Indianapolis: The company started as a sales agent for Marathon cars, but took over production for two years after Marathon went bankrupt.
Hollier (Lewis Spring & Axle Co.), Jackson and Chelsea, Michigan: The former president of the Jackson Automobile Co. produced nearly 4,000 cars in a seven-year period.
Madison Motors Co., Anderson, Indiana: The company produced only some 400 cars before going out of business in 1919. It may have been most noteworthy for calling its initial model the Dolly Madison.
Mecca Motor Car Co., Teaneck, New Jersey: At least plans called for the car to be built in Teaneck, even though its headquarters were in Times Square, and thus the Mecca name, because the area was the Mecca of the New York theater district. The 1915 Mecca Thirty was a cyclecar and its successor, the 1916 Princess Thirty, was built in Detroit by Princess Motor Car Co., though only for one model year.
Menominee Electric Co., Menominee, Michigan: Menominee built electric motors and telephones. It built a car in 1902 as a test bed for its latest battery and in 1912 built an experimental child’s electric car. It also was responsible for the Dudly Bug cyclecar and in 1915 started standard electric-car production but built only a few of them before ending production before the new year.
Monitor (Cummins-Monitor Co.), Columbus, Indiana: The company sold some 5,000 vehicles in its eight years of production. Owners included Charles C. and E. S. Cummins, who should not be confused with Clessie Lyle Cummins, who founded the Cummins Engine Co. in Columbus in 1919.
Ogren Motor Car Co., Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois: Hugo Ogren built racing cars and a few prototypes for a planned touring car model, but apparently no cars were built for customers. The company reorganized and moved north from Chicago to Waukegan and produced two cars for two years before failing and being sold at auction. New owners took over in 1920 and tried once again, even further north, across the state line to Milwaukee, where a former skating rink was converted into an assembly facility. The company succumbed in 1923 after building only a few hundred vehicles.
Owen Magnetic (R.M. Owen & Co.), New York City: The Owen brothers built delivery trucks in Cleveland for several years. They built the Owen in Detroit from 1910 to 1911 and then moved to New York to become an Olds distributor and to sell Olds and eventually a variety of automotive brands. Raymond Owen became interested in the Entz electro-magnetic transmission and built a few more than 1,000 Owen Magnetic cars around it, at first in Cleveland and then, into 1922, in Willes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The cars were large and expensive and popular with entertainers such as Enrico Caruso. Owen kept his car-building company separate from his other businesses, bought Stevens-Duryea and became the exclusive supplier of electrical components to Packard.
Ross Automobile Co., Detroit: Ross & Young was a Detroit machine company that produced cars from 1915 into 1918.
Standard Steel Car Co., Butler, Pennsylvania: Standard Steel was known for producing wagons and railway carriages and spent $2 million to build an automobile plant, where it produced cars promoted as the “Monarch of the Mountains” with every vehicle getting a 25-mile road test on the local Pennsylvania hills. Some 14,000 were produced until 1923. The factory later became the production site for American Austin.
Stewart Motors Co., Buffalo, New York: Stewart was a truck maker that went into car production. Following Renault, Stewart put the radiator between the engine and the dashboard. It returned to exclusive truck production after 1916.
Yellow Taxicab Manufacturing Co., Chicago: It was John Hertz (yes, as in the rent-a-car company) who convinced the Walden W. Shaw Livery Co. of Chicago to paint its taxicabs yellow to better attract the attention of potential customers. Hertz started at Shaw as a salesman, but soon became a partner and later the company’s owner. In 1915, Shaw started building its taxis instead of buying them from various automakers. Hertz also took the company into truck and coach production, eventually selling majority interest to General Motors. GM’s acquisition included the Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System rental fleet. Hertz would become involved in various business ventures — one of his horses won the Kentucky Derby in 1928 — and in 1953 would reacquire the rental car business that bore his name.