The automobile may have had its origins in Europe, but few sectors of the U.S. economy embody the American notions of personal liberty, expression, and freedom as fully as the automotive industry.
The rise of the industry at the beginning of the 20th century coincided with the ascent of manned flight and the motion picture industry, and a sense that the United States was entering a new and progressive era where anything was possible.
Hundreds of automotive companies sprouted all over the nation at the turn of the century, firing the ambitions of people in all walks of life.
Not all of these ambitions were realized. Many companies foundered because of mismanagement, overexpansion, misjudgment of the public taste, and underestimating supply chain costs. Some companies in the early part of the 20th century whose products were electric vehicles or steam-powered cars could not compete against gas-powered autos that had more power and were cheaper to drive.
Other factors such as the economic downturn in the early 1920s, and the Great Depression that caused widespread economic distress and dislocation, spelled doom for many carmakers, such as Du Pont, Durant, Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, and Peerless. Even though cars from these companies are no longer cruising on the nation’s highways, many of these defunct companies developed innovations such as disc brakes and automatic windshield wipers that are standard features of modern cars.
Stacker has compiled a list of 50 car companies that no longer exist from various historical sources such as the Ohio History Connection and HistoricDetroit.org; websites from education sources that included Case Western Reserve University of Cleveland; car club websites; and sources such as Hemmings Motor News, a monthly magazine catering to traders and collectors of antique, classic, and exotic sports cars.
In compiling the list, we attempted to tell one part of the story of the American automotive industry through various eras, the innovations of these companies and their ambitions, and the segment they held in the marketplace. The story also outlined the causes and reasons as to why these companies no longer exist. This list is not meant to be a comprehensive record of all the companies that no longer exist, but rather a slate of companies that made an impact through their designs or innovations that helped move the industry forward.
Keep reading to find 50 car companies that no longer exist.
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Moulton Taylor founded Aerocar International in the late 1940s to capitalize on the soaring interest in civil aviation and tap the ranks of pilots who trained to fly combat planes during World War II. Taylor’s aircraft was a hybrid car/airplane that drew inspiration from Robert Fulton Jr.’s Airphibian, and was certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. The Aerocar could accommodate two people, had a four-cylinder engine and could reach a top speed of 110 miles per hour, and 67 miles per hour on the ground. It took 10 minutes to convert the plane to a car.
American Motors Corp.
American Motors Corp. existed from 1954 to 1987. The company came about following the merger of Hudson Motor Car and Nash-Kelvinator in 1954, and at the time was the largest corporate merger. AMC sold the Jeep brand from 1970 after it purchased Kaiser-Jeep, and also sold the Pacer and Concord under its nameplate. In addition, AMC produced the Rambler, which was named Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1963. In 1968, the company introduced the Javelin to compete in the sports car segment. French automaker Renault owned 46.1 percent of AMC stock, and in 1987, Chrysler agreed to buy Renault’s AMC shares, as well as the remaining stock.
Apperson Brothers Automobile Co.
Apperson was founded in Kokomo, Indiana, in 1902 by brothers Elmer and Edgar Apperson. The early vehicles built by the company were touring cars with four cylinders and packing up to 50 horsepower. And they were expensive; the early Apperson models cost from $3,500 to $5,500. Among the most well-known of the Apperson vehicles was the 1907 Jack Rabbit, a 96-horsepower vehicle that according to advertisements of the time could reach speeds of 75 miles per hour.
Auburn Automobile Co.
The Auburn Automobile Co., founded in Auburn, Indiana, was incorporated in 1903 after brothers Frank and Morris Eckhart became interested in the burgeoning automobile industry at the beginning of the 20th century. Their first car was a single-cylinder, water-cooled vehicle that set consumers back about $1,450. Auburn vehicles became known for technical innovation and stylish design. The Eckharts left the automobile business in 1918, selling out to investors from Chicago. The company had its best year in 1931 when the company produced nearly 33,000 automobiles. But triumph turned to disappointment with the onset of the Great Depression, when sales fell. Internal conflict and market pressures pushed the company into bankruptcy in 1937.
Chalmers Motor Co.
Chalmers Motor Co., based in Detroit started in 1908 and made high-end vehicles until 1923, when it merged with Chrysler. The company takes its name from Hugh Chalmers, the chief executive officer of National Cash Register Co. Chalmers left NCR around the turn of the 20th century to try his luck in the emerging automobile industry. A born salesman, Chalmers was also a baseball fan and saw an opportunity to connect his company with America’s pastime. He created a marketing campaign that would become the predecessor of baseball’s most valuable player award, by giving a car to the leading hitter in each league.
Checker Motors Corp.
Checker, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is famous for its singular cabs, particularly in New York City. The company was founded by Russian immigrant Morris Markin in 1922. Among its particular features were its wide rear doors and spacious rear seats. The vehicles came in black, maroon, and yellow. Markin expanded the company in 1929 when he bought the Yellow Cab Co. The Checker Marathon taxi cab was produced with its signature checkered stripes from 1956 to 1982. Increasing fuel-efficiency requirements hurt the company. The last day for the vehicle in New York City was July 27, 1999.
DeLorean Motor Co.
Maverick automobile mogul John DeLorean created the DMC-12, the car that moviegoers know from the 1985 runaway time-travel hit Back to the Future that starred Michael J. Fox. DeLorean built a plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to produce the DMC-12. The car was sleek but was criticized for being underpowered, and was not as fuel-efficient as advertised. The company ran into money problems and only produced about 9,000 vehicles. New financing failed to materialize and the company went bankrupt in 1982.
Dort Motor Car Co.
The Dort Motor Car Co. was based in Flint, Michigan, and operated from 1915-1924. Dort was founded as the Flint Road Cart Co. in 1884 by William Crapo Durant and Josiah Dallas Dort. By 1917, Dort offered four models—two sedans, an open tourer, and a roadster—at prices starting at $695. Dort continued making cars until 1924. By that time, the rising cost of developing and distributing vehicles made it difficult for the company to compete against larger automotive companies.
Duesenberg Motors Co.
Duesenberg Motors Co., known for well-crafted vehicles in the early part of the 20th century, made racing cars and high-end automobiles. Brothers August and Frederick Duesenberg founded the company in 1913 in St. Paul, Minnesota. They eventually moved the company to Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and built vehicles for racing. The company’s luxury car was a pricey $8,500, and owning one was considered prestigious. Celebrities were drawn to the vehicle, including actor Gary Cooper. The Great Depression hurt the luxury end of the automobile market and Duesenberg went out of business in 1937.
Du Pont Motors Inc.
The Du Pont family made its fortune by producing chemicals. But the family also made cars in the early part of the 20th century. The company was founded during World War I to make engines for the Allied war effort. After the war, the company made luxury automobiles in Wilmington, Delaware, in limited production. Du Pont’s largest vehicle was the eight-cylinder Model G that debuted in 1929. Four of the Model Gs competed in the Grand Prix d’Endurance at Le Mans. The car resonated with the public, and Du Pont made versions of the vehicle for sale to the general public. Du Pont Motors halted production in 1931 because of the impact of the Great Depression, and closed in 1932.
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Durant Motors Inc.
After he was fired as CEO of General Motors, William Durant founded Durant Motors Inc. in 1921. The company produced a full line of vehicles. In 1922, he bought luxury-car maker Locomobile in a liquidation sale, to compete in the high-end sector against Cadillac and Lincoln. He helped create dealer networks and marketing incentives for his employees, and managed a sprawling network of decentralized assembly lines across the country. However, the company overexpanded, accumulated debt, and the Great Depression led to its demise.
Duryea Motor Wagon Co.
Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea were the first Americans to produce a commercial automobile that was powered by gasoline. They were also the first to incorporate an American business for constructing cars to be sold to the public. They tested their vehicle on the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, on Sept. 20, 1893. Three years later, Charles Duryea founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. and sold 13 cars of a limousine whose production lasted into the 1920s. The Duryeas were involved in several automotive firsts. They participated in the nation’s inaugural car race; put up for sale the first commercial automobile in 1896; and later that year, a Duryea vehicle hit a bicyclist in New York City in the nation’s first recorded traffic accident.
Anderson Motor Car Co.
The Anderson Motor Car Co. was founded by John Gary Anderson, who owned a buggy factory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. By 1915, Anderson saw the writing on the wall for horse-drawn transportation and converted his company into an automotive business. He traveled to the automotive hub of Detroit to see how automobile factories were organized. The visionary Anderson wanted to turn Rock Hill into the “Detroit of the South.” He opened dealerships throughout the South, plus Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, and New York City. Anderson also expanded into England, China, and Australia. His vehicles were too expensive for most customers, and his effort to introduce a lower-cost, aluminum model to lift sales foundered. Anderson stopped manufacturing automobiles in 1924.
Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Co., Elcar Motor Co.
The Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Co., and later the Elcar Motor Co. of Elkhart, Indiana, lasted from 1915 to 1934. The company created the Elcar automobile, considered one of America’s best-made assembled automobiles in the early part of the 20th century. The company also was involved in the taxicab sector, which kept people employed during the Great Depression that devastated the assembled-car industry. The taxi industry would help sustain the company for much of the economic downturn. However, Elcar was unable to survive America’s worst economic crisis.
Essex Motor Co.
The Essex was an automobile produced by the Essex Motor Co. between 1918 and 1922, and by the Hudson Motor Car Co. from 1922 and 1933. The vehicle was small, durable, and affordably priced. The Essex is frequently credited by automotive historians with starting a trend toward enclosed passenger compartments that were affordable and away from open touring cars’ design. Essex sales held their own through the 1920s, but began to slip down as the Great Depression took hold. The company debuted a redesigned Essex in 1932 dubbed the Essex-Terraplane that survived the company, which went out of business in 1933.
Electric Vehicle Co.
The Electric Vehicle Co. was an assemblage of battery-powered electric automobile manufacturers created by Isaac L. Rice in 1897. William C. Whitney and P. A. B. Widener took over the company in 1899, and it was their intention to create a monopoly by putting electric vehicles on the streets of large American cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Boston. This became known as “Lead Cab Trust.” The company sold about 2,000 electric cars as taxis to several American cities. But, it faced mounting competition from gas-powered cars; legal challenges regarding its monopoly; and criticism about the poor condition of its vehicles. The company eventually went bankrupt in 1907.
[Pictured: William C. Whitney House.]
Fisker Automotive, based in Anaheim, California, was known for producing the Fisker Karma, one of the first luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The vehicle debuted at the2008 North American International Auto Show and was first delivered in 2011. Production of the Fisker Karma was suspended in November 2012 following the bankruptcy of its battery supplier, A123 Systems. At that point, about 2,450 Karmas had been built since 2011 and more than 2,000 cars had been sold worldwide. A dispute with the Department of Energy over a loan helped doom Fisker Automotive, which went bankrupt in 2013. The next year, Fisker Automotive’s Karma vehicle design, tooling, and a manufacturing facility in Delaware were purchased by Chinese auto parts conglomerate Wanxiang Group.
Franklin Automobile Co.
The Franklin Automobile Co., based in Syracuse, New York, created the Franklin motor car that was invented by engineer John Wilkinson and produced by H. H. Franklin, an industrialist, beginning in 1902. The vehicle had an air-cooled engine and flexible, lightweight construction during an era when other luxury car companies were making lumbering cars. The Franklins set many racing records in their day and were known for their handling, speed, and durability. Like some other luxury carmakers, it did not survive the Great Depression.
Hudson Motor Car Co.
The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded by Detroit department store magnate Joseph L. Hudson in 1909. The company sold 4,000 of its four-cylinder models in 1909, which at the time was the most sales of any car company. Hudson Motor Car Company had other ambitions. It built a more powerful six-cylinder engine in 1913, called the “Super Six.” The car wrote itself into automotive history in 1916, when Hudsons powered by the six-cylinder engine broke records for the first two-way transcontinental trip as well as the quickest climb up Pikes Peak. Hudson sold well in the 1920s, with production topping at 300,000 in 1929. The company merged with Nash-Kelvinator Corp. in 1954.
Harroun Motors Corp.
The Harroun Motor Sales Corp. operated from 1916 to 1920 and produced the Harroun automobile in Wayne, Michigan. The company was named after founder and racing legend Ray Harroun, who won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. The company was incorporated in 1917 with $10 million in capital. The company was slow in getting vehicles to the public because of delays in the construction of itsfactory, which was designed to manufacture 24,000 cars a year. The company also was hampered by its inability to find a few new investors. Harroun Motors did develop the Harroun car, a four-cylinder, 16-horsepower vehicle. The company eventually closed in 1922, succumbing to a severe post-World War I economic downturn in 1922.
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Hupp Motor Car Co.
The Hupp Motor Car Co. had its origins in Detroit and was founded by Robert “Bobby” Hupp, who had worked at Olds Motor Works and Ford Motor Co. before striking out on his own. His Hupmobile was a small vehicle that debuted in 1909 at the Detroit Automobile Show and became a big success across the country. Among its admirers was Henry Ford. The vehicle was inexpensive and developed a reputation for its durability and reliability, important in the days before well-paved roads. The Hupp 20 Runabout was selected as the first car used by the Detroit police force. The company was also known for its elegant advertising campaigns. In 1911, Hupp left the company and started other car businesses, all of which failed. Hupp Motor Car Co. continued without him. It eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1940 because of poor management.
Imperial Automobile Co.
Brothers T.A. and George N. Campbell formed The Imperial Automobile Co. in Jackson, Michigan, in 1907. Imperial produced mid-sized vehicles powered by four-cylinder engines. The company’s cars were assembled cars, meaning parts were made by other companies. The body and coach production were done by other companies. The coachwork was performed by the Beaudette Co, which also did work for Buick and Ford. In 1915, the company merged with Marion Motor Co. from Indianapolis to form Mutual Motors Co. Imperial’s car production lasted until 1916.
Jackson Automobile Co.
Jackson, Michigan, was a hub for automotive activity in the first half of the 20th century. The city was the base for 25 car makers from 1901 to 1954. Jackson Automobile Co., one of the first automobile manufacturers in Jackson, was formed by Charles Lewis, Byron J. Carter, and George A. Matthews in 1902. The first car produced by the company was a steam-engine powered vehicle called the Jaxon Steam Car. That six-horsepower vehicle was powered by a three-cylinder engine and hit the street in 1903. The company also debuted a gasoline automobile the same year. In 1904, the company’s name was changed to Jackson. The company stayed in the Matthews family until it went out of business in 1923.
The pairing of shipbuilding mogul Henry J. Kaiser (famous for building Liberty ships during World War II) and experienced auto executive Joseph W. Frazer (he got Willys-Overland the Jeep contract in 1941) to form Kaiser-Frazer Corp. in 1945 seemed promising, as they hoped to take advantage of the pent-up demand for cars in the post-World War II market. They set up production at Willow Run, Michigan, utilizing the same plant where Ford had constructed B-24 bombers during the war. The company produced the Kaiser, priced in the lower-medium range, and the Frazer focused on the luxury segment. At first, sales went well, but the company had problems finding raw materials and components. Kaiser-Frazer’s cost structure also was higher than its rivals, and that hurt the company. Kaiser-Frazer abandoned the passenger car market in 1955.
Midget Motors Corp.
Midget Motors Corp. made the King Midget, a microcar produced between 1946 and 1970. Company founders Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt, two Civil Air Patrol pilots, first sold the King Midget in Athens, Ohio. Originally, the company offered a kit to build the car. But then the company added fully-assembled cars and eventually offered only finished cars. Midget Motors appealed to home mechanics and advertised its cars via advertisements in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines. If you wanted a King Midget delivered to your home in the U.S., it would take three to 10 weeks. The price for the 690-pound vehicle was $870. A fire at the plant and the company’s inability to meet federal safety laws doomed Midget Motors in 1970.
Kissel Motor Co.
The Kissel Motor Car Co. was launched in 1906 by Louis Kissel and his sons, George and William, in Hartford, Wisconsin. The company custom-built automobiles, hearses, fire trucks, taxicabs, and trucks. During World War I, Kissel Motor produced trucks for the U.S. military and for the Allies. Kissel Motor prospered after the war. Its most famous car, made from 1919 through 1927, was the Speedster, nicknamed the “Gold Bug.” The car was owned by some of the most famous personalities of the 1920s, such as actress Greta Garbo, aviator Amelia Earhart, and boxer Jack Dempsey. Kissel losses climbed during the Great Depression, and an attempted hostile takeover by New Era Motors forced Kissel Motor to file for receivership protection in November 1930.
Lozier Motor Co.
The Lozier Motor Co. produced luxury vehicles from 1900 to 1915 during a period known in automotive circles as “The Brass Era,” when brass fittings were used for lights and radiators. The company was founded in Plattsburgh, New York, on the western shore of Lake Champlain, by Henry Abram Lozier, an Indiana-born sewing machine and bicycle manufacturer. A Lozier was involved in a controversial finish for the first Indianapolis 500, in which many automobile historians believe the Lozier vehicle won but was denied the first-place prize because of a chaotic finish involving an accident. Beyond the racetrack, Lozier faced mounting competition and tried to enter the mid-priced car segment in 1914. A merger with Ford Motor Co. failed and the company declared bankruptcy in 1915.
Lexington Motor Co.
A group of investors founded The Lexington Motor Co. in 1909 in Lexington, Kentucky. The company created the Lexington Motor Car, a sleekly designed vehicle with a four-cylinder engine. The car’s innovative design appealed to the public and a strong performance at the 1909 Glidden Reliability Tour generated an order backlog. The car also benefited from the talents of mechanic John C. Moore. His designs for an assembled motor car using components made by other manufacturers kept costs low. The Lexington car competed in the 1912 Indianapolis 500. Like many carmakers, the post-World War I recession led to the demise of the Lexington Motor Co.
Marmon Motor Car Co.
Marmon Motor Car Co., founded by brothers Howard and Walter Marmon in Indianapolis, began building cars in 1902. The company, which would become famous for the Wasp car, which racing legend Ray Harroun drove while winning the 1911 Indianapolis 500. Marmon developed a reputation for reliable, speedy, upscale cars that were favored by celebrities such as actors Francis X. Bushman and Douglas Fairbanks. The company was known for technological breakthroughs such as the V engines, as well as innovations such as the rear-view mirror and the use of aluminum in auto manufacturing. In 1929, Marmon introduced an under-$1,000 car, but the stock market crash that year worsened its financial woes.
Maxwell Motor Co.
Maxwell Motor Co. was formed in 1913, and the origins of today’s Chrysler are in Maxwell company. Jonathan Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe made the first Maxwell car made in 1904. Their cars at the dawn of the automotive industry boastedtechnological innovations such as using a driveshaft instead of the chain drive, which was more commonly used at that time. In 1909, Maxwell had sales of 9,400 vehicles and was the nation’s third-largest automaker. The company sponsored a national cross-country drive, the first such event in which a woman with a female mechanic participated. In 1920, the company, awash in debt and near collapse, convinced Walter P. Chrysler to leave General Motors to try to revitalize the company. Under Chrysler’s leadership, the company began to make competitive automobiles. In 1925, the Maxwell Motor Company became the Chrysler Corp.
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Monarch Motor Car Co.
Detroit-based Monarch Motor Car Co., founded by Joseph Bloom, built the Monarch automobile, and the company existed from 1913 to 1917. The car was designed by Bloom’s brother-in-law, Robert C. Hupp, who became famous for creating the Hupmobile. The Monarch car was a small, four-cylinder vehicle that sold for about $1,000. Eventually, the company produced a smaller vehicle that cost $675. Hupp wanted to build a bigger car with an eight-cylinder motor and sought funding, but this failed to happen. Monarch Motor Car Co. went bankrupt. The company was bought by the Carter Brothers.
Moon Motor Car Co.
Moon Motor Car Co. was founded by carriage maker Joseph W. Moon in 1905 in St. Louis and existed until 1930. The Moon company was one of nearly 100 automobile companies based in St. Louis in the early part of the century. Moon’s son-in-law, Steward McDonald, became vice president of the company and he rebranded the cars, emphasizing style and comfort over engineering. He placed ads in the nationally-distributed Saturday Evening Post, and one of them featured cinema star Clara Bow astride one of the Moon vehicles. The company developed a reputation for fully-assembled, affordable mid-priced cars using high-quality parts. The use of high-quality components required more extensive work and that led to operating losses. The Great Depression put the company out of business.
Nash Motors Co.
Nash Motors was founded in 1916 by former General Motors president Charles W. Nash who had acquired the Thomas B. Jeffery Co. and changed its name. Jeffery’s most well-known car was the Rambler, whose mass production from a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin began in 1902. Nash cars developed a reputation for sturdiness and value. Even so, the company struggled to compete with Ford, GM, and Chrysler. From 1937 to 1954, Nash Motors was the automotive division of the Nash-Kelvinator Corp. and continued to be innovative. The brand debuted heating and ventilation systems as well as unibody construction. In 1954, Nash-Kelvinator acquired Hudson Motor Car Co., forming the American Motor Co.
National Motor Vehicle Co.
The National Motor Vehicle Co., founded in Indianapolis, operated from 1900 to 1924. One of the company’s presidents, Arthur C. Newby, was instrumental in creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The National Motor Vehicle Co. at first focused on making electric vehicles, but stopped producing them in 1906, and switched to gasoline-engined cars. The company produced a wide range of passenger vehicles, from four to 12-cylinder engines, and many racing cars. A National Motor car won the 1912 Indianapolis 500. In 1922, The company was merged into an association of car companies that went out of business in 1924.
Oakland Motor Car Co.
The Oakland Motor Car Co., based in Pontiac, Michigan, was named after the Michigan county of Oakland. The company was founded in 1907 by Edward Murphy, founder of a buggy company in Pontiac. In 1908, Oakland produced a Model A that cost $1,300 and Model E for $2,150. The company’s rapid growth and accompanying financial pressures bore down on the company. General Motors Co., led by William C. Durant, saw this as an opportunity to bring Oakland into the GM fold, and Oakland became a division of General Motors. The company continued to make modestly-priced automobiles until 1931, when the brand was dropped in favor of GM’s Pontiac.
Packard Motor Car Co.
The Packard Motor Car Co., founded by brothers James Ward and William Dowd Packard, had a long run, from 1899 to 1956. When it opened in 1903, Packard’s Detroit plant, constructed by famed architect Albert Kahn, was the most advanced auto factory in the world. The company gained a reputation for innovation, such as the modern steering wheel, and for luxury. After World War II, Packard aimed at making cars for the middle class, but the company was unable to compete against GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Its last car model was produced in 1958. The renowned Detroit plant ended manufacturing the previous year. Attempts to bring back the brand faltered.
Peerless Motor Car Co.
The Peerless brand of cars in Cleveland was produced by the Peerless Motor Car Co. from 1900 to 1931. Peerless was considered one of the three “P” car companies, along with Packard and Pierce-Arrow. Peerless was known for producing luxurious touring car models, with a top price of $6,000 in 1905. The market turned against large touring cars in the 1920s, and Peerless was forced to lower its prices and tried to promote medium-sized cars. Peerless fell victim to the Depression, and when it closed in 1931, it was the last Cleveland-based manufacturer of cars.
Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co.
The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. was a luxury carmaker based in Buffalo that operated from 1901 to 1938. Besides luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow also made commercial trucks, fire trucks, boats, and motorcycles. Founder George Pierce focused on the luxury segment and made a larger, more luxurious car for the affluent segment. Pierce-Arrows were considered the American Rolls-Royce, and were favored by U.S. presidents and celebrities. Economic downturns beginning in the early 1930s hurt the company, which had difficulty competing against Big Three rivals Ford, GM, and Chrysler’s luxury brands.
Rickenbacker Motor Co.
World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Motor Co. in 1921 in Detroit. Rickenbacker used his World War I fighter squadron emblem of a top hat inside a ring as a symbol for the company, which made sporting coupés, touring cars, sedans, and roadsters. Rickenbacker cars were too expensive for the era and sales were disappointing. The death of auto designer Walter Flanders was a setback for the company. Rickenbacker, tired of company infighting, left Rickenbacker Motor in 1926, and the business closed in 1927. In a curious twist, the company’s manufacturing equipment was sold to Audi and transported to Germany, the country Rickenbacker fought against in World War I.
REO Motor Car Co.
REO Motor Car Co. was founded by Ransom Eli Olds in 1904. He organized a network of parts companies such as the National Coil Co., the Michigan Screw Co., and the Atlas Drop Forge Co. to supply his car company. By 1907, REO had sales of $4 million, and the company was one of the four largest car companies in the nation. After 1908, even though Olds’ cars had improved, the company was losing market share to emerging auto giants Ford and General Motors. The company survived on its reputation for durable cars and trucks. Truck orders during World War II helped sustain the company, but the postwar era was an unstable time for the company. In 1954, it was sold to the Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corp., and three years later became a unit of the White Motor Co.
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General Motors launched the Saturn brand in 1985 to try to compete with the Japanese auto brands that were making inroads in the American market. The company was billed as “a different kind of car company,” created by GM as a standalone car company, though wholly owned by General Motors. It was managed separately in the beginning, but eventually was brought into GM’s fold. Saturn’s first car was the S-Series and it was well-received by automotive critics and the public. The company would turn out models such as the Ion and Aura. After GM’s bankruptcy and restructuring in 2009, the auto giant tried to sell Saturn. No deal materialized, and GM ended Saturn production in 2009.
Stanley Motor Carriage Co.
The Stanley Motor Carriage Co. was known for making steam-powered motor cars, known as Stanley Steamers, although the company made various models. Freelan O. Stanley and his wife Flora climbed Mount Washington in Maine in 1899 in a Stanley Steamer. It was the first time any automobile had climbed the mountain, the tallest in the northeastern United States. Gas engines made the Stanley steam cars obsolete in the 1920s, as gas engines produced more power and had become easier to operate at a lower cost. The company closed in 1924.
Stout Motor Car Co.
Detroit-based Stout Motor Car Co. made a beetle-shaped vehicle called a “Scarab” that derived its shape from aircraft designer William Bushnell Stout. The vehicle with an art deco aesthetic was made mostly of aluminum and rode the trend of American cars that were getting bigger and sturdier by the 1930s. It was an early version of a minivan, with a long wheelbase. The vehicle also had ambient lighting, thermostat-controlled heating, and power door locks. The car never went into mass production.
Studebaker Automobile Co.
Studebaker Automobile Co., founded in South Bend, Indiana, was another company that made electrically-powered cars at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1904, the company started selling gas-powered cars—two-cylinder, 16-horsepower touring vehicles. In 1913, Studebaker was the third-largest producer of cars in the U.S., trailing Ford and Overland. The company survived the Great Depression and produced trucks for the military during World War II. After the war, the company produced a curiously-styled car called “Coming-and-Going cars,” because both ends looked identical. Packard Motor Car Co. bought Studebaker, and the combined company found it difficult to compete with General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. In March 1966, Studebaker shuttered its Hamilton, Ontario, facilities, ending 114 years in business.
Tucker Corp. was the brainchild of Preston Tucker, who was a visionary automobile entrepreneur. In 1948, he built a revolutionary rear-engine sedan, a vehicle shaped like a torpedo, that was the first to include disc brakes and a center headlight that swivels during cornering, among other features. Tucker claimed he had opposition from within the automobile industry and said so in an open letter that appeared in newspapers all over the country, accused them of planting spies in his factories and alleged Tucker dealers were being harassed. Tucker’s financial troubles and accusations of stock fraud (Tucker was found innocent) doomed the company. The story was made into a movie in 1988, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Jeff Bridges.
White Motor Co.
The White Motor Co., another car manufacturer based in Cleveland, made automobiles, trucks, and agricultural tractors from 1900 until 1980. In 1909, White made its first vehicle under its own name. During World War I, the company shifted its focus to trucks, which proved to be lucrative. Plunging sales during the Great Depression forced the company to briefly merge with Studebaker in 1932. It was reorganized independently two years later and became a major producer of heavy-duty trucks and buses. White took on debt to make purchases of smaller truck makers, and years of mismanagement, coupled with economic downturns, and changes in the industry took their toll. White filed for bankruptcy in 1980.
Willys-Overland Motor Co.
In 1908, automotive pioneer John North Willys bought the Standard Wheel Co. in Toledo, Ohio, and four years later renamed it the Willys-Overland Motor Co. The company struggled over the next two decades, grappling with labor unrest much of the time, and went bankrupt during the Great Depression. It was reorganized as Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. in 1936. Willys is best known for building military Jeeps in World War II, manufacturing about 330,000 of the vehicles used by the U.S. military between 1941 and 1945. In 1953, Kaiser Motors purchased the company, and in 1963 the Willys name vanished when the company was renamed Kaiser-Jeep.
Winton Motor Carriage Co.
Winton Motor Carriage Co. was another Cleveland-based automobile maker that originated at the end of the 19th century, and was one of the first American companies to sell a motorized vehicle. The company was founded by bicycle maker Alexander Winton, a Scottish immigrant who promoted his first cars by driving one to New York City from Cleveland in 1897. Winton was the first American company to sell a standard gasoline-powered automobile. It cost $1,000. By 1916, the company was producing 2,450 vehicles a year and had branches in New York, London, Toronto, and Honolulu. Winton failed to adjust to the introduction of less expensive vehicles produced by Ford, and in 1924 ceased automobile production
Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co.
The Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co. was created in 1920 by Chicago car salesman John Hertz. The immigrant from Austria had entered the taxicab business eight years earlier with Walden W. Shaw, by converting trade-in cars into taxicabs. Hertz painted the taxis yellow to attract the attention of would-be riders. He incorporated the Yellow Cab Co. in 1915. By 1925, Yellow Cab was the biggest taxi company in the world, with 2,700 vehicles. Hertz’ taxis featured innovations such as automatic windshield wipers and telephone dispatching of taxis. In 1929, Hertz sold his share of the company to focus on the rental car business.
Zimmer Motorcars Corp.
Zimmer Motorcars Corp. was established in Syracuse, New York, in 1978 as a manufacturer of neo-classic automobiles. The idea for this automobile company came from an illustration for a car that Paul Zimmer, chairman and president of Zimmer Corp., drew on a napkin at a dinner with son Bob. The elder Zimmer then told his son they were going to build a neo-classically designed car and that he, Bob, would oversee operation of Zimmer Motorcars Corp. In the 1980s, the company employed as many as 175 people and had $25 million in annual revenue. In 1988, Bob Zimmer sold his shares in the company, and then Paul Zimmer suffered a heart attack and could not devote as much time to the company as he once had. Without the Zimmers, the company floundered and was forced into bankruptcy.
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