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Charles Abresch Co.
C. Abresh Company - 1871-1884; Charles Abresch Company, 1884-1893; Charles Abresch Co., Inc., 1893-1940s;  Abresch Auto Body Ltd., 1940s-1965; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Associated Builders
Abresch Cramer Auto Truck Company, 1910-1912

Abresch was a well-known Milwaukee manufacturer of brewery wagons and from 1910 to 1912 produced small numbers of the heavy-duty Abresch-Cramer truck for the same group of clients. Automobile bodies were also produced for regional manufacturer such as the Fawick, Great Western, Kissel, Mitchell and Rambler. Abresch was Milwaukee’s Kissel Kar distributor and constructed a small number of custom bodies on early Kissel chassis. In addition to producing its own commercial bodies Abresch installed and distributed Hercules truck bodies and in later years survived as an automobile body repair facility. Abresch’s main claim to fame lies with the Harley Davidson and Goulding Mfg. Co. for whom it constructed sidecar and van bodies from the 1920s into the 1960s.

Charles Abresch, its founder, was born on May 12, 1850, in Dierdorf, Neuwied, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany to Louis and Elizabeth Schneider. Charles mother Elizabeth died when he was but a few months old and he and his older brother William (b.1844 in Dierdorf-d. 1879 in Milwaukee) were placed in the care of their aunt, Christine Schneller.

Charles father Louis, a trained carpenter-joiner, emigrated to the Unites States in 1854 and found employment with one of the city’s builders. Charles and William remained in Germany in charge of their aunt Christine, who apprenticed Charles to a local blacksmith and William to a carpenter. After completing his training in 1868 Charles joined his father in Milwaukee, accepting a position with John Meinecke’s wagon and carriage works - William found a carpentry position nearby in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Coincidentally their first cousins, Louis and William Schneller (Christine Schneller’s sons) emigrated to Milwaukee at about the same time, and may have travelled together.

Charles’ father Louis re-married shortly after his arrival in Milwaukee (to Elizabeth Leibrecht – b. 1833 in Bavaria) and his second union was blessed with the birth of five children; Carolina (aka Lina b.1855), Henrietta (b.1862), Henry (b.1867), Jacob (b.1869) and Elizabeth (b.1871) Abresch, all of whom were either half-brothers or -sisters of William and Charles. Louis Abresch’s household appears in the 1860 (as Appresch) and 1870 (as Abresch) US Census, neither of which include Charles or William.

In 1871, only two years after his arrival in America, Charles Abresch started a small wagon works of his own in the style of Second Ward Carriage & Wagons Works, C. Abresh, proprietor.

In 1873 Abresch married Katherine (nee Gerard, b.Dec. 25, 1847 in Jackson, Wis. – d.Jun. 8, 1926) and to the blessed union was born a daughter Amanda (b. 1876 m. Oscar Bach) Abresch.

In 1884 the firm was organized as a stock company with Abresch, president; Andrew Hofherr, vice president; Harry P. Ellis, secretary and treasurer; and his fist cousin, Louis Schneller Jr., plant manager. Andrew Hofherr was a well-known Milwaukee cigar maker (A. Hofherr, Cigars; 620 Fourth Street).

For the next half century the firm’s main line of work was the construction of heavy commercial wagons, two of which were mentioned in the April 26, 1890 issue of the Waukesha Journal:

“On Tuesday of this week two new delivery wagons for the Silurian Mineral Spring Co., passed through Waukesha, over the Wisconsin Central for the Chicago trade. They were the handsomest over seen here, being manufactured by Charles Abresch of Milwaukee, whose reputation in this line is world wide.”

The General City News column of the September 19, 1891 edition of the Milwaukee Journal reported:

“Mr. Charles Abresch has received an order for six beer wagons for shipment of Australia.”

Brewery wagons were the firm’s specialty, a list of its customers circa 1895 was published in the Consolidated Illustrating Co.’s ‘Milwaukee: A Half Century's Progress, 1846-1896’:

“CHARLES ABRESCH COMPANY; Builders of Fine Delivery, Express and Truck Wagons; Nos. 407 to 415 Poplar Street, and Nos. 392 to 398 Fourth Street.

“The leading manufacturers in the United States of special wagons, such as beer and oil wagons, fine delivery, express and truck wagons is the famous ‘Charles Abresch Company,’ of this city. Our city is to be greatly congratulated upon the possession of this extensive industry, which, under the skillful guidance of Mr. Charles Abresch has had a remark able growth from small beginnings to its present extensive proportions. This company has made a study of the above named special wagons, and are better prepared to give prompt and satisfactory service on orders of this kind than any factory in this vicinity. They are the patentees of the tubular beer wagons and sliding door bottlers' wagons which are the most improved vehicles for the brewers' keg and bottle trade. They do an extensive business in these particular wagons all over the country, and below give a partial list of the parties they are dealing with in the East, besides furnishing all the local concerns here and in Chicago:

'Danville Beer & Ice Company, Danville, Ill.; C. L. Centlivre Brewing Company, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Indianapolis Brewing Company, Indianapolis, Ind.; Dubuque Malting Company, Dubuque, la.; E. C. Peaslee, Dubuque, la.; Koppitz-Melchers Brewing Company, Detroit, Mich. ; A. Fitger, Duluth, Minn.; Excelsior Brewery, St. Paul, Minn.; G. S. Fanning, Auburn, N. Y.; C. A. Koenig, Auburn, N. Y.; Iroquois Brewing Company, Buffalo, N. Y.; H. Zeltner Brewing Company, New York City; Rochester Brewing Company, Rochester, N. Y.; Ph. Liebinger Brewing Company, Brooklyn, NY.; Crystal Spring Brewing Company, Syracuse, N. Y.; Fitzgerald Brothers, Troy, N Y.; P. McGuinness, Utica, N. Y.; Foss-Schneider Brewing Company, Cincinnati, O.; L. Hosier Brewing Company, Columbus, O.; M. Mason, Hamilton, O.; New Philadelphia Brewing Company, New Philadelphia, O.; Jackson Koehler, Erie Pa.; Weisbrod & Hess, Philadelphia, Pa.; Columbia Brewing Company, Shenandoah, Pa.; Galland-Burke Brewing Company, Spokane, Wash.; S. Kappler, Vancouver, British Columbia.'

“The tubular beer wagons are built in seven sizes, in capacities ranging from one to five tons and are rapidly taking the place of other styles. The sliding door bottlers' wagons are built in six sizes ranging in capacity from one thousand five hundred lo four thousand pounds. They are far ahead of anything in the market for the delivery of bottle goods, besides affording a great advertising purpose when lettered nicely. Mr. Charles Abresch has been a resident of this city since 1868. He is a practical wagon builder. In 1871, he commenced business upon a small scale, building brewery wagons and vehicles for heavy trucking. In 1893 the concern was changed to a stock company, under the laws of this state, with paid-up capital of $150,000, Mr. Chas. Abresch, president; Mr. A. Hofherr, vice president; Mr. H. P. Ellis, secretary and treasurer; and Mr. L. Schneller, jr., superintendent. The works occupy an extensive area on Fourth and Poplar Streets. The main factory is a modern brick building, five stories and basement in height, and 50x150 feet in dimensions. On the ground floor is the blacksmith and ironing shop. On the second floor is the wheelwright shop, while the other floors are devoted to painting, trimming, etc. Adjoining the main building is a three-story brick structure, 30x150 feet in dimensions, known as the repair shop, and having all the facilities for promptly repairing all wagons, and rendering them as good as new. Throughout the entire establishment the latest improved machinery and appliances are in use, while power is supplied by a one hundred and seventy-five horse power engine. On the opposite side of Fourth Street is the company's repository and office; the corner building is a very handsome three-story brick structure, with tower front, 45x100 feet. This was built in 1888, while adjoining is another large building, and one hundred skilled hands are employed in the building of all sizes and styles of vehicles. Besides being the patentees of the two wagons named they have also patented an automatic steel odorless dumping wagon for garbage purposes, which is a great improvement over the old style formerly used. The company's exhibit at the World's Fair in 1893 received the highest award, medal and diploma, and unquestionably they lead all competition.”

A devastating fire destroyed much of the firm’s factory on April 13, 1898 (the plant’s original address of 392-394-398 4th St. was later renumbered to 1242, 1246, 1254 N. 4th St.) The blaze was covered nationally, the April 14, 1898 Fort Wayne News reporting:

“Abresch Furniture Factory in Flames – Fierce Gale Adds to Danger

“MILWAUKEE, Wis., April 14.— A fire which started in the Charles Abresch carriage factory, at the corner of Poplar and Fourth streets, at 10 o'clock yesterday, was still burning at midnight, and threatened to destroy the greater portion of the block in which the factory is located. The fire started in the engine room of the factory, which was a six-story brick building. The wind was blowing at the rate of thirty miles an hour at the time.

“The fire spread like lightning, and it was only a few seconds before it leaped through the windows of the sixth story.

“The factory was in the midst of a semi-residence district, and over twenty families were, driven from their homes. The smoke was so dense that they could not stay to save anything, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the insurance patrol could get into any of the neighboring buildings to cover the furniture.

“As it is, the water loss in the other buildings will be about $4,000, while the loss of the Abresch company will amount to $140,000. The loss on machinery is $30,000, on building, $50,000, and on stock $60,000.”

The April 16, 1898 issue of the Milwaukee Weekly Wisconsin provided a few more details:


“The Abresch Wagon Works Almost Completely Destroyed by Fire.

“Milwaukee. Wis., April 14, 1898.— A few minutes before 10 o'clock last night, the main factory building of the Charles Abresch & Co.’s carriage factory at the southwest corner of Fourth and Poplar streets was discovered to be on fire, and when two hours later the fire department had extinguished the flames, a loss of very nearly $100,000 had been caused. Mr. Abresch states that the building cost $35,000 when erected in 1892. It is completely gutted from basement to roof. He estimates the stock in the factory at the time as worth $60,000 and places the value of the machinery at $20,000. The stock is a total loss and but little of the machinery can ever be used again. The company carried an insurance of 80 per cent. One hundred men are thrown out of employment until the structure is rebuilt, which will probably be done at once.”

As predicted the Abresch factory was quickly rebuilt and within the year had become involved with the proposed manufacture of the Davis Automobile, a small runabout designed by W.F. Davis, the former vice-president of the Davis Gasoline Engine Co of Waterloo, Iowa, the September 9, 1899 edition of the Milwaukee Journal reporting:

“Horse Against the Automobile

“Race planned for State Fair That Will Attract Much Attention; Milwaukee-made Automobile travels Fast Enough to Stand A Show; The State Fairgrounds To Be Ready For Use Monday

“A sight that the people of Wisconsin have never before witnessed will be seen at the state fair next week. Among the automobiles to be exhibited will be a new one that has just been built by the Charles Abresch company and which is now being tried in Chicago. This machine makes thirty miles an hour and it is to be pitted against the big trotter, King Allar, in a series of races, the first race of the kind ever held in this state and one of the few of its kind ever held.

“The automobile is entirely a Milwaukee machine, having been designed and built here complete with the exception of the motors. Mr. Abresch has great faith in the machine and expects that it will defeat the horse.”

A more detailed account of Abresch’s plans to manufacture the vehicle were announced in the November 8, 1899 issue of the Waterloo Daily Courier:


“Waterloo Man Forms a Company With $1,000,000 Capital.

“Company Will Manufacture a New Automobile Motor.

“The Invention of W. F. Davis, Formerly of This City.

“W. F. Davis, formerly vice president of the Davis Gasoline Engine Co., of this city, is now in Milwaukee where he was induced to go by some enterprising Milwaukee man, and has formed a company with $1,000,000 capital stock for the manufacture of a new automobile motor which Is said to be the best thing of the kind yet offered to the public.

“Mr. Davis recently left this city, going to Ottumwa where he engaged with the Jaimey Mfg. Co., a new company manufacturing farm implements. Later he severed his connection with this company to engage in the automobile business in the city that is ‘famous.’

“Concerning this deal the Milwaukee Journal of yesterday morning gives these details:

“Within the month it will be known in the land that the erstwhile modern automobile has brought Milwaukee again to the fore, for this city is soon to be the center of the automobile industry in the United States.

“Some three weeks ago there came to this city a man from Iowa whose fertile brain had overcome the obstacles which have heretofore hindered the general use of the horseless carriage and at present one of the largest wagon concerns in the city is busy getting out the first machine, which will be put on exhibition some time in December.

“The automobiles now in use weigh 1,800 to 2,400 pounds, while the invention of the Iowa man, W. F. Davis, weighs only 75 pounds and can be attached to any vehicle now drawn by a horse. More than that, it is capable of reaching a speed of fifty miles an hour, and its cost will be so small that it will be within the reach of everybody.

“CAPITAL TO BE $1,000,000.

“Owing to its extreme lightness, the cost of propulsion will also be greatly reduced, and the fact that a stock company backed by $1,000,000 is soon to be formed in this city to manufacture the new machine and put it on the market indicates that it is all the inventor claims for it.

“W. F. Davis, formerly vice president of the Davis Gasoline Engine company of Waterloo, Ia.; inventor of the new auto, is very well known among machine men as the inventor of the Davis gasoline engine. Some nine months ago he sold out his interests in the Davis company and devoted his time to the perfection of the new machine, which has now been finished. Capitalists in Kansas City made him flattering offers to locate there to manufacture his new invention, but through the influence of J. A. Warnken, of Milwaukee who was employed by the company as a traveling salesman, he was induced to locate here.


“The Charles Abresch company, wagon manufacturers, of 398 Fourth street, became interested in the plan and have since come into possession of the right to manufacture the new vehicles, paying a considerable sum and a royalty besides.

“For three weeks Mr. Davis has been busy at the Abresch plant building the first machine, and within a month a public exhibition will be given at which makers of automobiles all over the world will be challenged to compete.


“Although the plans of the inventor and the Abresch company have been carefully kept from the public, several prominent Milwaukee capitalists have been approached with a view to forming a corporation for the exclusive manufacture of the motor, and the matter has so far progressed that backing to the amount of $1,000,000 is said to be in sight. The name of the man who will be at the head of the new corporation is known to The Journal, but cannot be made public at this time. However, he is so well known throughout the United States that his name in connection with the new manufacturing enterprise insures us stability at the outset.

“Mr. Davis has moved to this city with his family and will remain to take charge of the manufacture of his invention.


“The horseless carriages now in use are cumbersome affairs at best, and it is declared that the neat, light and speedy invention of the Milwaukee man will of a certainty revolutionize their manufacture and mark Milwaukee as the center of one of the greatest improvements of modern times.”

The Davis-designed car debuted as the Abresch, a 2,300 lb. 7-passenger high-wheeled brake powered by a Davis-designed 10 h.p. 2-cylinder water-cooled engine that transmitted power to the rear wheels via chain drive. The Abresch used a belt-driven differential whose jackshaft turned bi-lateral sprockets connected by chains to larger sprockets attached to the inside of each rear wheel which revolved around a dead rear axle. A single prototype was constructed before the plan was abandoned.

The General City News column of the January 10, 1900 edition of the Milwaukee Journal reported on an overseas sale:

“Wagons For Manila

“Over $3,000 worth of rolling stock, the manufacture of the Charles Abresch company, left Milwaukee today for Manila. The shipment consists of three trucks, three top wagons, one dump cart and one express wagon. The contract was received by the Abresch company less than five weeks ago in competition with the largest firms in the country. The Abresch company supplied the government with the ambulances which were used in Cuba and the excellence of these articles determined the government in choosing the company for this contract.”

A proposed 10 per cent wage increase by the Carriage and Wagon Workers union caused a lockout of the Abresch plant in the Spring of 1900, the April 11, 1900 issue of the Milwaukee Journal reporting:

“Lockout Scores of Workmen

“Disagreement of Wagon Workers With Employers Makes Trouble; May Tie Up All The Carriage Plants In The City; Men Had Prepared To Walk Out and Were Forestalled; Contest Begins at the Abresch and Habhegger Plants

“As a result of a disagreement between the Carriage and Wagon Builder’s association of Milwaukee and the Carriage and Wagon Workers’ union, the wagon works of Charles Abresch & Son and Theodore Habhegger are working with short help and there is prospect of a general strike among the carriage and wagon workers of the city.

“Supt. Schweller of the Abresch factory said:

“‘I learned Sunday that the men were going to strike at 9 o’clock Monday morning, and so I locked them out at 7. We have eighty-five men at work, and very few of them are getting as low wages as the scale allowed. Some of our blacksmiths were getting as high as $2.60 a day, the wood workers $2.25, and only one man out of fourteen wood workers was getting the minimum wage of $1.75. We now have about twenty painters at work and five new fires going. We can handle all the work that comes along. We are paying as good wages as any shop in the country, and if we were to agree to the new scale, and then pay no one any more than the scale calls for, we would be money ahead. I suppose if the differences are not settles soon, that the strike or lockout will extend to the other shops in the association.’

“The shops in the association are the Chas. Abresch company, Theodore Habhegger, John Miller & Son, Stehling & Blommer, Joseph Heinl & Sons, Stumpf & Co., John Knoll and John Knapp. About 285 men are employed in the shops altogether.”

On December 31, 1902 anoterh devastating fired struck the Abresch works, the December 31, 1902 issue of the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reporting:


“Wall Falls On Members of Milwaukee Department.

“(By Associated Press.) - Milwaukee, Wis., Dec. 31.—The entire plant of the Charles Abresch company, carriage manufacturers, at 392-398 Fourth street, was destroyed by fire at an early hour today, entailing a loss of upwards of $100,000. The fire was first seen in the repair shop in the rear of the main building and spread so rapidly that the firemen were unable to save a single carriage from the main building and t is on these goods that the loss will probably be the heaviest. The building and contents were partially insured. The Abresch plant was partially destroyed less than two years ago.

“After the fire was under control and the firemen were directing streams on the smoldering ruins, the south wall of the main building fell injuring seven firemen. The injured were taken to the emergency hospital. Captain Patrick Roddy of engine company No. 1 was the most seriously injured. The others are: Charles Heinz of engine company No. 2; Frank Tesensky, acting lieutenant truck company No. 23; Fred Banholzer, truck company No. 3; Patrick J. Coffey, engine company No. 23; Charles Fenske truck company No. 7. The condition of the injured men is not regarded as serious, the injuries consisting of cuts and bruises.”

A tour of the rebuilt Abresch factory was included in the October 5, 1903 issue of National Bottlers Gazette:

“Where to Buy Your Trade Supplies

“We take pleasure in exhibiting a cut of perhaps the finest wagon factory building in the country, that of the Charles Abresch Co., of Milwaukee, Wis. The building is of brick, four stories high with stone foundation, 100 feet long and 150 feet deep. It is lighted throughout with electricity and is heated by the hot air fan system of heating and ventilating.  The stock room occupies the whole of the basement, which, with the cement floor and well-arranged racks, looks like a good sized wagon hardware store.  The first floor is taken up with the engine, the electric tire welding and hydraulic tire setting machines, gas tire heater, shearing and punching machines, and 15 blacksmith fires, worked to their utmost capacity.

“The wood shop occupies the whole of the second floor the south half containing the latest improved wood working machinery and the north half 24 wood workers benches.  The Abresch wagons, known throughout the country as 'built to last,' owe this reputation to this same body shop and the company is receiving orders daily for automobile bodies, even in as large numbers as 500 lots.

“The entire third floor is where that most important part 'painting' is done. The Abresch Company probably takes more pains in the striping, lettering and finishing of their wagons than does any maker, using but the highest priced colors and employing only skilled labor.

“Mr. Chas. Abresch, president of the company, established this business in 1871, and with the able assistance of Mr. Louis Schneller, superintendent and manager, has seen the business grow to its well-earned proportions.”

The August 1, 1908 issue of Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal announced that Abresch had become a Kissel Kar distributor:

“Charles Abresch Co. of Milwaukee, Wis., has taken the agency for the Kissel Kar.”

When then-President Theodore Roosevelt visited Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the autumn of 1910 he rode in a four-door Fawick Flyer whose composite aluminum body had been constructed by Abresch. In a December 24, 1967 interview with the Milwaukee Journal, its designer, Thomas L. Fawick, set the record straight in regards to the confusion between the Fawick Flyer and Silent Sioux automobiles:

“Fawick first considered calling his new car the Silent Sioux. However, he changed his mind and named it the Fawick Flyer, a name retained for all later models. Nevertheless, a Silent Sioux Automobile Manufacturing Co. was listed in the 1910 Milwaukee City directory. It was located at 726 National Av. (an address that would now be in the 1500 block of N. National) and the company officers were listed as R.J. Wells, president; G.W. Burnside, vice-president; and B.S. Wells, secretary. Fawick explained that the corporation had been formed at the suggestion of Burnside, who remained a lifelong friend, and R.J. Wells, an attorney. He does not remember B.S. Wells. The procedure may have been suggested because of Fawick’s youth – he could not have been more than 21 at the time – but he adds: ‘I went along with this for only a short time when I realized that this was really not the correct way for my interests.’ And the company was dissolved.

“Most car bodies of the era were of pressed steel. The process of forming sheet aluminum into the proper shapes and curves for the Flyers was expensive, requiring expert workmanship. After producing a number of cars, young Fawick concluded that the auto business was going to require more capital than he could manage, and he dropped out of the industry.”

Fawick later found limited success as a tractor designer after which he made his fortune in the automotive parts business as a clutch manufacturer (Fawick Corp.) in Cleveland, Ohio.

The January 1910 issue of the Horseless Age announced that Abresch had received an order for automobile bodies from the Mitchell Motor Car Company of Racine, Wisconsin:

“The Charles Abresch Company, of Milwaukee, have secured a large order for bodies from the Mitchell Motor Car Company.”

In 1909 Robert Cramer, a Milwaukee-based engineer, proposed that Abresch get into the truck manufacturing business using a heavy-duty assembled truck of his own design, the February 24, 1910 issue of The Automobile reported on the formation of the Abresch-Cramer Auto Truck Co.:

“The Abresch-Cramer Auto Truck Company has been incorporated in Milwaukee, Wis., with a capital stock of $20,000. The incorporators are Charles Abresch, Robert Crawley and L. Schneller. Charles Abresch is at the head of the Charles Abresch Company, 398 Fourth street, Milwaukee, which has been manufacturing wagons and carriages and now devotes most of its time to building bodies and a line of commercial vehicles.”

Further details emerged in the March 1910 issue of the Commercial Vehicle:

“The Abresch Cramer Auto Truck Company, Milwaukee, Wis., has been organized to continue the commercial vehicle business of the Charles Abresch Company of the same city, known as successful manufacturers of business wagons for forty years. The line of motor vehicles to be marketed includes trucks and wagons from 1 to 5 tons load capacity. Robert Cramer, the active manager of the new company, has been identified with Milwaukee manufacturing interests for a number of years and has had extensive experience in the construction of business wagons. The future of the new company is apparently very promising.”

The truck was descirbed in great detail in the August 1910 issue of the Commercial Vehicle:

“Abresch Gas Motor Truck Built In Milwaukee

“Long experience in heavy horsed vehicle construction has been turned to account in the production of the Abresch auto truck by the Abresch Cramer Auto Truck Company of Milwaukee, Wis. One of the standard 4-ton trucks of this company was delivered to a Wisconsin brewer is shown in the accompanying engraving.

“This machine is of the gas motor-in-front type, but the builders also put out similarity constructed trucks of the same capacity with motor-under-seat so as to give increased loading space where the latter is required.

“The Abresch truck is built along standard lines of motor vehicle practice. The outstanding feature being the large rear wheels, 42 inches in diameter and the flexible spring support; full elliptic in front and platform in the rear. In the 4-ton truck the motor is of the four-cylinder vertical. T-head, water-cooled type with cylinders 4 ¾ - inch bore and 5 ½ inches stroke. Rated at 36-40 horsepower. Details of the motor include: Cylinders cast in pairs; four ring piston; I-section connecting rod; drop-forged crank shaft, heat-treated and ground; nickel steel interchangeable valves; bearings fitted with Parson's bronze of bushings. Lubrication of the motor is insured by force feed, and water circulation is positive by gear pump driven from the cam shaft. Ignition is by gear-driven magneto with non-vibrating coil and dry cells as auxiliary. Two sets of spark plugs are fitted. A Stromberg, water-jacketed, carbureter is used. The clutch is of the multiple disc type running in oil. Speed changes are affected by a three-speed gearset in which the gears are always in mesh, engagement for the different speeds being effected by dog clutches. The gearset gives three speeds forward and reverse. The differential and countershafts are mounted integrally with the change-speed mechanism, and final drive is by 1 3/4-inch pitch roller side chains.

“Service brakes are fitted to the countershaft and controlled from the driver's seat by pedal. Emergency brakes of the internal expanding type are fitted to the rear wheels and operated by the usual side lever. The steering gear is irreversible and controlled by 22-inch handwheel, levers for spark and throttle control being bracketed on the inclined pillar. Heavy forged steel axles are used and wood wheels of the artillery type running on ball bearings. The front wheels are 36 inches in diameter shod with 4-inch solid tires, and the rear wheels 42 inches in diameter shod with either 6-inch single or 3-inch double solid tires.”

The truck manufacturing facility was located a couple of blocks away from the  Wagons works in a five-story reinforced concrete strutcure located on Third street, between Poplar and Vliet Streets, the same issue (August 1910) of the Commercial Vehicle reporting:

“The Abresch-Cramer Auto Truck Co., of Milwaukee, a corporation recently formed to take over and develop the motor truck department of the Chas. Abresch Company, for forty years wagon and carriage builders and now one of the largest manufacturers of automobile bodies, is making excellent progress. The company now occupies its new home in the five-story reinforced concrete Stehling Building at Third and Poplar streets, Milwaukee. The building has dimensions of 125 by 150 feet and is one block from the Abresch works at Fourth and Poplar streets. The capacity at this time is 100 trucks a year, but this will shortly be doubled.

“Robert Cramer, general manager of the company, is responsible for the success of the enterprise and his plans are for the development of one of the largest motor truck factories in the country. He is a well-known engineer with a European education and was formerly connected with the Allis-Chalmers Company, of Milwaukee, the largest machinery manufacturer in the United States.”

Strikes became commonplace in the early Twentieth Century and the Abresch works did not excape the turmoil, the September 28, 1910 Milwaukee Journal reporting:

“More Join Strike

“Auto Painters Also Object to Piece Work Plan

“Seven Walk Out and General Tie-up of Plan is likely Unless Workers and Employers Reach Speedy Agreement.

“The Strike in the Abresch automobile factory has reached a stage when it is likely that more employees will walk out this week.

“Wednesday morning the strike leaders said that seven painters quit Tuesday because they had been put on a piece system basis and that it was likely all the painters would walk out within the next few days. They say the upholsterers will also strike if the body makers are not given their demands.

“The carriage and wagon makers will meet Friday to discuss the advisability of calling out the other workers to strike in sympathy with the carpenters.

“One striker said:

“‘There are about 150 of us out and we have formed a union which will be called Carpenters’ union No. 1053. We have asked the company to recognize our union, give us a nine-hour day and put us back on the hour system at our old pay, which was 24 3-4, 27 1-2, 30 and 32 1-2 cents an hour.’”

The January 28, 1911 issue of Automobile Topics reported that Abresch could now be numbered among the nation's producers of fire apparatus:

“Milwaukee's Chemical Truck

“Because of the strained condition of the treasury at Milwaukee, Wis., the request of Fire Chief T. A. Clancy for a motor fire steamer has been laid over until next year. The apparatus is desired for use in the residence districts, where stations are far between.

“Although the chief and the first assistant chief have been granted touring cars for official duty, the first real motor fire apparatus in Milwaukee has just been placed in service. It is an Abresch-Cramer combination hose and chemical truck, built by the Abresch-Cramer Auto Truck Company, of Milwaukee, and cost about $5,000.”

Another strike hit the plant on June 8, 1911, the Milwaukee Sentinel reporting:

“Strike of Short Duration

“A strike at the plant of the Charles Abresch company, 398 Fourth street, which lasted for three hours Wednesday morning, was settled after a conference between the representatives of the unions and members of the firm when the unions were recognized.”

The March 1912 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal revels that the Abresh truck would thereafter be marketed by the Charles Abresch Co.:

“The Chas. Abresch Company will in the future market the truck which was developed by the Abresch Cramer Auto Truck Company of Milwaukee, Wis., for the Chas. Abresch Company.”

Charles Abresch passed away after a short illness on April 27, 1912, his obituary appeared in the April 28, 1912 edition of the Milwaukee Journal:

“Charles Abresch, president and treasurer of the Charles Abresch company, manufacturers of wagons, automobiles and trucks, died at his home, 2124 Chestnut street, Saturday afternoon.

“The death was expected, his illness lasting three months, and his wife, daughter, Amanda (Mrs. Oscar Bach), and half sister, Mrs. Charles Arnold were at his bedside when he died.

“The funeral services will be held at the home on Wednesday at 2 o’clock. Interment will be in Forest Home Cemetery.

“About one month ago Mr. Abresch was removed to the Battle Creek sanitarium, Battle Creek, Mich. but he grew worse and was brought to the Sacred Heart sanitarium, Milwaukee. All of the best medical aid possible was given him, but he was removed to his home two weeks ago and death was expected at any moment. Dr. L. Daniels was his attending physician and was with him at the end.

“Charles Abresch was born on May 12, 1850, in Dierdorf, province of the Rhine, Germany. His mother died when he was but a few months old and his father soon after came to America. The infant was left in charge of his aunt, Mrs. Christine Schneller, mother of Louis and William Schneller of Milwaukee.

“When 18 years old, Mr. Abresch followed his father to the United States and met him in Milwaukee. He had learned the blacksmith trade in Germany and was given employment at the John Meinecke wagon and carriage works upon his arrival here.

“At the age of 20, and only two years after his arrival in America, he started a small wagon works of his own, and through steady and persistent work he built up one the largest plants of its kind in this country.

“In 1894 the company was capitalized for $220,000 and now more than 800 persons are employed in the factory at Fourth and Poplar streets. The manufactured of automobiles and trucks was taken up five years ago and the output is now being sent all over the United States and Mexico.

“Eight years ago the entire factory was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt at once on a much bigger scale.

“The other officers of the company are Louis Schneller, vice president and manager, and Edmund Paul, secretary.

“In 1870 Mr. Abresch married Miss Catherine Gerard of Jackson, Wis., and one daughter, Mrs. Oscar Bach, was born. Two half-brothers, Henry and Jacob Abresch and two half-sisters, Mrs. Charles Arnold and Mrs. John Andres Johnson, all of Milwaukee, are his other near relatives. His father died in 1887.

“Mr. Abresch spent hundreds of dollars yearly to aid the needy, but he never permitted his deeds to be made public. While not active in politics, he took a keen interest in public affairs.

“He has twice returned to his old home at Dierdorf, in 1897 and 1906.

“He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, Richard Wagner lodge, Turn Verein, Milwaukee; West Side Old Settlers Club; Old Settlers Bowling Club. German Press Club, and the Blatz Outing Club.”

Abresch was also eulogized in the May 1912 issue of Carriage Monthly:

“The Late Charles Abresch

“Charles Abresch, president of the Charles Abresch Co., Milwaukee, Wis., manufacturers of wagons, trucks and motor cars, passed away on Saturday, April 27th, at his residence, 2124 Chestnut Street, Milwaukee. Mr. Abresch was one of the most progressive and successful manufacturers of vehicles in the Middle West, the extensive works of which he was the head having been in operation for about forty years. He located in Milwaukee in 1868, and in 1871 commenced business on a small scale. His earliest specialties were brewery wagons and heavy trucks. In 1893 a stock company was formed, with Mr. Abresch as president. He was the guiding and inventive spirit of the business, and to his foresight and commercial ability are due much of the company's success. At the funeral, on May 1st, prominent men of the city acted as honorary pall-bearers, the active bearers being veteran employes of the Abresch Company, all of whom have been in service for more than twenty years.”

The death of Abresch coincided with the end of the firm’s truck production. Robert Cramer remained active in Milwaukee’s manufacturing circles and around 1920 formed the Cramer Mfg. Co., a manufacturer of oil and water pumps for the automobile industry.

Abresch also built the bodies (roadster, 3 touring cars, sedan) for the Grand Central Palace exhibition of the Great Western Automobile Co. at the 1914 New York Auto Show. The Great Western was a short-lived automobile manufactured in Peru, Indiana by the officers and directors of the Model Gas Engine Works.

A 50 piece ambulance body order from Kissel was mentioned in the November 1, 1914 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal:

“Kissel Motor Car Company, Hartford, Wis., recently shipped fifty chasses, and the Chas. Abresch Company of Milwaukee, fifty bodies to the Greek Government.”

The settlement of a nearly 3-month-long strike by Abresch mechanics was covered in the June 8, 1916 issue of Motor Age:

“Body Makers' Strike Settled—The strike of more than 200 body builders in the plant of the Charles Abresch Co., Milwaukee. Wis., manufacturer of motor car and truck bodies, has been settled by arbitration and the men are back at work.

“On March 1 the Abresch company determined to establish the open shop policy and refused to renew the closed shop agreement. Under the terms of the settlement the shop is again closed and most of the work will be piecework.”

Although the firm continued to manufacture their own line of heavy truck bodies, they also stocked knocked-down bodies for light trucks, and were included on a list of authorized distributors in the 1920 Hercules Body Co. catalog:

Universal Motorcar, New Orleans, LA
Eastman & Russell, Dallas, TX
Wm. F. Habig & Son, Omaha, NE
Keystone State Motor & Auto Body Co. Philadelphia, PA
New England Commercial Body Co. Boston, MA
Charles Abresch & Co. Milwaukee, WI
Buffalo Commercial Body Co. Buffalo, NY
West Penn Body Co. Pittsburgh, PA
C.E. Hamlin Detroit, MI
Guy Cooper & Bro. Kansas City, MO
O.W. Dolph Los Angeles, CA
C.M. Barrett Chicago, IL
W.A. Haviland, Minneapolis, MN
Fred Linde, San Francisco, CA
H.N. Knight Supply, Oklahoma City, OK
Central Agency Seattle, WA
Blaney Motor Co, Tacoma, WA
Beaudry Motor Co, Atlanta, GA
W.C. Vedder Charlotte, NC
Richey-Coen Co. Columbus, OH
Adamson Motor Co. Birmingham, AL
R.A. Chapman Denver, CO
McCreery-Phelan Memphis, TN
Makemer Motor Co. Peoria, IL
Altare-Smith Co. Salt Lake City, UT
City Storage & Mfg. Sioux Falls, IA.
H.T. Pecor Troy, NY.

The onset of Prohibition put Milwaukee into turmoil as the city’s economy depended upon the Midwest’s vigorous consumption of alcohol. Some smaller breweries went out of business while the major manufacturers - Blatz, Miller, Pabst and Schlitz produced near beer, soda, malt syrup, ice cream, yeast and cheese.

After six years of suffering in 1926 Wisconsin voters approved a referendum amending the Volsted Act (Prohibition) that allowed the manufacture and sale of beer with 2.75 percent alcohol and in 1929 the Severson Act (Wisconsin's prohibition enforcement law), was repealed. In 1932, Wisconsin senator John J. Blaine drafted the resolution to repeal prohibition, and on December 5, 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified and national prohibition ended.

Abresch survived the decade constructing commercial bodies which were supplemented by an occasional order from a regional manufacturer for automobile bodies. They also had the good fortune to get involved in manufacturing sidecar and van bodies for Harley Davidson and the Goulding Mfg. Co., a third-party sidecar manufacturer.

In 1936 Abresch introduced an all-steel sidecar body, and in 1942, Harley’s small and large cargo boxes were replaced with an Abresch-built all-steel intermediate-sized box. Their relationship with Harley-Davidson continued until 1966 when the firm commenced the manufacture of its own fiberglass sidecar bodies in the former Tomahawk boat plant in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

Abresch survived the Depression by greatly reducing the size of its operations and by the late Thirties auto body repair and refinishing had became its main source of income.

Abresch’s longtime president Louis Schneller passed away in 1939, the September 8, 1939 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal reporting:

“Louis Schneller, 65, Friend of Gov. Heil, Dies in Milwaukee

“MILWAUKEE— (U.P.) — Louis Schneller, 65, prominent Mason, president of the Washington park Zoological society and close friend of Gov. Heil, died Thursday as a result of apoplexy. He was president of the Charles Abresch Co., an automobile body manufacturing and repairing firm, with which he had been affiliated nearly 50 years. Funeral services will be Saturday.”

A more detailed account of his life appeared in the September 9, issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel:

“Masonic Rites On Saturday For Schneller: Aid in Heil Campaign Was Head of Auto Body Concern

“Services are to be held at 2 p.m., Saturday at the Scottish Rite cathedral, 705 E. Wells St., for Louis Schneller, 65, prominent Milwaukee Mason, assistant to Governor Heil. And president for the past two years of the Washington Park Zoological Society.

“Mr. Schneller, stricken at his home by apoplexy 10 days before, died Thursday at 1720 N. Hi-Mount Blvd.

“He was born in Essen, Germany, and came to Milwaukee at the age of seven, studying at Milwaukee and New York Schools. He was president of the Charles Abresch co., automobile body manufacturing and repair company with which he had been associated for 50 years.

“Aided Governor

“Appointed an honorary colonel by Governor Heil, Mr. Schneller had been one of the most industrious workers for the chief executive dusting his campaign last year and afterward in the early months of the administration.

“Surviving are his wife, Minnie: as sister, Mrs. Paula Paul, and five grandchildren.”

After the Second World War, the firm was reorganized as Abresch Auto Body Ltd., and it remained in business into 1965 when it lost the Harley-Davidson contract. The firm’s auto body facility remained in operation though various owners and is currently occupied by Bennett Coachworks a full service auto body repair and restoration facility -

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Consolidated Illustrating Co - Milwaukee, a half century's progress, 1846-1896, pub. 1896

Bruce Palmer III - How to Restore Your Harley-Davidson, pub. 1994

Ronald L. Rae - The Goulding Album, James Goulding & His Motorcycle Sidecars, pub. 1990

Val V. Quandt - The Classic Kissel Automobile, pub 1990

Val V. Quandt - Wisconsin Cars and Trucks, pub. 1998

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