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American Body Co.
American Body Company, 1912-1927;  U.S. Aluminum Co., Fabrication Division, 1927-1930s; Buffalo, New York
Associated Firms
James R. Koen

James R. Koen was a small Buffalo coach builder who introduced his own vehicle, the Koen in 1908. The debt caused by the failure of his automobile caused him to sell his body-building business to a group of Buffalo investors; Edward A. Selkirk, James W. Kelly and Emmanuel J. Freitas. Freitas was an experienced woodworker, Selkirk an executive with Buffalo's American Agricultural Chemical Co. and James W. Kelly a prominent Buffalo politician and financier.  The new owners took over the former Koen body shop at 1257 Niagara St. in early 1908 and renamed the firm the American Body Company.

With three of the nations premiere auto manufacturer's located in western New York, the new firm soon had contracts to supply E.R. Thomas, Pierce-Arrow and H.H. Franklin with complete bodies and partially completed "bodies in white". American also made tens of thousands of touring bodies for Ford's Model T from 1910 through the early 1920s.

Unbeknownst to many, the Ford Motor Company relied upon outside suppliers for most of its coachwork during its first quarter century. It’s hard to determine who made Ford’s first automobile bodies but soon after the Model T was introduced the names of various Michigan-based sheet-metal, millwork and body-building firms begin to appear on Ford’s supplier list.

Initially most of the Model T’s bodies were supplied by Ford's existing auto body suppliers C.R. Wilson (1903) and Everitt Brothers (1908). O.J. Beaudette (1910), Kelsey-Herbert Co. (1910), American Body Co. (1911), Hayes Mfg. Co.(1911) Milburn Wagon Co. (1911), Fisher Body Co.(1912), and the Kahler Co. (1915). Wm. Gray & Sons supplied Henry Ford’s Windsor assembly plant with automobile bodies from 1906-1912. Regardless of their origin, all of the Model T’s bodies were interchangeable; however the individual parts in a body would not necessarily fit a similar-looking body if it was made by a different manufacturer.

Edward A Selkirk was American's president from 1908-1919 with Emmanuel J. Freitas serving as Vice President and later secretary, treasurer and president of the firm. Other officers from the early days included W.H. Smith, Harold D. Sill and A.E. Huebner.

In addition to Ford's touring bodies, additional contracts were awarded to American in the teens and twenties by Franklin, Marmon, Wills Ste. Claire and others. When Ford took over Lincoln in 1921, it follows that American was amongst the firms chosen by Lincoln to produce bodies for the Lincoln Model L. American specialized in touring bodies, but built some closed bodies starting in the mid-teens. A newspaper photo from 1915 shows a barge laden with American-built sedan bodies traveling down the Erie Canal destined for the H.H. Franklin plant in Syracuse.

Body engineer Raymond L. Birge started out with American after his service in WWI and soon became superintendent, a position he held until he left in 1925 to become general manager of LeBaron Inc.'s shops in Bridgeport, CT. Under Birge, American's quality had risen to the standards of the custom builders, which was one of the reasons that Birge was hired by LeBaron.

The 1924 Buffalo business directory lists the American Body Co. office at 1200 Niagara St, with plants at 1088, 1200 & 1255 Niagara St. plus another building located at 2050 Elmwood Ave which was originally constructed by Curtiss Aviation, the September 18, 1924 issue of Automotive Industries reporting:

“Big Plant Obtained for American Body Company; Leases Curtis Building B, Giving It 500,000 Sq. Ft. Floor Space

“BUFFALO, Sept. 17-The American Body Co. has leased from the Terminal Warehouse Corp., a subsidiary of the American Radiator Co., Building B of the old Curtiss factory in Elmwood Avenue, giving it a floor space of more than 500,000 sq. ft. or the equivalent of 12 city blocks. It will lease its present Niagara Street plant.

“Removal to the building is now going forward and complete operation will be in effect within 60 days. Three hundred more employees will be engaged in the new quarters. The dry kilns, formerly located in Tonawanda, will be installed in the old Curtiss building.

“Building A of the property is occupied by the American Radiator Co., which purchased it from the Government 10 years ago.

“The company manufactures bodies for the Lincoln, Marmon and Franklin cars and bus bodies for Pierce-Arrow and International Motors.”

Unfortunately, due to rising transportation costs, Lincoln's contract with American was due to expire at the end of the 1926 model year.

Luckily American's experience with aluminum attracted the interest of the U.S. Aluminum Co. (later ALCOA) who was currently involved with the Pomeroy Automobile (1923-24) and they purchased the firm sometime in 1924. U.S. Aluminum Co. used the plant to make a handful of experimental aluminum bodies in partnership with Pierce-Arrow and other major manufacturers, hoping to come up with a cost-effective stamped aluminum automobile body, a project that ultimately took another 75 years to perfect.

They installed a new management team headed by engineer Safford K. Colby and continued producing bodies for Lincoln until the lucrative contract expired in late 1926. 

American Body Co. was then renamed U.S. Aluminum Co.; Fabrication Division and volume automobile body production ceased for good. However, the Buffalo shops continued to produce experimental bodies through the 1950s. Safford K. Colby is credited with building a prototype all-aluminum coupe body for a Willys Jeep as late as 1950. Additional prototype bodies were built for Mack Truck during the late 1920s. One experimental Pierce-Arrow Series 80 built by US Aluminum/ALCOA is on permanent display at the Henry Ford Museum.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






1925 US Aluminum Prototype w/Cast Aluminum Body Panels


James F. Bellamy - Cars Made In Upstate New York

Hugo Pfau - Cars & Parts March 1976 pp145-148

George H. Dammann - 90 Years of Ford

George H. Dammann & James K. Wagner - The Cars of Lincoln-Mercury

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

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

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