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Brunn Carriage Mfg. Co.
Brunn Carriage Manufacturing Company, 1882-1932; Buffalo, New York
Associated Firms
Brunn & Co.

The name of Brunn is surrounded by confusion for a number of reasons. The first is that there were two different Brunn concerns building custom bodies concurrently in Buffalo. Brunn & Company is the more famous of the two, but Hermann A’s uncle Henry (1839-1925) had a competing firm called Brunn Carriage Mfg. Co. where young Hermann A. worked prior to branching off on his own in 1908. The second is that there were two men named Hermann Brunn. Hermann A. (1874-1941) was the father and founder of Brunn & Company; Hermann C. (1908-1989) was his son, who not only worked for his father’s concern, but later worked at the Ford Motor Company after Brunn & Co. closed its doors in 1941.

Brunn & Company is covered elsewhere on the site. This page concerns the history of the Brunn Carriage Mfg Co., Henry Brunn's firm.

Henry Brunn immigrated to the United States from his native Germany in as a young boy, only to lose his parents in one of the cholera epidemics that plagued the country in the 1850s. He quit school and eventually became a carriage-makers apprentice with several East Coast Firms that included Brewster & Company.

Henry joined the Union Army in 1861 and was seriously wounded at the Battle of Bull Run. After an extended hospital stay and a long convalescence, he returned to Buffalo and opened his first carriage works in 1882. Business expanded and he moved the works from 41-45 East Eagle Street to a new larger plant at 1140 Main St in 1886. The firm prospered in its new location and Brunn some became the most prominent builder of carriages, wagons and sleighs in Buffalo. Sixteen year-old Hermann A. Brunn joined the firm in at the age of 16 and his uncle eventually sent him to Andrew F. Johnson’s carriage design and drafting school in New York City to learn the finer points of the trade. Hermann left in the early 1900s to gain experience at some larger firms located in the East which included H.H. Babcock Co., of Watertown, New York, Andrew J. Joyce Carriage Company in Washington, D.C. and the New Haven Carriage Co., New Haven Connecticut.

A few years previously Hermann had a brush with greatness that would influence his entire career. Early in 1901 a prominent Buffalo resident and Brunn customer named Harry Hamlin suggested to the firm that it would be advantageous to have President McKinley ride in a Brunn carriage while he visited Buffalo to attend the Pan-American Exposition in September.

A special Brunn-built and designed landau carriage painted a dark maroon with a shiny black landau leather top and upholstered in rich maroon broadcloth was sitting in the Brunn showroom at the time. Hamlin arranged to have the carriage brought to his home and offered it along with four of his prized horses plus a footman and a coachman for use by the President during his September 1901 Buffalo visit.

On September 5 the President left the John G. Milburn residence where the President and Mrs. McKinley were guests. Hermann, who was also an excellent photographer, went there with his camera intent on getting a picture of the chief executive riding in a carriage his uncle, Henry, had built. With the glistening carriage standing at the curb; President and Mrs. McKinley came out and got in. The President, standing up, doffed his silk top hat to the waiting crowd. At this second Hermann Brunn's shutter clicked, getting one of the last pictures ever taken of William McKinley. Brunn rushed home, developed the picture, and sold a print of it to the Buffalo Express for publication later that week. Unbeknownst to Brunn at the time, anarchist Leon Czolgosz, was to mortally wound the head of state while in line at the public reception for the President at the Exposition’s Temple of Music the following day. During the two weeks that McKinley hovered between life and death, Brunn printed and sold 1400 contact prints of the historic picture and made a small fortune. 

The Hamlin/McKinley landau was the first of many Brunn-built vehicles to be used by heads of state throughout the world over. Although the rest were built by Brunn & Co., Riza Kahn, the Shah of Persia; King Carol and Queen Marie of Romania; King George of Greece; Manuel Quezon, President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States all owned vehicles with a Brunn builder’s plate affixed to the body.

Henry Brunn built his first auto body in 1895 for an inventor in Allentown, PA, but thought little of the curiosity at the time. Not surprisingly he was less than enthusiastic about the horseless carriage after he drove one through the wall of a barn. The firm became a distributor for the Haynes automobile in 1902, but the vast majority of their work was still of the horse-drawn variety. “Uncle Henry said this noisy, greasy, smelly thing would never last” recalled nephew Hermann A. Brunn in a 1933 speech.

A number of Buffalo sources report that Henry Ford offered Brunn a partnership for $32,000 while visiting the 1902 Pan American Exhibition, which was possible as Ford was desperate for money at the time, but Brunn apparently turned him down and Ford historians remain mum on the subject.

George Atterbury, a Westinghouse electrical engineer who had previously worked for the American Vehicle Company of Chicago visited the shop in 1902 to inquire if Brunn was interested in building an electric-powered mobile carriage for the Buffalo Railway Company who needed one in order to inspect and repair the overhead wire used by their newly electrified trolleys.

Buffalo’s Lenox Hotel commissioned Brunn to build an electric omnibus to transport guests from the train to their uptown location later that same year. Atterbury moved to Buffalo to design the bus’s electrical system and proposed that they think about manufacturing electric automobiles as well. Funds for the hotel’s bus were slow in coming so Atterbury found a job at Buffalo’s Conrad Motor Carriage Company, a small manufacturer of gasoline and steam-powered motor buggies. With his carriage business expanding, Brunn hired an Andrew Johnston trained body draftsman, A. Gravel, in 1902 who had previously worked for Brewster, Henry I. Hooker & Co, and the New Haven Carriage Co.

Unable to convince neither Conrad nor Brunn to manufacture electric vehicles, Atterbury opened up his own firm called the Auto Car Equipment Company. He soon had an order (and a deposit) for 50 electric buses that were needed for the upcoming 1904 ­Louisiana Purchase Exposition, and gave the manufacturing duties to Brunn. To complete all fifty bodies in the time required, Brunn erected a large four-story building dedicated to motor vehicle manufacture.

The contract was complete just in time, even though early units were shipped to St. Louis sans battery. The Exposition buses performed admirably and Brunn began to think about the manufacture of an electric vehicle of his own.

In the meantime Brunn was appointed Buffalo’s Stevens-Duryea distributor and hired a former Stevens-Duryea sales rep named Nelson Baker to take charge of the firm’s automotive sales department which also included the older Haynes franchise.

With the firm’s sudden expansion, Brunn needed additional help in the carriage works and asked his 30 year-old nephew, Herman A. Brunn to give up his position at the New Haven Carriage Co., and return to Buffalo as his shop superintendent. In the meantime, the Lenox hotel had come up with the money to finish their omnibus, and ordered another three examples, all painted black and upholstered in gray.

George Atterbury continued to provide Brunn with an occasional electric bus order and several small fleets were built for prominent hotels in Atlantic City, San Francisco, and nearby Rochester, N.Y.  

By 1905 General Electric and Westinghouse were producing cheap home charging units and had installed 12 public charging stations scattered around Buffalo. So Brunn decided the time was right and with the help of his nephew, who had previously worked on the Columbia Electric while at New Haven Carriage Co., Brunn designed two small electric cars: a "Phaeton Stanhope" for summer driving, and an "Inside Driven Coupe" for winter.

Buffalo’s James Macnaughton Motor Car Company was appointed national distributor for the Brunn Electric and announced the new models in the April 1906 issue of the Cycle and Automobile Trade News. The Brunn Electrics were of the latest design with the powerplant located at the front, a steering wheel in place of a tiller, smaller 30-inch artillery-wheels shod with pneumatic tires, and a silent shaft drive in place of cheap and noisy chain drives found on their competition. Regenerative braking was added on later models and production continued into 1911. The arrival of the self­ starter marked the beginning of the end for the electric car and Brunn quickly acquired franchises for the gasoline-powered Franklin, Peerless and Pennsylvania. However, Brunn continued to manufacture electrics for others who marketed them as the Clark, Brunn-Clark, VanWagonner, and Lennox and also sold Milburn and Rausch & Lang Electrics in their showroom through the early twenties. The elder Brunn retired in 1916 and his Cornell educated son, Harry took over the firm.

George Atterbury went on to bigger and better things, organizing the Atterbury Motor Car Company in 1911 who later produced Buffalo’s famous Atterbury Truck through the 1930s

Brunn went on to produce commercial bodies on Brockway, Chase, Ford, Pierce-Arrow, Selden, Victor, and White truck chassis for local merchants and dealers. The also built a few ambulances and funeral cars on Cadillac, Ford, Pierce-Arrow and White chassis as well some very stylish custom bodies on Cadillac, Cord, Empire, FIAT, Ford, Haynes, Herff-Brooks, Locomobile, Packard, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Reno, Rolls-Royce, Scripps-Booth, Stearns-Knight, Stevens-Duryea, Thomas, and White passenger car chassis through 1932 when they closed their doors.

Buffalo’s elite enjoyed Brunn carriages and coachwork for decades, but Henry’s firm never gained the national recognition that his nephew’s firm, Brunn & Company received through their long lasting connections with Detroit.

(Henry's spouse, Charlotte J. Brunn died on Feb 26, 1927) (Only son Harry Otis Brunn (1891-1975) had a mechanical engineering degree from Cornell - class of 1916)

© 2004 Mark Theobald -







How a Buffalo Coach Builder Pioneered the Electric Vehicle by Harry O. Brunn, Jr. – Western New York Heritage, Spring 1998 pp70-77

Brunn Name a Classic Link Between Carriages and Cars by Michael Levy – Buffalo Evening News

Brunn Electric Inside-Driven Coupe - Buffalo Evening News - February 11, 1911

Harry O. Brunn, Jr  - Brunn of Buffalo: A Coachbuilder at the Crossroads

Brunn & Co – By Hermann C. Brunn – Road & Track – October 1963 pp 43-50

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Hugo Pfau – The Coachbuilt Packard

Buffalo had a Star in Days of Custom Auto Body Making by Dean Richmond – Buffalo Evening News, Sept 28, 1963

The Coachbuilders PartVII: Brunn & Co. by Michael Lamm Special Interest Autos #159, May/June 1997 pp16-19

Two Custom Bodies that Launched Brunn & Co. On The Road To Fame And Success - By Hermann C. Brunn – Antique Automobile Nov-Dec 1974 pp6-9

Brunn & Co By Hugo Pfau – Cars & Parts April 1972  pp104-107

A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design, by Michael Lamm and Dave Holls.)

Michael Lamm - Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile - Coachbuilding

Coachwork Lines: Brunn by Walt Gosden the Classic Car, December 1985 pp16-17

Brunn Speech from Coachwork Lines – the Classic Car, March 1990 pp8-11

Car for a President by Hermann C. Brunn – Antique Automobile Jul-Aug 1976 pp34-38

Luncheon with Brunn! And Tales of Bygone Days - by John C. Meyer III, California Classics Vol I pp122-129

C. E. Flinchbaugh  - The Brunns of Buffalo - Packard Cormorant Magazine #106 pp2

James F. Bellamy - Cars Made In Upstate New York

1931 Speech by Herman A. Brunn at the summer meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers at White Sulphur Springs “Design Sells the Car, But Comfort Keeps It Sold."

William D. Siuru, Andrea Stewart  – Presidential Cars & Transportation

Herbert R. Collins - Presidents on Wheels

San Francisco Herald-Examiner – Feb 25, 1912 “Mrs. Leslie Carter Owns Gorgeous Car”

Buffalo Times - Jan 16, 1927  “Brunn Describes McKinley Ride in Buffalo in 1901”

Buffalo Courier-Express – Jan 16, 1927 “Royalty Rides in Coaches built by Hermann Brunn”

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

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