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Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora Equipment Co., Equipto
Thomas Dunham Co. 1913-1922; (aka Dunham Side Car Co.); Aurora Equipment Co.; 1922-2004; Equipto div. of Aurora Equipment Co. (Capital Resource Partners) 2004-present; Aurora.
Associated Firms
Hawthorne Mfg. Co.

The Thomas Dunham Company is another one of the little-known firms that manufactured aftermarket parts for the Ford Model T in the teens and early twenties. Included here due to that fact they offered aftermarket Ford Speedster bodies, one of which was recently acquired by Ocala, Florida collector George Albright.

Dunham’s remembered today as a manufacturer of modular steel shop and storage equipment. That activity was connected to his aftermarket Ford parts business as it was a Ford dealer’s need for heavy-duty shelving that led Dunham to create the sturdy steel shelving and shop equipment that became the core product of the Aurora Equipment Co., a firm which remains in business today.

Thomas McLaughlin Dunham (b.1876-d. Oct. 2, 1964) was born in Buffalo, Erie County, New York to John C. (b. 1850) and Abby L. (Gibbons - b. 1853) Dunham. The 1880 US Census lists the Dunham family as residents of Buffalo, Erie County, New York, his father’s occupation, shirtmaker. Also listed are our subject, Thomas M. (b.1876) and his brother Frederick G. (b. 1878) Dunham.

The 1892 New York State Census lists Thomas as a 15-yo resident of Buffalo, Erie County, New York living with his parents; John C. (40-yo) & Abby L. (38-yo) Dunham, a brother; Frederick G. (13-yo) and sister; Helen (7-yo). In the 12 years that had passed since the 1880 census the family’s economic situation had greatly improved - his father was now a realtor, and the family employed two live-in servants.

At the turn of the century he sought his fortune in New York City, becoming involved with the sale of “Old Sol” motorcycle headlights, a popular motoring accessory manufactured by Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Hawthorne Manufacturing Co. (c.1900-1920). By 1907 Dunham had been appointed the firm’s national sales manager as confirmed by the following item in a 1910 issue of Motor World:

“Hawthorne Manufacturing Company – ‘Old Sol’ headlights

“Thomas M. Dunham, the sales manager of the company, has returned from a business trip to the Pacific Coast, and his estimate of conditions and of prospects for next year are such as to make the factory increase imperative.”

On August 31, 1909 Dunham married Julia Caroline Edwards (b.1887-d. August 28, 1931), a 1907 graduate of the University of Michigan, in Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan, at the home of her parents, Alfred and Julia E. (Knight) Edwards. The marriage certificate lists Dunham’s occupation as manufacturer, his residence, New York City. Julia Caroline’s name is sometimes listed as Caroline Julia Dunham, and later in life simply as Caroline, undoubtedly her preferred moniker.

The 1910 US Census lists the newlyweds as residents of Nutley, Essex County, New Jersey, and within the year they were blessed with the birth of a son, John C. Dunham (b. September 9, 1910).

Dunham is mentioned in the a 1911 issue of Motorcycle Illustrated as follows (F.A.M. refers to the Federation of American Motorcyclists which was active from 1903-1919):


“DURING all of last year and this much of the present F.A.M. year, I have to acknowledge a standing and unrequited debt of obligation which I owe personally, as well as on behalf of the F. A. M. to Mr. Thomas M. Dunham, sales manager for “Old Sol” headlights, on account of the many thousands of F. A. M. advertisements he has placed for us and for much other practical work and assistance.

“As a further proof of his interest in the work of building up the F. A. M. he has just placed at the disposal of this committee, $150.00 worth of “Old Sol" headlights. The Hawthorne Manufacturing Company, of Bridgeport, Conn., makers of the “Old Sol” lights, will give through the chairman of F. A. M. Membership Committee twelve of its S1011) motorcycle headlights, No. 1 or No. 2, complete with No. 5 generator and any assortment of brackets specified, to the first twelve clubs to affiliate with the F. A. M., beginning May 10, 1911, and bringing in not less than fifteen new F. A. M. members; also three “Old Sol" headlights as above described, to the three affiliated clubs bringing in the largest number of new members during the thirty days following May 10, 1911.

“Any club accepting one of these headlights agrees to use it as a prize in some form of competitive sport, such as a race meet, hill climb, endurance run or for best individual attendance on club runs during a stated time. It may also be used as an individual prize in a membership contest or for a similar competitive club event. The books of Secretary-Treasurer Gibson shall determine who is entitled to receive one of these headlights under this offer. E. M. Estabrook.”

In 1913 the Dunhams relocated to Aurora, Kane County, Illinois where Thomas and Julia were further blessed by the birth of two additional children, Julia E.(b. 1915) and Martha Louise (b.1919) Dunham.

The family’s move to Aurora, Illinois coincided with the debut of the Dunham Motorcycle Sidecar, an inexpensive lightweight sidecar that was sold fully equipped for $45 fob Aurora. Confirmation of the 1913 move to Aurora appears in the October 25, 1913 issue of Automobile Topics:

“AURORA, ILL. — The Thomas Dunham Co. intends to conduct a garage and automobile salesroom, and to manufacture motor specialties. Thomas W. Dunham, Lee Mighell and Harvey Gunsul are the incorporators.”

The Charters to New Corporations column of the October 27, 1913 issue of Industrial World placed the firm’s capitalization at a miniscule $2,500:

“Thomas Dunham company. Aurora, Ill. $2,500; to conduct general manufacturing and motor specialties business. Incorporators, Thomas W. Dunham, Lee Mighell and Harvey Gunsul.”

Mighell, Gunsul & Allen (Olney Allen), were a well-known Aurora law group who were officers and directors of a number of Aurora businesses.

In a 1996 interview with the Chicago Tribune’s S.R. Carroll, John Jaros, the executive director of the Aurora Historical Museum states:

“Thomas Dunham started his first company in Aurora in 1913 and named it the Thomas Dunham Co.

“One of the things he made in the early days was sports bodies for cars (to convert Model T's into a sportier vehicle) and sidecars for motorcycles. He also started making steel shelving around that time, which is what the company produces today, in addition to steel cabinetry and storage units. In 1922, the name was changed to Aurora Equipment Co., and later Equipto," said Jaros. "They became one of the larger firms in the Aurora area."

The November 1913 issue of Popular Science included a full page ad for the Dunham sidecar.


“See The Dunham Sidecar Now. Don’t wait until you have purchased an every day kind of sidecar. Make it a point to compare, examine and ride in the luxurious and fashionable Dunham Sidecar now – now before the riding season is in full swing. Now - while you have the time. Now - while we are making prompt deliveries.

“Dunham Sidecar

“Scientifically designed. Without side drag on motorcycle. Frame of 10 gage seamless tubing. All fittings of steel, brazed and pinned. Note these few features: The extras include Folding Top, gives full protection from weather. Child's seat that enables a child to be carried without inconvenience. Write for Circulars.


During the next few years he placed hundreds of small classified ads in the nation’s leading periodicals including Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, The Illustrated World, and Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated a sampling follows:

Sept 1914 Popular Mechanics:

“DEMONSTRATING sidecar, $45. Greyhound single, $50. Yale twin, $150. Thomas Dunham, Aurora. Ill.”

May 1915 Popular Mechanics, Under Motorcycles, Bicycles & Supplies:

“YALE twin and used sidecars, bargains. Thomas Dunham. Aurora. Ill.”

December 1915 Popular Mechanics, under Motorcycles, Bicycles & Supplies:

“FOR Sale – 1914 Twin Indiana 2-speed fully equipped; Dunham Side Car. S.A. Shappi, 2518 North Fairfield Ave, Chicago, Ill.”

February & March 1916 Popular Mechanics under Motorcycles, Bicycles & Supplies:

“UNUSED Flexible Sidecar with rigid attachment fittings, $45.00. Thomas Dunham, Aurora. Ill.”

June 1917 edition of Popular Mechanics includes the following classified ad:

“BRAND new Dunham sidecar $50, Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora, Ill”

In an interesting sideline, Dunham was apparently friends with the notorious Count Loudon (aka Max Lynar) an Austrian spy, swindler and inventor who made headlines when he designed and constructed an ocean-going airship while a prisoner at Ossining, New York’s Sing-Sing state prison in 1919-1920.

A reputed friend of New York mayor and US President Theodore Roosevelt, Loudon was often in the news prior to his conviction for forgery. A statement given by Dunham on hearing of his friend’s arrest, appeared in many of the nation’s papers in late 1915. The October 16, 1915 Reno Evening Gazette reporting:

“’Count’ Max Loudon Said to Be Friend of Roosevelt's; Two Wives Claim Him

“Aurora, Ill., Oct. 10 — Max Loudon, also known as Count Max Lynar Loudon, arrested In New York on a charge of bigamy was a colonel of American volunteers during the Spanish-American war serving with former President Roosevelt, Thomas Dunham, an Aurora manufacturer of automobile supplies, who lived In Buffalo, N. Y., in 1911 said today.

“Mr. Dunham said he had been an intimate friend of Loudon's, and with Mrs. Dunham often visited at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Loudon at Fort Erie, but that neither of the two women accusing Loudon is the woman they met as his wife.”

Model T Ford Racing bodies were added to the firm's offerings in late 1915. The New Parts and Accessories column of the December 15, 1915 issue of the Horseless Age included a photograph of the new Dunham Racing Body for Fords:

“Dunham Racing Body for Ford Chassis.

“The Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora, Ill., makes the speed body shown on a Ford chassis in our illustration. The body is built of twenty gauge steel on a foundation of oak sills, the curves being shaped in steel dies to insure a uniformly smooth surface and the edges and seams being reinforced. As the dash is six inches behind the regular Ford dash position, a set of special foot pedals, brake lever and connecting rod are furnished. Half funnel ventilators on each side provide an air current behind the dash. Behind the seats and under the turtle-back are an oval fuel tank holding fifteen gallons and a four-gallon oil tank. Arrangements are made to permit of these being operated under air pressure if desired. Standard finish is battleship gray, but any color may be had at an extra cost.”

Dunham placed identical classified ads in the May and June 1916 issues of Popular Mechanics:

Under Ford Accessories:

“COMMERCIAL, Speedster, Racing and Cloverleaf Pleasure bodies for Fords. $16 to $125. Radiator Shell and Stream Line Hood $15; make Ford look like a $1,000 car. Funny Old Doc Yack Radiator Ornament, $1. Thomas Dunham, Aurora, Ill.”

Under Motorcycles, Bicycles & Supplies:

“UNUSED Flexible Sidecar with rigid attachment fittings, $45.00. Thomas Dunham, Aurora. Ill.”

February 1, 1917 Horseless Age:

“A Radiator Shell for 1917 Fords (517)

“The Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora, Ill. Furnished with apron as shown or without it. Designed to take the place of the regular Ford shell and made of special body steel finished with three coats of hand rubbed black enamel. Price as illustrated $9, without apron $8. Shipping weight is about twenty pounds.”

March 1, 1917 Horseless Age:

“Dunham Racing Seats (569)

“The Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora, Ill. Designed to fit any standard chassis. Made from heavy gauge body stock with rolled and reinforced edged to give additional strength. Width of seat is 16 inches, depth is 17 inches and height is 21 inches. Upholstered in black imitation leather, the price is $18 per pair; spring constructed cushions cost $8 extra and upholstery in fancy red also costs an additional $8. Shipping weight is approximately fifty pounds per pair.”

‘With the Tech Ed’ column of the July 19, 1917 issue of Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated included a mention of Dunham’s sidecar:


“I WOULD like to get into touch with some American maker of two-seater sidecars, as well as such firms who make the regular form. Gibraltar. A. E. Serfaty.

“For the two-seater sidecar write the Thomas Dunham Co., 343 Hardin street, Aurora, Ill. Other sidecar makers whose product is for one passenger only are the Flexible Sidecar Co., Loudonville, O.; Harry Svensgaard Sales Corporation, 214 Jefferson avenue, Detroit, Mich., and the Rogers Mfg. Co., Chicago, Ill.“

The January 2, 1918 issue of Motor World announced Dunham’s membership in the Motor and Accessory Manufacturers Association:

“MAMA Admits 8 Members

“WASHINGTON Dec. 21 - The Motor and Accessory Manufacturers Association have admitted 8 new members. They are Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora, Ill.; CAS Products Co., Columbus, O.; Union Switch & Signal Co., Swissvale, Pa.; F.A. Ames Co.; Owensboro. Ky.; Hill Smith Metal Goods Co., Boston; Brewer Tichenor Corp.; Cortland, NY,; Carlisle Cord Tire Co., New York; and Oldberg Mfg. Co., Detroit.”

Within the week Dunham’s new heater for Fords was announced in the January 9, 1918 issue of Motor World:

“Dunham Heater for Fords - This heater is mounted on a floorboard which may be inserted in place of the regulation floorboard in a Ford car. The heat is furnished to the register from the exhaust pipe and is evenly distributed by baffle plates in the registered drum. Price $5. Thomas Dunham Co., Laroy, Ill.”

The ‘Laroy, Ill.’ address in the preceding article is likely a misprint, as there’s no Illinois city by that name. There is a LeRoy, Ill., however it’s located 125 south of Aurora.

The very next week Dunham’s ‘Noshok’ shock absorbers were announced to the trade via the January 15, 1918 issue of the Horseless Age:

“Noshok Shock Absorbers (75)

“Thomas Dunham Company, Aurora Ill. These absorbers provide for an oscillating motion which is said to be more sensitive than a perpendicular coil spring and this sensitiveness action automatically takes up and destroys jars and jolts. The absorbers take the place of the spring shackles and they can be applied removing the rear wheels or taking down front axles. The load is carried on the bushing in the Ford bracket and the construction is such that the car springs cannot bump the axle owing to the cushion slot in the absorber. The price is $4.00 for a set of four.”

The following 2 classified ads appeared in the ‘Ford Accessories’ section of the October 1918 issue of Popular Science:

“NEW Bodies for Fords, snappy speed models - bottom prices. Thomas Dunham Company, Aurora, Illinois.

“HEAT Your Ford. Dunham Heaters easily attached to exhaust either compartment, Detachable, inexpensive, used successfully. Thomas Dunham Company, Aurora, Illinois.”

December 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics includes the following classified ad Under Ford Accessories:

“NEW Bodies for Fords, snappy speed models, Rock Bottom prices. Thomas Dunham Company, Aurora Ill.”

In 1919 Dunham and a partner, Charles F. Couve, applied for a patent on a puppet valve; US Patent No. 1,337,001 – Filed May 12, 1919 awarded April 13, 1920 for “process of manufacturing puppet valves”. The business of the Couve-Dunham Co. remains elusive although Couve was later listed as an office of the Dunam Co. Dunham applied for numerous patnets during the 1920s and 30s, but they were all related to his steel shelving business.

Dunham’s aftermarket Ford parts business was described in some detail in the April 1919 issue of Dun’s International Review:

“Motor Car Accessories

“SOME very interesting experiments are being conducted at the plant of the Thomas Dunham Company, manufacturers of car accessories at Aurora, Illinois, USA. Among this company's specialties are radius rods for Ford cars; these rods are brazed - that is the steel terminal forgings and the tube portions have been fused into one whole by the expensive brazing process. Always ready to test any new idea, these manufacturers have been making experiments with the cheaper electrical welding processes that are now coming into use. That the test might be absolutely fair, a large sum of money was invested in the best possible equipment for electrical welding. The results, it is stated, by the company and those who have made practical tests of the rods manufactured by this method, show that the welded joints have been inferior to those fused by the brazing process. Though their factory is equipped for the electrical process, these manufacturers announce that the welded rod has not come up to their standards and that they will continue to produce their original rod in which the forgings are slipped inside the tube ends for some distance, and then held by a specially designed jig while they are pinned in place and later fused in the brazing furnace. For this brazing process, the company have developed a special automatic feed furnace through which the assembled rods are passed on a carrier. The correct time for this process, and the correct heat for these furnaces, have been determined by exhaustive tests, and the rods are required to measure up to the most exacting standards of strength.

“Another feature of the Dunham line is an exclusive type of fan designed for use on Ford cars, and for which are claimed decided advantages both in materials and workmanship, and also because of the lubricating space inside the hub and the exceptional phosphor bronze bushings.

“In addition to many of the larger and accessories for Ford cars, this company produce a line of small parts, such as ball races, bushings, valves etc. The sales department is well organized and equipped for the prompt and efficient handling of mail orders from buyers in all parts of the world. To facilitate their growing trade with South and Central America and other Spanish speaking sections, this company issue bulletins and price lists printed in the Spanish language. These folders will be mailed on request to interested firms everywhere.”

The 1920 US Census lists the Dunhams as residents of Aurora, Kane County, Illinois; the household made up of parents Thomas (43-yo) and Caroline (32-yo) Dunham, and their three children; John (9-yo), Julia (5-yo) and Martha (9-mo.) Dunham.

The Thomas Dunham Company, Aurora, Ill., were listed as exhibitors at the 1920 Chicago Auto Show.

The two Dunham Speedsters seen to the right were included in the October, 1920 issue of Accessory and Garage Journal:

“Dunham Speed Bodies For Fords are made in two styles, the Symphony, a sport roadster type, and the Aristocrat, a roadster type equipped with an aeroplane top. Either body can be easily fitted to the Ford chassis and class and quality are added to each Ford so equipped.

“The body is constructed of steel, 22-gauge stock throughout, while the sills are two by six inches, with one-inch floor boards. All bodies are highly finished, painted standard red and striped with black, while the shell and hood are painted black to match the fenders and baked as a protection against engine heat.

“The upholstery covering is DuPont’s Fabrikoid, a pliable, handsome leather substitute, and done in French-pleat style. Cushions are the over-stuffed type of unusual thickness, with five rows of oil-tempered coiled springs. The outfit also includes a new shell for the radiator.

“Manufactured by the Thomas Dunham Co., Aurora, Ill. Prices and literature on request.”

Another one of their models was called the ‘Newport Speedster’.

Soon after the 1922 reorganization as Aurora Equipment Co., Dunham issued a catalog featuring the former Dunham line of Ford accessories, now renamed Equipto. In addition to the firm’s speedster bodies, seats and radiator shrouds, new products were added such as ‘Equipto Camel’ water pumps for Fords; Equipto side spot light and up inside spot light; ‘A well made lamp throwing a dandy light.’

Advertisements for Dunham’s Equipto line of Ford accessories start to disappear in the mid-twenties as sales of the firm’s line of garage and storage equipment took off, with advertising stating the firm was:

“Manufacturers of Equipto line of Steel Store Fixtures, Steel Display Equipment, Sales Tables, Counters, Special Purpose Racks and Shelving”.

1928 officers of the Aurora Equipment Company were as follows: Thomas M. Dunham, President & Sales Mgr.; Charles F. Couve, vice-president & Gen. Supt.

The May 1941 issue of Hardware Age included a small item announcing the firm’s 30th anniversary:

“Catalog Marks Aurora Equipment Anniversary

“May 1941 is the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Aurora Equipment Co., Aurora, Illinois, manufacturer of all types of steel fixtures and equipment for storage and display. Thomas M. Dunham, who is president and general manager of the company, began the business in New York City 30 years ago and two years later removed his establishment to Aurora.

“Most complete and comprehensive catalogs.

“The new ‘30th Anniversary Catalog’ includes such products as steel shelving with three new types of shelves, parts bins, drawer cabinets, gasket racks, spring and bar racks, various types of ‘dressing up’ storage equipment, tool storage.

“Thomas M. Dunham, who is president and general manager of the company, began the business in New York City 30 years ago and two years later removed his establishment to Aurora.”

Auto accessories contineud to be manufactured by the firm as evidenced by the following article in the May 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics:

“One–Piece Holders for License Plates Need No Bolts

“No bolts or nuts are needed in attaching automobile license plates when ne one-piece, S-shaped holders are used. One each end of the S-hook is inserted pointing upward into one of the slots in license plate bracket, and the other end, pointing downward, should be inserted into the corresponding slot in the license plate. Two holders are used for each plate, and after they have been put in place, the bracket, with the nut loosened, is forced downward until the bottom of the plate is fixed firmly in the V-shaped niche at the bottom of the bracket.”

During the War Equipto retooled to produce various steel products, further diversifying its Equipto product line to meet the demand for other space-saving products.

Although Thomas M. Dunham's son, John C. Dunham, was born in New Jersey, he was educated at West Aurora High School, his higher education completed at North Central and Babson Colleges. While on a brief vacation from higher education his father challenged him to join the company, saying that "If you're are man enough to have a wife and four-week old son, you are man enough to sell on commission!" John accepted the challenge, eventually taking over the business in the late 1940s.

Thomas M. Dunham, the firm's founder, passed away on Oct. 2, 1964 at the age of 88. In the early 1990s John  C. Dunham retired as chairman of the board and in 1991 his nephew, Tom Matyas (Martha Louise Dunham Matyas' son), became President and CEO of the shelving business started by his grandfather in 1922.

Today, Equipto's customers range from industrial clients such as Caterpillar and Boeing, retail clients using display shelving like Mikasa and The Gap, to healthcare facilities such as Mt. Sinai-Chicago and DuPont Medical Systems that utilize Equipto's filing products.

For over a half-century the Aurora plant was Equipto’s only home, but in 1970, growth in business necessitated that Equipto expand operations to two new manufacturing plants in Tatamy, Pennsylvania and Dallas, Texas, the later facility now serving as its main base of operations.

© 2012 Mark Theobald for

Appendix 1

Ocala, Florida collector George Albright writes:

“Here is another obscure make of aftermarket body for a Model T Ford. See text below.

“We know they built early motorcycle sidecars, then bodies for Ford, then shop metal shelving. According to a Model T expert, the firewall on this speedster is off of a 1922 or 23 Model T.  Only the body is Equipto. The seats are ice cream parlor seats.

“1920 Equipto Ford Model T speedster race car vintage sprint body! Text: Up for auction is a possible unique circa 1920 Ford Model T roadster or speedster or racer or racing body made by the Equipto Line, Aurora Equipment Company, Aurora, Illinois. (see makers tag included with the body.) Little is known about the company other than in the very early years they made bodies for Ford,and around 1930 switched to metal cabinetry. They are still in that business. I checked with the company HQ,the local historic society and the AACA library. No one has info or a brochure.

“May be the only one in existence! I am told by a Model T expert that the cowl is early 1920s. Need to use with a black painted Model T radiator size wise, not a pre-1916 brass one. Neat racing lines. No rumble seat just a trunk. Super straight and virtually no rust. From a barn in Iowa where it was removed from a race car many decades ago. Body from the top of the cowl to the top of the trunk is around 96 inches. Body is 37 inches at top of center of doors, and 36 inches at button of center of doors and bottom of the rear of the car. Fits right on a Model T

“Also included are 2 windshield brackets that will enable you to cut a low racy looking windshield, attach a mounting bracket to the glass, then attach the mounting bracket to these mounting brackets so you will have a killer windshield without a frame!”







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

S.R. Carroll  - The Schingoethe and Dunham Families Have A Long History Of Giving Back To The Community, And Now There's A New Twist, published in the April 28, 1996 issue of the Chicago Tribune

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