The Thomas Dunham Company is another one of
firms that manufactured aftermarket parts for the Ford Model T in the
early twenties. Included here due to that fact they offered aftermarket
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
shelving that led Dunham to create the sturdy steel shelving and shop
that became the core product of the Aurora Equipment Co., a firm which
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
lists the Dunham family as residents of Buffalo, Erie County, New York,
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.
& Abby L. (38-yo) Dunham, a brother; Frederick G. (13-yo) and
(7-yo). In the 12 years that had passed since the 1880 census the
economic situation had greatly improved - his father was now a realtor,
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
popular motoring accessory manufactured by Bridgeport, Connecticut’s
Manufacturing Co. (c.1900-1920). By 1907 Dunham had been appointed the
national sales manager as confirmed by the following item in a 1910
“Hawthorne Manufacturing Company – ‘Old Sol’
“Thomas M. Dunham, the sales manager of the
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
On August 31, 1909 Dunham married Julia
(b.1887-d. August 28, 1931), a 1907 graduate of the University of
Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan, at the home of her parents, Alfred
(Knight) Edwards. The marriage certificate lists Dunham’s occupation as
manufacturer, his residence, New York City. Julia Caroline’s name is
listed as Caroline Julia Dunham, and later in life simply as Caroline,
undoubtedly her preferred moniker.
The 1910 US Census lists the newlyweds as
Nutley, Essex County, New Jersey, and within the year they were blessed
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):
“AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT BY ESTABROOK.
“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
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
thousands of F. A. M. advertisements he has placed for us and for much
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,
worth of “Old Sol" headlights. The Hawthorne Manufacturing Company, of
Bridgeport, Conn., makers of the “Old Sol” lights, will give through
chairman of F. A. M. Membership Committee twelve of its S1011)
headlights, No. 1 or No. 2, complete with No. 5 generator and any
brackets specified, to the first twelve clubs to affiliate with the F.
beginning May 10, 1911, and bringing in not less than fifteen new F. A.
members; also three “Old Sol" headlights as above described, to the
affiliated clubs bringing in the largest number of new members during
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
endurance run or for best individual attendance on club runs during a
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
determine who is entitled to receive one of these headlights under this
E. M. Estabrook.”
In 1913 the Dunhams relocated to Aurora,
Illinois where Thomas and Julia were further blessed by the birth of
additional children, Julia E.(b. 1915) and Martha Louise (b.1919)
The family’s move to Aurora, Illinois
coincided with the
debut of the Dunham Motorcycle Sidecar, an inexpensive lightweight
was sold fully equipped for $45 fob Aurora. Confirmation of the 1913
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
The Charters to New Corporations column of
the October 27,
1913 issue of Industrial World placed the firm’s capitalization at a
Dunham company. Aurora, Ill. $2,500;
to conduct general manufacturing and motor specialties business.
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
In a 1996 interview with the Chicago
Tribune’s S.R. Carroll,
John Jaros, the executive director of the Aurora Historical Museum
“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
bodies for cars (to convert Model T's into a sportier vehicle) and
motorcycles. He also started making steel shelving around that time,
what the company produces today, in addition to steel cabinetry and
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
The November 1913 issue of Popular Science
included a full
page ad for the Dunham sidecar.
“DUNHAM SIDECAR FOR MOTORCYCLES
“See The Dunham Sidecar Now. Don’t wait
until you have
purchased an every day kind of sidecar. Make it a point to compare,
ride in the luxurious and fashionable Dunham Sidecar now – now before
riding season is in full swing. Now - while you have the time. Now -
are making prompt deliveries.
“Scientifically designed. Without side drag
Frame of 10 gage seamless tubing. All fittings of steel, brazed and
these few features: The extras include Folding Top, gives full
weather. Child's seat that enables a child to be carried without
Write for Circulars.
“THOMAS DUNHAM COMPANY, AURORA, ILL.”
During the next few years he placed
hundreds of small
classified ads in the nation’s leading periodicals including Popular
Popular Mechanics, The Illustrated World, and Motorcycle and Bicycle
Illustrated a sampling follows:
Sept 1914 Popular Mechanics:
“DEMONSTRATING sidecar, $45. Greyhound
Yale twin, $150. Thomas Dunham, Aurora. Ill.”
May 1915 Popular Mechanics, Under
“YALE twin and used sidecars, bargains.
December 1915 Popular Mechanics, under
“FOR Sale – 1914 Twin Indiana 2-speed fully
Side Car. S.A. Shappi, 2518 North Fairfield Ave, Chicago, Ill.”
February & March 1916 Popular Mechanics
Motorcycles, Bicycles & Supplies:
“UNUSED Flexible Sidecar with
fittings, $45.00. Thomas Dunham, Aurora. Ill.”
June 1917 edition of Popular Mechanics
following classified ad:
“BRAND new Dunham sidecar $50, Thomas Dunham
In an interesting sideline, Dunham was
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
a prisoner at Ossining, New York’s Sing-Sing state prison in 1919-1920.
A reputed friend of New York mayor and US
Roosevelt, Loudon was often in the news prior to his conviction for
statement given by Dunham on hearing of his friend’s arrest, appeared
of the nation’s papers in late 1915. The October 16, 1915 Reno Evening
“’Count’ Max Loudon Said to Be Friend of
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
American volunteers during the Spanish-American war serving with former
Roosevelt, Thomas Dunham, an Aurora manufacturer of automobile
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
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
1915 issue of the Horseless Age included a photograph of the new Dunham
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
steel on a foundation of oak sills, the curves being shaped in
to insure a uniformly smooth surface and the edges and seams being
reinforced. As the dash is six inches behind the regular Ford dash
set of special foot pedals, brake lever and connecting rod are
funnel ventilators on each side provide an air current behind the dash.
the seats and under the turtle-back are an oval fuel tank holding
gallons and a four-gallon oil tank. Arrangements are made to permit of
being operated under air pressure if desired. Standard finish is
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
bodies for Fords. $16 to $125. Radiator Shell and Stream Line Hood $15;
Ford look like a $1,000 car. Funny Old Doc Yack Radiator Ornament, $1.
Dunham, Aurora, Ill.”
Under Motorcycles, Bicycles & Supplies:
“UNUSED Flexible Sidecar with
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
made of special body steel finished with three coats of hand rubbed
enamel. Price as illustrated $9, without apron $8. Shipping weight is
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
reinforced edged to give additional strength. Width of seat is 16
is 17 inches and height is 21 inches. Upholstered in black imitation
the price is $18 per pair; spring constructed cushions cost $8 extra
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
“THOMAS DUNHAM CO.
“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
makers whose product is for one passenger only are the Flexible Sidecar
Loudonville, O.; Harry Svensgaard Sales Corporation, 214 Jefferson
Detroit, Mich., and the Rogers Mfg. Co., Chicago, Ill.“
The January 2, 1918 issue of Motor World
membership in the Motor and Accessory Manufacturers Association:
“MAMA Admits 8 Members
“WASHINGTON Dec. 21 - The Motor and
Association have admitted 8 new members. They are Thomas Dunham Co.,
CAS Products Co., Columbus, O.; Union Switch & Signal Co.,
F.A. Ames Co.; Owensboro. Ky.; Hill Smith Metal Goods Co., Boston;
Tichenor Corp.; Cortland, NY,; Carlisle Cord Tire Co., New York; and
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
Ford car. The heat is furnished to the register from the exhaust pipe
evenly distributed by baffle plates in the registered drum. Price $5.
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,
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
for an oscillating motion which is said to be more sensitive than a
perpendicular coil spring and this sensitiveness action automatically
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
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
cushion slot in the absorber. The price is $4.00 for a set of four.”
The following 2 classified ads appeared in
Accessories’ section of the October 1918 issue of Popular Science:
“NEW Bodies for Fords, snappy speed models -
Thomas Dunham Company, Aurora, Illinois.
“HEAT Your Ford. Dunham Heaters easily
attached to exhaust
either compartment, Detachable, inexpensive, used
Dunham Company, Aurora, Illinois.”
December 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics
following classified ad Under Ford Accessories:
“NEW Bodies for Fords, snappy speed models,
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
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
the plant of the Thomas Dunham Company, manufacturers of car
Aurora, Illinois, USA. Among this company's specialties are radius rods
Ford cars; these rods are brazed - that is the steel terminal forgings
tube portions have been fused into one whole by the expensive brazing
Always ready to test any new idea, these manufacturers have been making
experiments with the cheaper electrical welding processes that are now
use. That the test might be absolutely fair, a large sum of money was
the best possible equipment for electrical welding. The results, it is
by the company and those who have made practical tests of the rods
by this method, show that the welded joints have been inferior to those
by the brazing process. Though their factory is equipped for the
process, these manufacturers announce that the welded rod has not come
their standards and that they will continue to produce their original
which the forgings are slipped inside the tube ends for some distance,
held by a specially designed jig while they are pinned in place and
in the brazing furnace. For this brazing process, the company have
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
furnaces, have been determined by exhaustive tests, and the rods are
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
both in materials and workmanship, and also because of the lubricating
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,
valves etc. The sales department is well organized and equipped for the
and efficient handling of mail orders from buyers in all parts of the
facilitate their growing trade with South and Central America and other
speaking sections, this company issue bulletins and price lists printed
Spanish language. These folders will be mailed on request to interested
The 1920 US Census lists the Dunhams as
residents of Aurora,
Kane County, Illinois; the household made up of parents Thomas (43-yo)
Caroline (32-yo) Dunham, and their three children; John (9-yo), Julia
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
with an aeroplane top. Either body can be easily fitted to the Ford
class and quality are added to each Ford so equipped.
“The body is constructed of steel, 22-gauge
throughout, while the sills are two by six inches, with one-inch floor
All bodies are highly finished, painted standard red and striped with
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
over-stuffed type of unusual thickness, with five rows of oil-tempered
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
Soon after the 1922 reorganization as Aurora
Equipment Co., Dunham
issued a catalog featuring the former Dunham line of Ford accessories,
renamed Equipto. In addition to the firm’s speedster bodies, seats and
shrouds, new products were added such as ‘Equipto Camel’ water pumps
Equipto side spot light and up inside spot light; ‘A well made lamp
Advertisements for Dunham’s Equipto line of
start to disappear in the mid-twenties as sales of the firm’s line of
storage equipment took off, with advertising stating the firm was:
“Manufacturers of Equipto line of
Fixtures, Steel Display Equipment, Sales Tables, Counters, Special
Racks and Shelving”.
1928 officers of the Aurora Equipment
Company were as
follows: Thomas M. Dunham, President & Sales Mgr.; Charles F.
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
fixtures and equipment for storage and display. Thomas M.
Dunham, who is
president and general manager of the company, began the business in New
City 30 years ago and two years later removed his establishment to
“Most complete and comprehensive catalogs.
“The new ‘30th Anniversary Catalog’ includes
as steel shelving with three new types of shelves, parts bins, drawer
gasket racks, spring and bar racks, various types of ‘dressing up’
“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.”
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.
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
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
such as Caterpillar and Boeing, retail clients using display shelving
Mikasa and The Gap, to healthcare facilities such as Mt. Sinai-Chicago
DuPont Medical Systems that utilize Equipto's filing products.
For over a half-century the Aurora plant was
home, but in 1970, growth in business necessitated that Equipto expand
operations to two new manufacturing plants in Tatamy, Pennsylvania and
Texas, the later facility now serving as its main base of operations.
© 2012 Mark Theobald for Coachbuilt.com
Ocala, Florida collector George Albright
“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
on this speedster is off of a 1922 or 23 Model T. Only the body
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
Model T roadster or speedster or racer or racing body made by the
Aurora Equipment Company, Aurora, Illinois. (see makers tag included
body.) Little is known about the company other than in the very early
they made bodies for Ford,and around 1930 switched to metal cabinetry.
still in that business. I checked with the company HQ,the local
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
radiator size wise, not a pre-1916 brass one. Neat racing lines. No
just a trunk. Super straight and virtually no rust. From a barn in Iowa
it was removed from a race car many decades ago. Body from the top of
to the top of the trunk is around 96 inches. Body is 37 inches at top
of doors, and 36 inches at button of center of doors and bottom of the
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
glass, then attach the mounting bracket to these mounting brackets so
have a killer windshield without a frame!”