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Fabric Body Corp.
Fabric Body Corporation, 1923-1929; Detroit, Michigan; Selden Truck Corp. div. of Fabric Body Corp.,1925-1929; Rochester, New York
Associated Firms
Standard Textile Products Co.

The end of the First World War marked the introduction of aircraft construction techniques to automobile body construction. In the United States aviator Glenn H. Curtiss (b.1878-d.1930) started manufacturing travel trailers using fabric stretched over a light wooden frame, and in France another American aviator named Charles T. Weymann (b.1889-d.1976) introduced a similar construction method that added flexible metal joints allowing the normally rigid airframe to flex when the body encountered ditches, bumps and other road irregularities.

Both systems incolved the use of pre-finished nitrite-coated fabric leather as the vheicle's outer surface. The recently introduced lightweight material substantially reduced the amount of time need to finish a body by eliminating the time-consuming sanding, rubbing and varnishing process, reducing the amount of time needed to construct an automobile body by 50% or more.

A former tailor turned textile manufacturer’s representative named Kenneth L. Childs came up with an alternative system by substituting pre-finished fabric leather with the metal panels of the now-standard rigid wood-framed composite automobile body. When compared to the intricate wooden and metal structures utilized by Curtiss and Weymann, Childs’ System, as it became known, was better suited to the manufacturing system currently employed by American coachbuilders as it could be quickly and easily implemented without the need for expensive re-tooling and training.

The Fabric Body Corp. of Detroit, Michigan was a short-lived but noteworthy firm that sold licenses for a Meritas fabric-covered composite body patented by its president, Kenneth L. Childs (b. March 26, 1889-d. April 7, 1984) in the early 1920s.

At that time a number of manufacturers toyed with the concept and licenses were purchased by a number of coachbuilders which included: American Auto Trimming Co., Henney Motor Co., Meritas Fabric Body Corp., Merrimac Body Corp., Mengel Co., Model Body Corp. and E. J. Thomson Co.

(Although corporately unrelated, the Meritas Fabric Body Corp. was a similarly-named Los-Angeles based firm that held a license to manufacture Childs’ bodies on the West Coast.)

From 1923-1928 a number of Meritas-bodied cars were displayed at the New York Auto Salon / Automobile Shows on Apperson, Auburn, Chandler, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Marmon, Moon, Packard, Peerless and Stutz chassis. Automobile manufacturers that are known to have licensed Childs’ system included Brooks, Chrysler, Elcar, Henney, Moon and Peerless.

Kenneth Lawrence Childs was born on March 26, 1889 in Middleboro, Plymouth County, Massachusetts to Abbott L. (a druggist, b. Dec. 1853-d. Feb. 4, 1927) and Eva M. Shaw (b. Sept. 1851) Childs., the 1900 US Census also listing a sister Cora A. (b. July 1875) Childs.

Childs followed a circuitous route to the automobile industry, his first career being that of a custom tailor. After graduation from High School he spent 5 years as a clerk/tailor at a Boston men’s clothier.

On August 5, 1911 Childs married (marriage #1) Laura C. Clough and to the blessed union was born 2 children; Dorothy Eva (m. Barber, b. May 8, 1912-d. August 29, 1971) and Kenneth Lawrence jr. (b. Dec. 30, 1913 – d. Feb. 10 1914) Childs.

In 1914 he established his own custom tailoring shop at 7-9 Main St., Plymouth, Mass. Business increased and in 1916 he relocated to larger quarters at 53 ½ Main St., his June 5, 1917 draft registration listing his occupation as ‘Merchant’, Plymouth, Mass.

In 1918 Childs accepted a position in the Manhattan sales department of the Standard Textile Products Co. and sold his Tailor shop to John H. Govi, the 1919 Plymouth Directory lists Childs Tailor Shop at 53 ½ Main St., John Govi, proprietor.

The 1920 Manhattan directory lists him as a ‘salesman’ at their 320 Broadway Manhattan office:

“Standard Textile Products Co. (Ohio) Hy. M. Garlick, pres.; Alvin Hunsicker, v-p; Harold H. Hull, Sec.; Wm. E. Thatcher, asst. treas. Table oilcloth, leather substitutes, 320 Broadway, rm. 301.”

The Standard Textile Products Co. was a December 1918 reorganization of the Standard Oil Cloth Co., which was incorporated in the state of Ohio on June 17, 1914. The latter firm was successor to the Standard Oil Cloth Co. of New Jersey, which was organized on May 2, 1907. That firm succeeded the Standard Table Oil Cloth Co. of New Jersey which was a holding company which was formed in 1901 to consolidate the nation’s leading manufacturers of light weight oil cloth. The firm controlled factories in Akron, Ohio; Youngstown, Ohio; Rock Island, Illinois; Athenia, New Jersey; Buchanan, New York; Columbus, Georgia; Mobile, Alabama; McComb, Mississippi and Selma, North Carolina. The company's southern cotton mills provided the fabrics used by the converting plants located in the north, where the firm’s best-known product, Meritas Leather Cloth, was manufactured.

The process involved spraying a uniform coating of boiled linseed oil mixed with dryers and lampblack or other pigments onto tightly knit fabric which then passed through metal rollers that applied either a smooth or grained surface. End users had a wide range of colors, widths and textures to choose from and special colors and surfaces could be special ordered at additional cost.

Meritas competitors at the time included Zapon (duPont),Fabrikoid (duPont), Drednaut (Chase), Elascofab (GM), Rexine (British), and Tole Souple (French).

Meritas brand oilcloth - originally introduced by Montrose, New York’s A.F. Buchanan and Sons in 1869 – had been eagerly adopted by the nations’ textile manufacturers in the construction of slippers, boots, furniture and other household goods. It was slowly adopted by the carriage industry as a leather substitute and its use expanded when automobile manufacturers started using it for automobile seats and interior panels. Meritas leather cloth proved an ideal material for covering the exposed wooden framework in the center of the roofs of early sedan bodies, and was often used on faux-leather Victoria tops.

Kenneth L. Childs married (marriage #2) Dorothy Catherine Dudley (daughter of Herbert F. Miller & Nettie S. Torrey) on October 26, 1921 in Derry, New Hampshire – his occupation was listed as sales manager on the marriage certificate.

By that time Childs was in charge of Standard Textile Products’ automotive accounts, and he represented the firm at the yearly New York Automobile Body Builders’ Show which was held at the Twelfth Street Armory during the New York Automobile Show.

Shortly after the 1922 show Childs had a brainstorm – why not cover entire automobile bodies with Meritas Leather Cloth? The company directors thought the idea had merit and commissioned Childs to come up with a suitable prototype. The April 7, 1922 edition of the Middleboro Gazette (Mass.) reports he had recently moved to Detroit in the interests of the Standard Textile Products Co.

From his headquarters in the Hotel Stevenson, 46 Davenport Street, Detroit, Childs set about getting more firms interested in using Meritas leather fabric in the interiors and exteriors of automobile bodies.

At the time imitation leather was coming into use as a low-cost method for covering the rear and rear side upper panels of enclosed bodies. Some manufacturers were using it to simulate collapsible roofs, early models were sometimes referred to as fixed head coupes, convertible coupes or faux cabriolets and Victorias. The misleading roof treatment was often accompanied by corresponding faux landau bars, which gave the impression of a folding top at a fraction of the cost.

Automotive Industries explained:

“This side quarter is without any window opening to break up the expanse. Metal used here makes it look cumbersome and the shape is more clearly defined with leather cloth goods provided that they are of a bright finished lustre and are fairly well finished where joined at the belt line. The Budd body has one of the best looking finished joints that is being shown. Here the fabric is assembled to a separate panel which is inserted and the joint is hidden by a generous size pipe which is applied so that the method is concealed.

However, Childs and his employer (Standard Textile Products Co.), wanted to cover the entire coachworks with Meritas Leather Cloth, thereby tripling or quadrupling its use (and profits). Childs got body designer, George J. Mercer, interested in the project, and Standard Textile Products commissioned him to construct an attractive Meritas-clad 5-passenger sedan body on a 1922 Packard Single-Six chassis at Mercer’s Model Body Corporation, which was located at 7201 Six Mile Rd., Detroit.

Unlike Charles Weymann’s Flexible Body System, whose wood framework was specially constructed using moveable metal plates, Childs’ system utilized standard composite body wood framing, substituting a padded nitrite coated fabric in place of the standard sheet metal skin.

(FYI: Weymann’s American-built cars that debuted in 1926 utilized duPont Zapon leather, not Meritas leather)

Model Body Corp.’s George J. Mercer thought the system held promise, and presented a technical paper on the subject before a gathering of SAE engineers held during the 1923 New York Automobile Show, the February, 1923 issue of Bus Transportation reporting:

“Engineers Meet at New York Show

“George Mercer, Model Body Corporation, Detroit, announced a new type of closed body. This consists of the conventional hardwood frame with galvanized wire netting tacked across it. Next is a covering of three-ply buckram and outside a new fabric known as Meritas, and developed by the Standard Textile Products Company. It is said that this panel construction, which replaced metal panels weighing about 11 lbs. per square foot, itself weighs less than ½ lb. per square foot. The outside material, or Meritas, is black and shiny and resembles leather in appearance. It is claimed for this that dust, grease and mud will not mar the surface, and that it will not expand or contract under variations in temperature. In case of damage it is an easy matter to substitute a new prefinished panel.”

Mercer surmised:

"Childs isn't an automotive man but he's drawn on his background for a new body of outstanding originality."

Child’s prototype Meritas-bodied Packard debuted at the 1923 New York Auto Salon, with Vanity Fair postulating:

“The Meritas fabric body on a Packard Single-Six chassis which may bring about a complete change in the construction of automobile bodies throughout the world.”

Pictures of Childs' Meritas–bodied Packard Single Six accompanied a review of the New York Auto Show published in the January 11, 1923 issue of the Automobile / Automotive Industries:

“The one novel body construction feature which is being shown is at the Hotel Commodore. This body, which is mounted on a Packard single-six chassis is made with the conventional wood frame but in place of metal panels a foundation of No. 19 two-mesh wire is used. One thickness of 3-ply buckram is placed over the wire mesh and then the entire body is covered with Meritas leather cloth. The outer covering is not pasted or glued to the frame but stretched tight and fastened under the mouldings which are also covered with the same kind of material but of a different color. The advantage of this form of construction is that the body is lighter in weight; has a more permanent and less easily damaged surface coating and its good appearance is kept more easily. This material will aid materially in reducing body costs and it is also absolutely sound-proof.

“The body was made for their concern by a Detroit body company for demonstration purposes. K. L. Childs of the Standard-Textile Products Co., who is the patentee of this form of construction, claims that the surface of this material will look well with ordinary care for two years and at the end of that time the material can be coated with carriage varnish in the ordinary way and the will last for the life of the body. The interior trimming is also the product of this company. The rear seat is covered with a waterproof material which has a flowered silk effect. Curtains are the same material but double faced, and the driving seat is covered with an imitation of morocco leather, still another Standard Textile product. The trimming design is plan with a center pipe.

“The attention which this new construction attracts is due no doubt to the fact that the use of fabric for covering has made converts for the past two years and at the Palace show there are numerous examples of bodies that are using this construction in various ways, but based on the fabric as the finishing part. The examples here shown are a few of the bodies so finished. There are others which are cheaper in finish than those illustrated and several that are of high grade body work.

“There is one advantage of this form of construction that will appeal to manufacturers, that is the advantage or rather quality which is inherent in a pliable material, which will enable that which is with steel panel work an expensive form of construction, to be made even less expensive that the straight lined, conventional bodies are now.

“A rounded surface with metal covering means die and tool expense. With fabric this only means the additional labor of making the frame understructure the required shape. These illustrations show that advantage has been taken of the manufacturing latitude above mentioned and we can look forward during the coming season to see changes in closed-body models. This will tend toward making the lines of the bodies less severe and boxlike.

“Taking standard practice as it is to-day, there is a stereotype pattern which is followed by the majority of body manufacturers and a general description of any one make of body is nearly applicable to quite a number of others. The use of a flexible material for panel work will free the designer from the prevailing tendency to keep body lines of more or less puritanical severeness.”

Additional pictures and a more detailed account of the Meritas-bodied Packard’s construction in the January 1923 issue of The Automotive Manufacturer:

“Lighter, Cheaper Bodies Through New Type of Construction

“Entirely New and Different Form of Body Construction Includes Use of Fabric Exterior - Surface Over Wood Frame and Wire Reinforcement

“Undoubtedly one of the greatest advances in motor vehicle construction' and certainly the real surprise of Automobile Show week, was the new Meritas fabric body. Coming at a time when all manufacturers are attempting in every way possible to reduce weight, its saving of 10 percent and upwards on the body alone should be sufficient of itself to warrant giving it more than an ordinary reception. But this is only one of its many forward-looking features, and by no means the most important. When one adds to reduced weight a considerable cut in manufacturing cost, improved appearance, economy of operation, ease of repair, partial elimination of vibration and thus increase in riding comfort, and in that way decrease in noise,—or put the other way, greater quiet and claimed greater strength, it will be seen at once that the body is more than a novelty and offers real advantages which must have serious consideration.

“In brief the construction, as it was shown in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel on a Packard chassis, consists of an outer surface entirely of fabric, this being an imitation leather. It is stretched over a foundation of wire and buckram fastened to the conventional wood framing.

“In constructing one of these bodies, the work progresses as follows, and as shown by the accompanying figures.

“First, as shown in Fig. 1, conventional wood frame work is erected, using the same size of posts, pillars and cross members as in other forms of construction. Then when this is completed the wire which forms the basis of the construction is applied, as shown in Fig. 2. This is a No. 19 two-mesh wire, that is two meshes to the inch, and is fastened with staples, or if necessary or desirable, with screws. It is heavily galvanized, which makes it rustproof and permanent, added to which is the incidental advantage that the galvanizing process fills up the corners where the wires cross so as to make it considerably stiffer and stronger.

“Over this wire is laid a rather thin layer of cotton wadding. On top of this is placed the buckram, which is really a three-ply burlap, approximately 3/32 in. in thickness. The wadding between wire and buckram prevents any possible rubbing of these two stiffer members, and obviates the possibility of noise arising from this source.

“The frame work is double rabbeted, with one rabbet for the wire and one for the buckram. The latter is made wider so as to have the buckram cross the joint and be nailed beyond the wire edge, thus making the buckram construction somewhat independent of the wire beneath it. It has the additional advantage of giving greater strength in that the two materials do not attach to the wood at the same but at different points. The window openings will be noted in the illustrations as having rounded corners. This is not a necessity but was done for the same reason, namely, to allow the fabric to be carried over and fastened to the inside at a different point, and without cutting the goods.

“The fabric, a rich lustrous deeply-grained imitation, is stretched over the buckram, being put on much as any leather upholstering is. The body shown in New York has an additional layer of wadding between buckram and fabric but this was done solely to obtain a rounded appearance, distinctly different from the smooth flatness of metal plates. The wadding again has the advantage of smothering noise, of preventing wear between fabric interior and buckram exterior surfaces, and others, but it is pointed out by the makers and developers of this body that it is not a necessity.

“Omitting this, and stretching the leather tightly a reasonably smooth exterior would be obtained, but even this would lack the flatness of the all-metal body or the wood with metal panels.

“The leather exterior will always give a different and richer appearance than either metal or wood. This construction whether carried through wholly or in part will have a largely-leather surface. In this it will match the older carriage bodies. It will be remembered that the finest coach bodies of early days were constructed with top and quarters of leather.

“Strength and durability are included in the maker’s claims for the new form of body construction, which are given in detail later. Both are very important, for saving in weight at the expense of either would not be tolerated by the buying public. However, the experimental bodies constructed along these lines have stood the tests of two years continuous use without failing, are still in service, and the foundation leather is so well preserved after this two-year exposure to all kinds of weather that a little rubbing with a soft cloth will brighten it practically like new.

“This and the ease of refinishing the fabric surface are strong claims to the average driver. Rubbing up with a soft cloth and some leather renovator liquid will make the body look like new at any time, but granting a desire for an entirely new surface, the average man would be able to wash the surface clean, rub it dry and varnish it himself within half a day. The surface produced in this simple way should be practically perfect because of the fact that the leather takes the varnish coating so well. Comparison of this with the ordinary removal of old paint, the refinishing of the old surface and the gradual building up of an entirely new coat on wood or aluminum, and the new construction stands out as a remarkable advance.

“Weight is, of course a very big item, as stated at the outset. The body shown indicated a saving, it was said, of 350 lb. over the average Packard body on the single six, which with body weighs approximately 3,200 lb. This is on the enclosed body not the open phaeton. Inasmuch as this saving in pounds would be almost the same regardless of the size of the body, on a smaller job, as for instance a car of the 115-in. wheelbase group, the percentage of saving would run much higher than the 11 percent of this case, in fact it might easily run as high as 20 percent. And in combination with another big weight saver, as for instance the new Chevrolet copper cooled chassis, in which 140 lb. is saved, the total weight reduction of the combination might easily be so great as to be revolutionary in principle.

“The weight of the combined wire, buckram, wadding and fabric is less than ¼ lb. per sq. ft. As stated before, the wood framing is the same for this type of body as for aluminum or steel paneled jobs. The steel body braces, the doors, roof and windshield are the same, in fact this body followed conventional light-weight metal paneled construction up to the point of application of the metal panels.

“On the first body, the flat cost of covering and foundation material was 26 cents a square foot. Aluminum costs 30 cents and steel 7, but to the cost of both these must be added stamping or hammer cost as well as finishing and painting. Mill work and framing cost the same in the two body types but a great saving in finishing is effected with the fabric body. Two men finished the interior and exterior in two weeks with one day out for a holiday. The finishing too was easier and simpler, for at no time was it necessary to keep hands off the finished surface nor was it necessary to give any special attention to protecting the fabric surface. The finished body was transported without covering, as compared with considerable cost in protecting the finished surface of the ordinary wood or metal finely painted job.

“This ruggedness of the surface combined with the simplicity of finishing is bound to make the new construction popular if nothing else does. From the time standpoint, there is much saving to the manufacturer. The time usually needed for painting is saved. The exterior of the body can be covered with fabric in a day, which is a gain of 5 to 11 days, according to the quality and materials usually used. Moreover, the design is most flexible, and can be changed as desired without changing expensive tools and jigs. As additional advantage is the ease of transporting, storing and using the rolled fabric as compared with wood or metal panels. Moreover, the form or contour of the body can he changed readily from straight to curved, or to part straight and part curved or otherwise as desired without expense or delay. When a paneled body of any form is changed from a straight to a curved or part curved surface there is delay, expense, new fixtures and jigs, other complications.

“Over and above the advantages now apparent or claimed for the new form of construction, undoubtedly a large number of smaller but worthwhile advantages will develop during more extended use of this body.

“Those advantages which the patentees of the process and makers of the fabric claim for the construction, and which appear to be well substantiated are:

“Reduced Cost of Production—(a) The cost of raw materials used in the Meritas-made body is approximately one-half the cost of materials used in a metal body, (b) The time required in production of this body makes it possible to produce not less than three bodies in the time and with the labor now charged against one body of similar type, constructed of metal.

“Economy in Operation—(a) A very important saving in cost of operation of a car equipped with the Meritas made body is effected because of its difference in weight as compared to a metal body. Metal panels weighing about 1 1/4 lb. per sq. ft. are replaced by materials weighing less than 1/2 lb. per sq. ft.

“Improved Appearance—(a) When new, the finish of the Meritas-made body is identical to the finish of a metal body in smoothness, luster and brilliancy. The construction of the Meritas leather cloth used on this body provides a permanency of finish which metal bodies do not possess. Meritas leather cloth has been used on a large number of passenger cars and busses for a number of years. This experience has demonstrated that dust, grease and mud will not mar the surface but can be wiped off easily, maintaining the original luster unimpaired' (b) The leather cloth panels used in the Meritas-made body do not expand or contract under variations in temperature. This factor eliminates the cracking and checking of varnish such as found on metal panels.

“Increase in Comfort of Owner—(a) The Meritas-made body eliminates in large measure the drumming and vibration of a closed metal body' (b) The leather cloth used in the Meritas-made body is non-conductive of heat; therefore the fabric body is warmer in winter and cooler in summer. (c) The rattles and squeaks of a metal body are eliminated in the Meritas-made body; no metal rubbing against metal.

“Ease of Maintenance—(a) Damage to metal bodies require long and expensive repairing. The painting operation alone requires weeks. The Meritas-made body can be repaired in a few hours by the substitution of a new, pre-finished panel in place of the one damaged. (b) In order to revarnish the Meritas-made body, it is necessary to only wipe off the surface and apply a coat of varnish; no burning or scraping off of the old paint is necessary to secure a perfectly smooth face. (c) The destroying effect of vibration and distortion which plays such a large part in the deterioration of a metal body is eliminated.

“Strength of Body—The Meritas-made body being provided with additional strainers and wire fabric, forms a stronger and more rigid body than the present-day construction.”

Kenneth L. Childs was listed in the 1923 Detroit Directory at the Whittier Apt. Hotel, 415 Burns Dr., Detroit.

August 1, 1923 New York Lumber Trade Journal:


“When announcement was made some months ago by the makers of a popular price automobile of an all-steel body it was quite generally said that marked the passing of wood so far as the auto body building industry was concerned.

“Constructed with the wide poplar panels and all wood frame of a few years ago, it has the appearance of an almost total eclipse of wood. But all things change and necessity and competition are mother and father of new inventions, so we find at recent auto shows a new type of body in which no metal is used and wood conies back in an important role. The latest is the wood-frame fabric body. The fabric body is a contribution by the Standard Textile Products Company, New York. It consists of that company’s 'Meritas' water-proof leather cloth over a wood frame, dressed with a coarse wire fabric and the necessary padding to fill out the curve lines, etc. In the construction of this type of body a frame work of Hardwood lumber is first built. This is covered by a heavy close mesh wire netting which gives a surface on which to build the panels as well as providing means to tie in the entire body.  A felt padding is then applied and a coarse, heavy fabric placed over this, thus providing a substantial base for the outside cloth which carries a thoroughly waterproof finish.

“The claims for this new type of body included the following:

“Cost of raw material in the body is approximately one-half of the cost of material used in the metal body. The time required in production of the 'Meritas' cloth body makes it possible to produce not less than three bodies in the time and with the labor now charged against one body of similar type constructed of metal.

“When new the finish of the cloth body is fully equal to a metal body in smoothness, luster and brilliancy. The life of the ‘Meritas’ leather cloth is considered longer as regards finish than the usual finish of the metal job and from an operating standpoint there is a great saving in weight, as the cloth panels complete weigh less than one-half of similar metal panels.

“That the new development utilizes a full wood construction as opposed to the trend toward metal construction is of particular interest and concern to the producers of hardwoods.

“The body was shown mounted on the chassis of one of the higher priced cars and evoked a great deal of favorable criticism.”

The September 1923 issue of Popular Science Monthly:

“Closed Auto Body Made of Chicken Wire

“Many a motorist prefers a car with a closed body, yet does without it because of the additional expense involved, or because he fears that neither his skill nor equipment is sufficient to construct the metal panels himself.

“But now K. L. Childs, of Detroit, Mich., has designed a type of body construction for enclosed cars that offers many attractions to the ambitious and skilful amateur. His idea is being developed commercially, but it may be used effectively also by amateurs desirous of remodeling their cars.

“Originality of Color and Design

“Fabric laid over ordinary chicken wire furnishes the groundwork for the body; it minimizes the painting problem, because the fabric is already colored and enameled before use; it is more easily repaired and is not so easily damaged. Dents may be removed quickly, and the body is not subject to the noises and rattle common to most metal bodies.

“As in all metal bodies, a frame or skeleton is built of wood. Over this the wire is laid and padded with cotton wadding, which is held in place by tacking a layer of buckram to the frame. The body is then finished by stretching over this relatively smooth but soft surface a special fabric, such as imitation landau leather, although any enameled or painted fabric may be used.

“The result is said to be a closed car as attractive in appearance as the most expensive, with the added advantages that its color and design may be altered easily and cheaply, and that repairs can be made with little trouble.

“With the growing popularity of the closed car, the need for just such a body that can be built economically yet will prove durable for everyday use has long been apparent.”

During that fall a second, almost identical-looking Meritas-clad prototype was constructed  by the Merrimac Body Co. on a Peerless chassis, the November 17, 1923 issue of Automobile Topics reporting on its debut at the New York Auto Salon:

“Automobile Salon Shows the Finest of Cars

“Another Peerless model which attracted considerable attention was the one shown by the Merrimac Body Co. The entire body of this model was covered with fabric which has the appearance of leather. The rear quarter is solid with oval windows placed at an angle and dummy landau braces. A wicker belt with a heavy nickel bead on either side extends from the cowl around the rear of the body. Natural color wood wheels are used. These two features of design serve to set off the fabric finish and produce an attention commanding job. The distinctive feature of this car is its construction - fabric and padding over a wire mesh base. Aside from the novelty of the finish its sound proof quality is advanced as its chief advantage.”

One month later persons associated with the Standard Textile Products Co. and Detroit firms formed a $200,000 firm headed by Childs to promote the manufacture of Meritas-clad automobile bodies, the December 20, 1923 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries announcing:

“New Company Organized To Make Fabric Bodies

“DETROIT, Dec.17 - The Fabric Body Corp. has been formed to operate as sole licensee in promoting the building of fabric bodies in the United States and Canada and has opened offices and show rooms at 5940 Cass Avenue, this city. Kenneth L. Childs, originator of this type of automobile body, has been elected to the presidency. He also is consulting engineer of the Standard Textile Products Co.

The Body Builders Notes column of the January 1924 issue of The Automotive Manufacturer also noted the debut of the firm:

“Fabric Body Corp., 5940 Cass avenue, Detroit (Block Motor Co. bldg.), has been incorporated with capital stock of $200,000 to manufacture automobile bodies of special design. Work will be done by contract. Kenneth L. Childs, formerly research and development engineer of the Standard Textile Products Co., New York, is president; J. H. Main, director of purchases for the General Motors Corp., vice president and treasurer, and W. W. Gedge, for the past 10 years experimental engineer with the Stearns & Foster Co., Detroit, is secretary.”

Other addresses used by the firm included 12-244 GM Bldg., and the Stormfeltz Lovely Bldg. (Woodward Ave. & Grand Blvd.), an address that was later shared by George J. Mercer’s design offices.

Over the next few months Childs applied for 3 US Patents relating to the system:

Automobile Body Construction – US Pat. No. 1498234 - ‎Filed Nov 17, 1922 - ‎Issued Jun 17, 1924 to Kenneth L. Childs
Vehicle Body Construction - US Pat. No. 1579466 - ‎Filed Jan 2, 1923 - ‎Issued Apr 6, 1926 to Kenneth L. Childs and assigned to the Fabric Body Corp.
Automobile Body Construction - US Pat. No. 1641319 - ‎Filed Apr 30, 1923 - ‎Issued Sep 6, 1927 to Kenneth L. Childs and assigned to the Fabric Body Corp.

The Fabric Body Corp. was listed amongst the exhibitors at the 1924 New York Auto Salon in the December 1923 issue of American Motorist:

“Among the custom-body builders who will exhibit their skill and quality workmanship on the various chassis will be the Fleetwood Metal Body Company, Le Baron Studio, The Fisher Body Corporation, Derham Body Company, Locke & Company, Willoughby Company, Springfield Body Corporation, J. B. Judkins Company, Hume Body Corporation, Paul Ostruk, Meritas Fabric Body Corporation, Brunn & Company, The Holbrook Company, Kellner of Paris and the Merrimac Body Corporation.”

The January 1924 issue of Autobody contained an in-depth article on Childs and his fabric body evangelism and the January 6, 1924 issue of the New York Times stated the fabric body was the most important development of the past year:

"WOMEN'S INFLUENCE IN MOTOR CAR DESIGNING; Closed Car Popularity Largely Due to Feminine Preference -- Tendency Toward Dignified Simplicity in Exterior and Interior Finish.

“Of all the new features that have been introduced during the past year the fabric body is regarded as the most important development. In Europe, as well as in this country, the fabric body is rapidly forging to the front. It was the sensation of the Paris salon and the American fabric body built on the Childs system is also being received with favor. It has the conventional wood-frame construction used in standard cars, with the addition of thin. Light strainers where panel contours are required.

“Instead of the customary wood or metal panels, meshed galvanized wire is stretched over the frame, upon which is placed two layers of cotton wadding, which are tensioned into the wire by stretching canvas over then tightly. This provides as strong but flexible panel over which is stretched the Meritas leather cloth. This cloth is specially made for the purpose and differs from ordinary artificial leathers in that it is a two-ply or laminated fabric, bonded with a special oil cement, and the coating will retain its lustre almost indefinitely. It may be refinished when necessary with a single coat of varnish.

“From the car owner’s standpoint the principle advantages claimed for the fabric body are lighter weight with corresponding economy in operation, elimination of the drumming, rumbling noises due to vibration – this body is said to absorb even road shocks – distinctive appearance, and the ease with which it is cared for and repaired. To these may be added a lower first cost and a saving in insurance rates.

“It is said that the Meritas fabric body can be built in less time than it requires to paint the old-type body, and the cost of materials used is approximately one-half. It permits, even on a production basis, of artistic contours with marked variations. When the fabric is worn out the body can be recovered at less expense than it has cost to have a car repainted, and the time spent is much less.”

The January 6, 1924 issue of the New York Times noted the appearance of fabric-bodied at that years' New York Automobile Show:

“More Auto Men Arrive For Show:

“While the big show was closed yesterday, the overflow exhibition in the Hotel Commodore attracted many visitors. The two new cars of the year are displayed there, the Chrysler and the Rollin. The Stutz also has a large display of its newest models, and another interesting exhibit comprises half a dozen closed bodies constructed of the recently introduced Meritas fabric material. There is a sedan body on a Ford chassis which is as comfortable as many bodies on larger cars. The possibilities of the fabric material for more elaborate bodies is shown in sedan types on the Chandler, Lincoln, Peerless and Packard chassis, and there is also one on a Dodge chassis. The fabric body weighs considerably less than the metal-made bodies.”

The January 10, 1924 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries reported on the four automobiles that were displayed at the Automobile Show's annex:

“Four cars with Meritas fabric bodies are being shown at the Commodore.

“The display includes the original Meritas body on a Packard chassis which was exhibited last year, and which has since seen 20,000 miles of usage, a three-door sedan on a Dodge chassis, a Berlin on a Lincoln chassis and a four-door on a Ford chassis.

“Each of these bodies is being produced by a different company under license from the Fabric Body Corp., Detroit. The Packard body is the product of the Model Body Corp., Detroit; the Lincoln Berlin comes from the Merrimac Body Co.; the Dodge sedan body is being made by the E.J. Thompson Co., and the Ford sedan is being produced by the Mengel Co.”

The 1924 New York Auto Show issue of Vanity Fair also made amnetion of the cars on display at the Commodore:

“This is a Hudson chassis equipped with a Meritas fabric body, displayed in the lobby of the Hotel Commodore, New York, during the week of the show. Other Meritas bodies were shown, on Packard, Peerless and Marmon chassis.”

Between 1923 and 1930, Merrimac built a small number of fabric-covered bodies using Childs’ patents. The first were two Meritas-covered four-door Peerless sedans constructed for display at the 1924 New York Auto Salon, Merrimac’s first-ever display at the event. The same show included Childs’ Meritas-bodied Packard that had been driven twenty thousand miles during the previous 12 months, highlighting the durability of his product. At least one Meritas-bodied Lincoln is known to have been built by Merrimac, as well as a tiny roadster body built for Springfield, Massachusetts’ Indian Motorcycle Company. In 1927 Indian briefly tinkered with the idea of introducing a small automobile, and hired Merrimac to build the bodies for two prototypes - the first, the Meritas-bodied roadster – the second a metal paneled delivery van that is still known to exist.

Fabric Body Corp. had big plans for the cupcoming year, the Feb 2, 1924 issue of the Daily Silver Belt (Miami, Arizona) reporting:


“Plans of the Fabric Body Corporation call for the production of 100,000 Ford bodies with Chevrolet and Dodge Brothers in proportion. Of this number, 2,500 Ford bodies are now in the course of production. In view of the gratifying reception tendered the exhibit at the Hotel Commodore In New York during the Automobile show there last month.”

The February 10, 1924 issue of the Kansas City Star noted that fabric bodies were the latest thing:

“Fabric Bodies Gain Favor

“Lightness and Economy Are Advantages of the New Construction

“The fabric body is now recognized as an important development in the motor car body field. In Europe as well as in this country, the fabric body is attracting attention. It was a feature of the recent Paris salon and has been adopted by several prominent British manufacturers of high grade cars, including the Sunbeam, Daimler, Talbot, Singer, Triumph and Rover.

“Lightness, durability and economy in construction are claimed for them. The new type has the great advantage of requiring a comparatively small investment for machinery: labor cost is also lower. This will enable the car manufacturer to bring out his closed models at a price that will appeal to a larger public than at present.

“The fabric body in Europe is built on what is called, after its originator, the Weymann system. It is an extremely light body, with wooden frame members that do not touch each other, but are Joined by metal plates. There are no longitudinal sills, and the seats and floor board rest directly on the chassis, so that the body supports only its own weight. It consists of a light frame over which the fabric is stretched.

“The American fabric body, built on the Childs system, is far more substantial. It has the conventional wood frame construction, with the addition of a few thin, light strainers where panel contours are required. Instead of the customary wood or metal panels galvanized wire is stretched over the frame, upon which is placed two layers of cotton wadding, which are tensioned into the wire by stretching over them tightly a No. 10 canvas. This provides a strong but flexible panel over which is stretched the leather cloth.

“Several body builders are producing bodies on the Childs system and it is asserted that over three thousand jobs are now in course of construction.”

The February 24, 1924 issue of the Oakland Tribune included a review of a Meritas-bodied Peerles that was currently on display at the local Peerless distributor:

“Innovation in Body Building Demonstrated

“Fabric As Used For Cars Claimed to Add to Power By Lightness

“An innovation in body building is demonstrated at the automobile show which opened last night. The car is a Peerless, equipped with a Meritas made fabric body.

“J. W. Gotwals, manager of the Textile Products company of California, is the man who has arranged this unique display. The car is a standard Peerless chassis, but the body is built of Meritas.

“The inventors claim that this type of fabric body eliminates vibration, and reduces the weight of the car, thus giving greater power, and making for longer life of the whole machine.

“Another feature that is causing a great deal of comment is the permanency of the finish obtainable by using this new fabric for bodies.

“‘This new type body created a sensation at the New York and Chicago shows, and many orders were taken.’ states Gotwals.

“‘For many years automobile body manufacturers have been trying to reduce the weight of the bodies of cars, and have succeeded to a great extent.

“‘This new fabric body carries the weight reduction idea to an irreducible minimum, because no metal body could approach the fabric body in lightness.’

“Gotwals states that processes are now being perfected to adapt this style of material to body building on a large scale, and ‘that it is certain that many manufacturers will adopt the new system before long.”

The Personal Notes of the Members column of the March 1924 SAE Journal notes that Childs was no longer a representative of Standard Textile Products:

“Kenneth L. Childs is no longer engineer of research and development for the Standard Textile Products Co., New York City, but has become associated with the Fabric Body Corporation, Detroit, as president."

The April 12, 1924 issue of the Daily Silver Belt (Miami, Arizona) incldued detilas on the aftermarket Ford bodies currently being manufactured in Kentucky:

“Fabric Body Designed for Use on Ford Chassis

“Another of the Meritas fabric bodies on which there is planned a large production, is that built for use on the Ford chassis. This is constructed by the Mengel company, Louisville, Ky., as license under the patents of the Fabric Body corporation.

“In building this body for the Ford chassis one of the foremost aims was to provide roominess and comfort for all of the passengers, an aim which has been satisfactorily attained. In addition to this, the company has given a distinctive air to the chassis through flattening the hoed and cowl, making the rear quarter solid and using wheel conforming fenders which lengthen the running board.

“Included in the standard equipment are bumpers for both front and rear. The one at the rear is unique in its mounting. The ends bear around the spare tire and trunk and are attached at the side. This trunk, by the way, is sturdily .constructed and is weather and dust proof.

“The belt line is marked by a double molding set between the door handles and the windows. This is supplemented by a single molding which forms a graceful curve around the back of the car. The radiator shell and headlights are nickel finished.”

The May 1, 1924 issue of Motor West included the projected price of the Mengel coachwork:

“Meritas Body for Fords

“A Meritas fabric body for Fords is being manufactured by Mengel Co., Louisville, Ky., under license from Fabric Body Corp., Detroit. By flattening the hood and cowl, lengthening the running board through conforming fenders, with front and rear bumpers, the rear curving around the spare tire and trunk, and double belt line moulding, the body is given a distinctive appearance. It sells for $463, f.o.b. Detroit.”

The June 29, 1924 issue of the Ogden Standard-Examiner highlighted the advantages of fabric bodies that Childs had presented to the SAE conference earlier in the year:

“Fabric Auto Bodies Tried

“Better Than Metal For Wear and Less Noise

“New York June 28. – Automobile bodies of fabric construction in place of sheet metal have been tested and found serviceable.

“This is the report made to the Society of Automotive Engineers here by K. L. Childs, president of a corporation manufacturing fabric auto bodies. After driving a fabric body car 20,000 miles under all kinds of road and climatic conditions, Childs makes these claims:

1-Fabric-bodies are quieter than equivalent metal bodies, eliminating most of the drumming – and rumblings sounds encountered in sedans

2-Fabric bodies average from 25 to 110 pounds lighter than corresponding metal bodies.

3-They can be cleaned more easily than the painted metal bodies because the fabric coating is hard, and withstands abrasion.

4-All panels are made in sections, so that any part of the body that may happen to be dented or injured can be removed without disturbing the rest of the body or, any of the interior trimming.

“The last feature, Childs says, has led insurance companies to insure fabric bodies at a lower rate than metal bodies. At the same time, he adds, construction of fabric bodies is easier, speedier and cheaper. In the end it may mean a reduction of at least 15 per cent in the body costs of cars."

In John Bentley’s ‘Great American Automobiles” he mentions the following incident:

“In July of 1924 George A. Hoeveler, Stutz distributor from Pittsburgh, appeared with a fabric-bodied Stutz sedan known as the 'Meritas.' Built specially for him by the E.J. Thompson Company, it was the first automobile body of fabric construction ever produced in the United States — and it went over big.”

Between 1924 and 1926 Pittsburgh’s E.J. Thompson turned out a small series of fabric-covered bodies using the Childs system for regional Dodge Bros. distributors who marketed the car as the Thompson-Dodge Landau Sedan. The four-passenger three-door sedan body included a heavily padded top and a distinctive forward slanting oval rear quarter window, on top of the Meritas-covered tonneau.

The October 9, 1924 issue of Automobile / Automotive Industries’ included coverage of the October 9, 1924 AERA convention in Atlantic City where E.J. Thompson debuted the first Meritas-clad motor coach body:

“Motor Coach Built With Fabric Body

“What is said to be the first fabric-leather coach body to be constructed has been produced recently by the E. J. Thompson Co. of Pittsburgh. This body is of the type advocated by the manufacturers of Meritas fabric-leather which is used for covering it and the body is built under the Childs patents. The interior is trimmed in brown brocaded fabric-leather. This body, a photograph of which is reproduced in the accompanying cut, is equipped with Pullman type berths, wicker chairs, shower bath, toilet and a kitchen fitted with stove, sink and refrigerator. Two thirty-gallon water tanks are suspended from rear of chassis and water is supplied under pressure from an engine driven pump. Ventilation is provided through Nichols-Lintern ventilators, electric fans and windows which are designed to drop flush with the belt. The windows are equipped with specially designed roller screens and curtains. A number of other features are incorporated in this body to provide comfort in touring.”

In 1925 the Commercial Car Journal reported that Thompson had built a 5-vehicle fabric-bodied delivery truck fleet for the Select Furniture Corporation of Pittsburg, so it’s possible the Childs system was used on other commercial bodies produced by the firm, but the evidence is lacking.

The January 4, 1925 issue of the New York Times mentions that Fabric Body Corp. was exhibiting at the Commodore Auto Show annex:

“LIVELY WEEK IN THE HOTELS; DINNERS AND PARTIES GALORE; Motor Chiefs and Dealers With Their Families Flock to New York for Business and Festivity During the Jubilee Show

“Perhaps the most impressive of the independent shows is to be found at the Commodore. For this display the holiday decorations have been removed and replace with hangings and ornamentations of the automobile show. This display includes exhibits by the Maxwell & Chrysler Company, which will show ten cars; The Auburn Automobile Company, with four cars; the Sterling-Knight Automobile Company, and the Fabric Body Company.”

One of North America’s last steam-engined production automobiles used Meritas-clad bodies exclusively. There are approximately 5 known survivors of the approximately 180-250 Brooks sedans manufactured between 1924 and 1928 by Brooks Steam Motors, Ltd. of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The firm’s bodies were constructed by the American Auto Trimming Company in Walkerville, Ontario, a firm that’s covered elsewhere on the site. An article in a 1925 issue of Canadian Magazine provided details on the advantage of using a fabric body:

“The new Meritas Fabric Body is standard in Brooks cars. Among the numerous advantages over wood, steel, or aluminum are its flexibility, entire absence of rumbling and vibration, and the elimination of squeaks and rattles.”

On March 16, 1925 the Fabric Body Corporation purchased the Selden Truck Company, of Rochester, New York for $450,000, the March 19, 1925 issue of the Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY) announcing:

“First Fabric Bodies for Busses to Be Made at Selden Truck Plant by Detroit Company, New Owners

“The sale of the Selden Truck Corporation in Probert street, to the Fabric Body Corporation, of Detroit, for $450,000 this week was the first step in a plan of expansion which calls for enlargement of the present plant had introducing to Rochester a new industry - the manufacture of fabric bodies for motor busses.

“Arthur S. More, operating receiver of the Selden Track Corporation who arranged the sale of the plant, declared last night that the new owners plan to place on Selden chassis the first fabric bus bodies ever produced in this country and later to manufacture these bodies at the Selden plant. This will mean enlargement of the present building, or erection of a new one to care for this end of the business, he said.

“The sale of the plant, which was made Monday, was approved by Federal Judge John R. Hasel in Equity Court at Buffalo Tuesday. Under the terms of the sale the Fabric Body Corporation bought the property, machinery, equipment, patent rights and rights to the name ‘Selden’. The Selden Corporation has been operating under a receivership since July when Mr. More, who was president of the truck corporation, was appointed operating receiver at the instance of Continental Motors, a creditor.

“It is understood that under the terms of the sale the Fabric Body Corporation agreed to make separate settlements with the various creditors of the truck corporation. A new company, which according to Mr. More, will bear the same name as the old, is now being organized, and the election of a board of directors and officers is expected on April 1st. Present plans call for retaining the present executive staff. Mr. More said, but the board of directors probably will include men now active in the Fabric Body Corporation.

“The new owners will act only as a holding corporation, leaving the sales and manufacture of Selden trucks and busses to the new company now being organized. Selden at the present time is enjoying greater prosperity than during any corresponding period since 1920.

“The Fabric Body Corporation, according to Mr. More, is the largest manufacturer of fabric bodies in the world, controlling all the basic patents for this product. At present it is concentrating only on passenger car bodies, but when the new company is organized hare, they will produce bus bodies, putting the first of these on Selden chassis.

“Headquarters of the body company are in the General Motors building, Detroit. The company is backed by New York, Detroit and Louisville, Ky. capital. K. L. Childs, of New York, is president; James Wilson, of Detroit, vice-president; W. W. Gedge, Detroit, secretary, and William Chatfield Jr., Detroit assistant treasurer.

“The management of the old Selden Truck Corporation, which will undoubtedly head the new company, included Mr. More, president; William C. Barry, vice-president; S. P. Gould, secretary; and E.B. Osborn, receiver.

“The late George B. Selden, who in 1877 invented the automobile, founded the Selden truck business many years ago. For a time, in the early days of automobile manufacture, Selden controlled the business through his patent, receiving a royalty from every manufacturer, despite the fact that he had never manufactured a car for public sale. Henry Ford stopped the flow of royalties when he refused to pay. Selden sued and built a car according to 1877 specifications to prove it was workable, but Ford won the suit.”

The May 7, 1925 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries annoucned the sale to the automotive trade:

“Selden Truck Starts Under New Control

“Rochester, N.Y., May 6 – A new Selden Truck Corp., has started functioning, replacing the old company which was sold last month in receivership proceedings to the Fabric Body Corp., of Detroit.

“The executive staff of the old corporation has been retained in the newly re-organized company as follows: A. S. Moore, president and general manager; William C. Barry, vice-president; S.P. Gould, secretary; E.B. Osborne, treasurer and F.J. Kolb, assistant secretary and assistant treasurer.

“The Fabric Body Corp., will act as a holding company through the following board of directors: Mr. More, Mr. Barry, K. L. Childs, New York, president of the Fabric Body Corp., F. E. Devans, Rochester; W. W. Gedge. Detroit, secretary Fabric Body Corp., W. S. Speed, Louisville, Ky.; Merlin Wiley, Detroit; James Wilson, Detroit, vice-president and treasurer, Fabric Body Corp., H. E. Zimmerman, comptroller, Standard Textile Products Co., New York.

“The new corporation will be amply financed to carry on the rapidly growing business in trucks and busses. President More declared that production has already been increased to take care of the largest number of unfilled orders on file since the spring of 1920. Production of fabric bodies for passenger cars and busses will begin shortly at the Selden plant when equipment has been installed to take care of this new branch of the business.”

Fabric Body Corp.’s listing in the 1925 Detroit Directory follows:

“Fabric Body Corp.; K.L. Childs, pres.; Jas. B. Wilson, v-pres-treas.; W. W. Gedge, sec.; 12-224 General Motors Bldg.”

The Middleboro Gazette reported that Kenneth L. Childs wed Detroit socialite Dorothy Reynolds (wife #3), on June 19, 1925.

The June 29, 1925 issue of the Kokomo Daily Tribune annoucnede the debut of a fabric-bodied Apperson:

“Glove Finish Fabric Body Is Latest Apperson Innovation

“Featuring a girl, a pair of dogs and an automobile—all from Kokomo. They are: Mrs. Margot Buxton, two wolfhounds owned by Mr. and Mrs. Tom Jay, and the New Apperson.

“The above photograph, which has appeared in many leading publications all over the country within the last few weeks, has done much to spread the fame of Kokomo products—not to mention the fame of Kokomo's young women.

“The principals in the picture are: The new All-Weather Glove Finish Sportabout Apperson, which forms the background for Miss Margot Buxton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. B. C. Buxton, of Forest Park, and the two thoroughbred, prize winning Russian wolfhounds belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Jay.

“This new model Apperson is finished in a special type of French Fabricoid, gray in color, and is the first American car ever offered to the public in which the outside finish does not depend on paint or enamel or their derivatives. This finish has a very attractive appearance and is unusually durable. It marks another Apperson innovation characteristic of the company that has kept a step ahead in automotive development for thirty-three years.”

The August 1925 issue of Western Machinery World mentioned that a firm called the Meritas Fabric Body Corp. was constructing a plant in Los Angeles:

“Meritas Fabric Body Corp. will cons, plant at Macy and Mission Road to mf. coupe body for light cars. Roy L. Donley is an official.”

Elcar showed a Meritas fabric-bodied 4-passenger Coupe at the 1926 New York Automobile Show, Automobile Topics stating that the firm was:

“one of the few manufacturers that had the capacity to fabricate its own bodies completely… This concern is one of two now employing this style body as a stock offering.”

The January 1926 issue of Motorland commented on a Meritas-bodied Auburn Coupe that appeared at the same event:

“Some of the smart cars to be seen for the first time by many motor car enthusiasts included a Diana sports roadster in white with black trim, an Auburn 2-3 passenger coupe done up in a Meritas fabric body…”

The Meritas-bodied Auburn was also mentioned in the January 30, 1926 edition of the Olean Evening Times:

“Auburn Coupe

“An outstanding model being displayed at the show this week, because of its smart appearance and unusual finish, is the new Auburn Coupe, which is being shown for the first time.

“The entrance of Auburn into the field with a coupe model which appears far in advance in style and equipment is of unusual interest because of the expressed demand in 1925 for a model of this type to complete an array of full models In the Auburn lineup.

“The new Auburn Coupe, while conforming to the generally different lines of other Auburn models, makes it original bow to the public with a novel dress in the shape of a Meritas Fabric exterior in harmonizing tones with the remaining finish of the car. Meritas Fabric has long been experimented with by other manufacturers as a last touch in automobile finishing. It has remained for Auburn, however, to develop the new finish to a point superior in looks and quality never before achieved.

“Meritas Fabric, as employed on the new Auburn Coupe, which is obtainable on the four, six and eight-cylinder chassis, eliminates the painted finish problem of other manufacturers. The fabric before being applied to the body is finished in the exact tone desired and no further painting is necessary.

“All possibilities of shrinkage or misfit are eliminated by an unusual drying and stretching process before the fabric is applied, resulting in a perfectly fitted exterior which neither fades, shrinks nor stretches and that is unaffected by weather changes.

“A unique advantage of the Meritas Fabric on the new Auburn installation provides for easy and quick replacement in case of damage through collision or other accident.

“The new Auburn model, as obtained on the four, six and eight-cylinder chassis, is exceptionally well made and completely equipped.”

The November 21, 1926 issue of the New York Times annoucned the American debut of the Weymann fabric system at the upcoming New York Auto Salon:


“One of the interesting exhibits at the Automobile Salon opening next Sunday might in the ballroom of the Hotel Commodore will be the Weymann fabric body, examples of which in various colors proved an attractive feature at the recent Olympia show in London.”

Although the Weymann body was currently in the spotlight, small numbers of Meritas bodies continued to be produced into 1928, the January 1927 issue of the automotive manufacturer noting the display of fabric bodies at that year’s New York Auto Salon:

“Another is the display of fabric bodies, all Stutz cars having Weymann fabric bodies, while other makers show the Childs-Meritas fabric types.”

Moon Motors put out at least one and likely several 1928 Model Six-60 sedans with a canvas-and-leather body. The August 13, 1927 issue of Automobile Topics described the Moon’s coachwork:

“Over this expanded metal is placed a couple of layers of cotton wadding which serves not only as padding and to give smooth appearance when finished but also as a deadener for sound and an insulator against heat and cold. A heavy canvas is then stretched tightly over the wadding to force it into the openings of the metal in order to prevent any possibility of its shifting or changing position and to make a true surface for the leather cloth which forms the outer covering. In the next step the leather cloth is drawn tightly over the body and securely tacked in place and is so sectionized that the exterior of the body is composed of a number of separate panels.

“The unusual durability of the fabric construction is due beyond a doubt to its extreme flexibility which permits it to weave with the chassis, much the same as a sapling will bend before a wind that would break a more rigid obstacle. A fabric-paneled body is much lighter than a composite or all-steel body and by reducing the weight of the superstructure of the car the center of gravity is automatically lowered thus making the car infinitely safer.”

Chrysler was the last major manufacturer to offer the option of a Meritas body, the March 3, 1928 issue of the Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio) reporting:

“Fabric Body On Chrysler Limousine

“An announcement of more than usual interest is made by the Chrysler Sales Corporation through the Lowry Motor Sales Co., to the effect that this company is now offering for special orders a Custom Fabric Body Limousine on its ‘72’ chassis. The new car attracted much favorable attention in the Chrysler display at the Commodore Hotel during the New York automobile show.

“The fabric automobile body has won considerable popularity in Europe and some observers of motor car trends are forecasting for it a vogue in this country.

“The process of manufacture, as described by its sponsors, provides for making the body frame from selected kiln-dried hardwood, which is accurately machined, carefully glued and secured with joints reinforced when necessary. This is covered with expanded metal lath, giving strength with extreme lightness, the manufacturers explain. Cotton wadding is used as the next layer in the fabric to absorb vibration, and a heavy canvas is stretched tightly over it to assure smoothness of surface. The construction is finished with a covering of Meritas Leather Cloth, a fabric with a hard weather proof surface which is said to retain its beauty almost indefinitely.

“In the ‘72’ Custom Fabric Body Limousine, now offered by Chrysler, the fabric construction is employed rearward from the cowl bar, the hood being of metal, as usual.

“Appointments of the new limousine are of characteristic Chrysler luxuriousness. A disappearing glass partition, is provided, and the high quality of Broadcloth upholstery used in both front and rear compartments makes the car suitable for either owner or chauffeur driving. Two theatre seats raise passenger capacity to seven. Arm rests are provided on both sides of the rear seat. Carpet covered hassocks, silk assist cords, dome light, Butler finish hardware, cigar lighter, and pockets in both rear doors add to the car's equipment.

“The color is a lustrous black, with a belt moulding in black ‘polished’ striping lacquer. Striping above and below the belt moulding is dark red. The car is listed at $1745. f.o.b. Detroit.”

In addition to a handful of Meritas-clad bodies constructed by the firm earlier in the decade, between 1928 and 1930 Merrimac constructed a few convertible sedan bodies for Rolls-Royce, although they weren’t destined for new Springfield Rolls-Royce chassis.

In the late twenties Rolls-Royce did a considerable business selling refurbished Silver Ghost chassis whose older and worn-out limousine and town car bodies had been replaced with more saleable roadsters and sport coupes. They commissioned Merrimac to built a small series of convertible sedan bodies based on Brewster’s Newmarket, that was being currently outfitted on new Phantom I’s. At that time, the Weymann fabric body was gaining popularity in Great Britain, and by using a Merrimac-built Childs’ body, Rolls-Royce could offer their American customers a similarly-equipped vehicle at a fraction of the cost of a new Weymann.

Records indicate that at least ten were built, but gaps in the number sequence suggest a larger number of from 15 to 20. Two of them are known to exist, both bearing a Merrimac Body Company name plate on the doorsills. A few leftover non-fabric Merrimac roadster and touring car bodies were used in Rolls-Royce’s pre-enjoyed program as well.

The April 29, 1928 edition of the New York Times included highlights of a speech Herman A. Brunn, principal of Buffalo, New York’s Brunn & Co., gave before a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers New York chapter:


“PRESENT-DAY interest on the part of automobile engineers in body design brought out the largest attendance ever registered at a section meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers here last week.

“Nearly 700 were present to hear Mr. Herman A. Brunn talk on the trend of body design…

“Answering Questions, Mr. Brunn gave it as his opinion that the fabric body is not likely to supersede the metal type, since the introduction of modern finishes gives opportunity to make repairs in finish, something, he said, that was impracticable in the fabric bodies because of the difficulty in making a satisfactory match between old and new material.”

Brunn’s statements effectively marked the end of fabric body development in the United States. Weymann-American manufactured small numbers of their flexible fabric coachwork into 1930 when production shifted to its replacement, the 'semi-paneled' or ‘semi-­rigid’ system which was introduced at the 1929 Paris Salon.

The January 1930 issue of Autobody proclaimed “Weymann American to Build Metal ­Paneled Weymanns Here” but the onset of the Depression resulted in few customers for custom-built bodies and the company faded from the scene in 1931-32.

The plant was later utilized by former Weymann manager Albert H. Walker, who constructed a handful of bodies for Duesenberg. Walker also constructed a handful of Childs-like bodies for the 1935 Ford-based Argonaut using a rigid-wooden frame. However its exterior was covered with airplane linen coated with multiple applications of airplane dope, not fabric leather. Only 7 Walker-built Duesenberg bodies were built before he withdrew from business in 1935, and today they’re referred to as Walker-LaGrandes.

The Fabric Body Corp.’s, purchase of the Selden Company was ill-timed and the firm quietly withdrew from business in 1929. The Selden Truck subsidiary was sold to the Bethlehem Motors Corp. of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who relocated Selden truck manufacturing operations to their Allentown plan tin in 1929. The Selden factory still exists and is currently the home of Harris RF Communications, University Ave operations.

Fabric Body Corp.’s 1928 listing in the Detroit Directory indicates they had relocated from the General Motors building to less-expensive quarters:

“Fabric Body Corp.; K.L. Childs, pres.; J.H. Main, treas.; W. W. Gedge, v-pres- sec.; 228 Stormfeltz-Loveley Bldg.”

Kenneth L. Childs moved back to Boston, Massachusetts where he established the Auto-Hydro-Craft Co. in the spring of 1929, which announced in the May 31, 1929 issue of the Middleboro Gazette that it would be manufacturing the “latest type of motor boat”.

Their office was located in the Boston Consolidated Gas Co. building at 100 Arlington Street, Boston and they showed a small outboard-equipped Auto Hydro Craft at the 1930 New York Boat Show. Coincidentally Auto-Hydro-Craft’s aluminum hulls were constructed by another automobile body builder, Biddle & Smart of Amesbury, Massachusetts. The firm’s 16’ to 26’ runabouts were not entirely aluminum, being constructed using sheet aluminum over a wooden frame just like Biddle & Smart's automobile bodies.

The 1929 edition of the Stone & Webster Journal reported that Biddle & Smart hoped their new boat manufacturing business would help offset the recent decline in auto body contracts:

“Biddle & Smart, automobile body builders, are to begin building boats for Auto-Hydro-Craft, Inc. It is hoped that this will offset the decrease in automobile body business.”

The pleasure craft industry was especially hard-hit by the Depression and Auto-Hydro-Craft, Inc. withdrew from business in 1932. The 1936 edition of Marine Engineering and Shipping Review claims only four hulls were constructed by Biddle & Smart.

Childs married (marriage #4) Olivia M. Rogers (daughter of Frank & Olivia (Sylva) Rogers on August 21, 1934 in Hampton, New Hampshire – his occupation was restaurant manager.

The 1938 Boston Directory lists his occupation as engineer, r. 316 Huntington Ave. (Somerville is a northern suburb of Boston). By that time he had founded  Automatic Food Equipment Inc., Somerville, Mass., to market the Shal-O-Fryer, a modern continuous gas-guled short-order fryer that was consturcted in small numbers by the Artisan Metal Prouducts Co. of Waltham, Mass.

By that time his forerm employer, Standard Textile Products Co., had been reorganized as the Standard Coated Products Corp.

His WWII Draft Registration Card lists his wife as Olivia M. Childs, address 120 Dwight St. New Haven Conn., his employer as the Peter Forg Mfg. Co., Somerville, Mass.

Founded in 1881, Peter Forg Mfg. later manufactured stamped sheet-metal parts for regional automobile manufacturers such as Stanley and Rolls Royce. Still in business today they specialize in deep drawn metal parts and have the capability of stamping material up to ¾" thick.

Childs retired in the late 1950s, moving to Boston, Mass where he lived at 218 Beacon St., passing away on April 7, 1984 in Barnstable, Mass.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for

Appendix 1 Childs Patents:

Automobile Body Construction - US Pat. No. 1498234 - ‎Filed Nov 17, 1922 - ‎Issued Jun 17, 1924 to Kenneth L. Childs
Vehicle Body Construction - US Pat. No. 1579466 - ‎Filed Jan 2, 1923 - ‎Issued Apr 6, 1926 to Kenneth L. Childs and assigned to the Fabric Body Corp.
Automobile Body Construction - US Pat. No. 1641319 - ‎Filed Apr 30, 1923 - ‎Issued Sep 6, 1927 to Kenneth L. Childs and assigned to the Fabric Body Corp.
Frying Apparatus – US Pat. No. 2124186 - ‎Filed Dec 4, 1936 - ‎Issued Jul 19, 1938 to Kenneth L. Childs
Frying Apparatus - US Pat. No. 2176869 - ‎Filed Jul 6, 1936 - ‎Issued Oct 24, 1939 to Kenneth L. Childs
Frying Apparatus - US Pat. No. 2219949 - Filed Mar 9, 1927 - ‎Issued Oct 29, 1940 to Kenneth L. Childs
Frying Apparatus - US Pat. No. 2219950 - ‎Filed Aug 24, 1937 - ‎Issued Oct 29, 1940 to Kenneth L. Childs
Frying Apparatus - US Pat. No. 2248659 - ‎Filed Dec 18, 1939 - ‎Issued Jul 8, 1941 to Kenneth L. Childs
Design For A Cigarette Ash Tray Unit - US Pat. No. D153115 - ‎Filed Apr 28, 1947 - ‎Issued Mar 22, 1949 to Kenneth L. Childs and assigned to Ken Childs Inc.
Frying Apparatus - US Pat. No. 2652767 - ‎Filed Nov 27, 1948 - ‎Issued Sep 22, 1953 to Kenneth L. Childs and assigned to Artisan Metal Products Inc.






Fig. 1. Shows how wire, cotton and burlap are applied.

Fig. 2. Application of wire to frame.

Fig. 3. Showing buckram fastened over wire.

Fig. 4. Finished body ready for fabric.


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

Brooks T. Brierley - Brooks Steam Motors (

Hugh Durnford - Cars of Canada, pub.1973

Curt McConnell – Great Cars of The Great Plains, pub.1995

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