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Fitzgibbon & Crisp

Union Carriage Factory; Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage & Wagon Co., 1849-1913; Fitzgibbon & Crisp Inc., 1913-1941; Universal Trailers 1941-1943; Trenton, New Jersey

Associated Builders

All Weather Conditioning Co.; Fitzgibbon & Crisp Co., 330 W. 42 St., 1933-1941; Universal Trailer Sales Corp., 1941-1943; New York, New York


Trenton, New Jersey’s Union Wagon Works was established in 1849 on the western edge of Trenton. In 1869 the original firm’s founder retired and sold the works to two of his employees, woodworker Patrick J. Fitzgibbon, and blacksmith Philip D. Crisp. 

Located at the intersection of Bank and Warren Sts., the pair conducted business as the Union Carriage Works, Fitzgibbon & Crisp, proprietors. They exhibited at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition where the firm was described as “one of the most complete” manufacturers of its kind in the country, ranking with the “great wagon manufacturers of the Northwest.”

Fitzgibbon created the firm’s magnificent coachwork and Crisp turned out the carriage gear and hardware in the firm’s smithworks. The works now occupied a handful of three and four story brick structures running along the main line of the Philadelphia & Reading Rail Road, which gave it easy access to raw materials as well as markets in Philadelphia, New York City and Eastern New Jersey.

In addition to its fine carriages and commercial wagons, the firm also produced large numbers of horse-drawn trolley cars. When the horse-drawn vehicles were replaced by electric street railways in the late 19th and early 20th Century, Fitzgibbon & Crisp eagerly entered the streetcar business, producing vehicles for a number of local and regional operators.

The 1881 Trenton City directory: has four entries relating to the firm:

“FITZGIBBON & CRISP, Union carriage works, 28, 30 and 32 Bank
UNION CARRIAGE FACTORY (Fitzgibbon & Crisp), Bank n Warren
Crisp, Philip D. (Fitzgibbon & Crisp), h 106 Spring
Fitzgibbon, Patrick J. (Fitzgibbon & Crisp), h 40 Bank”

On October 4, 1888, the firm’s factory was partially destroyed by a fire which caused $90,000 in damage, reportedly covered by insurance. They were back in business by the beginning of 1889 as evidenced by the following news item from the February 1, 1889 issue of the Trenton Evening Times:

“The ‘Reading’ cabs made their appearance on the street for the first time this morning. Only two have been sent to Trenton. They are Nos. 159 and 160. The cabs are not cabs, but coupes, somewhat larger than those in ordinary use, and have the word "Reading" painted on them. They are very handsome, and were made by Fitzgibbon & Crisp, of this city, who have orders for eight of them, four to be used in this city.”

The Aril 2, 1980 issue of the Trenton Evening Times contained the following loosely disguised advertisement:

“Fitzgibbon & Crisp

“In making this review of the various prominent firms it is interesting to note the advances that have been made in each industry. With these remarks special attention is directed to the reliable and popular carriage and wagon manufactory of Messrs. Fitzgibbon & Crisp, located Nos. 28, 30 and 32 Bank Street. This is the leading and largest works of its kind in the State. They build all kinds of light family carriages, from the light track sulky to the stately coach, and from a light grocer's wagon to the heaviest truck, also Rockaways, phaetons, buggies, etc , while in their show rooms can usually be seen one of the finest stocks of these productions to be found in the State. Their work has a reputation for being of the very best, which extends to all parts of the country. This house enjoys a liberal and influential patronage from many of our most prominent citizens. The members of this firm have devoted many years of experience and care to this most important branch of business, and are widely known both in private and commercial life as honorable business men, well deserving of the success they have achieved.”

On January 27, 1893 the Trenton Evening Times reported:

“The Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage and Wagon Company has been incorporated with an authorized capital stock of $125,000. The works and main office will be in this city.”

In 1894 Fitzgibbon & Crisp manufactured a familiar Trenton landmark, Peter G. Curtin’s pioneer lunch wagon, which stood on Broad Street in front of the City Hall every night until it was replaced in 1911. The lunch wagon hours were usually from 9 P.M. to 4:30 A.M., one of its busiest periods being when the crowds from the Taylor Opera House stopped by for a snack while awaiting the last trolley home.

Tragedy struck the firm on the morning of April, 19, 1899. A headline in that evening’s Trenton Evening Times announced:

“Phillip D. Crisp, Carriage Maker, Hanged Himself This Morning

“Two of His Employees Found Him Suspended by a Rope From a Joist in the Stock Room of the Fitzgibbon and Crisp Works at 7 o'clock This Morning rand Though the Body Was Still Warm, Life Was Extinct.


“The Cause is Attributed to the Effects of an Attack of the Grippe, From Which He Had Never Fully Recovered - The Deceased Was Highly Esteemed by All Who Came in Contact With Him - A Conscientious Workman, to Whose Unremitting Care was Due Much of the Success of the Great Carriage Works.

“Philip D. Crisp, one of the best known business men of this city, and a member of the firm of Fitzgibbon & Crisp, one of the largest carriage and wagon manufacturing companies in the State, committed suicide by hanging just before 7 o'clock this morning, in the stock room of the workshops on Bank street. Poor health is the reason assigned by the family and friends of the dead man for the rash act, although unconfirmed rumors of his financial embarrassment have been current during the day.

“Mr. Crisp has always enjoyed good health until a few months ago, when he was stricken with the grippe, and from that he never fully recovered. He has since complained almost continually of severe pains in the head and at times was almost distracted with the agony of his suffering. It was only last evening that he said to one of the workmen, while preparing to leave the shop: "O, my head! My head! If this keeps on I don't know what I will do. I never felt so badly in all my life." Dr. William Rice, who has been the attending physician during Mr. Crisp's illness, said the disease left him in the state of melancholy which is so common among grippe patients, and which has been the cause of so many suicides during the past few years.

“Rumors of Financial Embarrassment.

“The rumors of his financial troubles have been denied by those who are in a position to know of his affairs. A member of the firm told the writer that the finances of the corporation were all right, and that so far as he knew Mr. Crisp's personal accounts were in good shape. The latter statement was afterward corroborated by one of the city's best known bankers. Mr. Crisp left home about half-past six o'clock this rooming, his usual time, and walked directly to the shops. His family noticed nothing unusual in his manner, and with those who met him on the street he exchanged greetings in his usual genial way. He arrived at the shop before many of the men had reported for duty, but as that was his usual custom it created no comment among the few who were present. He passed unnoticed into the buildings in the rear and ascended the stairs to the second floor.

“When Last Seen Alive.

“That was about twenty minutes before seven, and that was the last time he was seen alive. About fifteen minutes later Frank Murphy and Alfred Anderson, two of the firm's employees, entered the stock rooms and were horrified to see their employer hanging by his neck from the ceiling. Murphy was the first to make the gruesome discovery, and his shout of warning to his companion alarmed the other workmen, and they came running into the apartment. Mr. Crisp's body was hanging with the feet within a few inches of the floor, and Anderson raised it up while Murphy cut the rope which had been drawn tight by the weight. When the body was released the head fell back limp and lifeless, and the men realized that they were too late. Hoping, however, that a spark of vitality might yet remain, messengers were dispatched for a doctor.

“The Doctors Are Sent For.

“Dr. W. S. Lalor, of North Warren street, was the first to respond, and he was followed a moment later by Dr. R. R. Rogers, Jr., the county physician. A hurried examination was made, but the fears of the men were realized, life had been extinct when the body was cut down. The rope with which Mr. Crisp ended his career was a new one, and had been brought by him from his home. It was usually kept in the show rooms, and had been used on several occasions for removing vehicles from the establishment. It was used for that purpose yesterday, and was left at Mr. Crisp's residence last evening. He placed it in his pocket this morning, saying he would take it back to the shop. When he was found one end had been securely fastened to a post near the floor, the other had been extended through the bridging in the ceiling joists above, and then tied in a slip knot about his neck. From appearance he had evidently stood on a wheel to adjust the noose, and had then swung himself into eternity. The early finding of his body prevented any discoloration, and the appearance of the face was calm and peaceful, despite the awful end. When the doctors determined that he was beyond human aid, Coroner Disbrow was telephoned for, but before his arrival Coroner Walker appeared and after viewing the remains gave permission for their removal.

"A Most Highly Respected Citizen.

“Mr. Crisp has long been known as one of the most highly respected citizens of Trenton. He was honored and esteemed by all, and had friends in every rank of life. Among those who loved him best were the men in his employ, many of whom had served him for nearly twenty years. His dealings with the business world were always open and above board, and through his efforts much of the good reputation of the firm was obtained. He has lived in Trenton nearly 40 years. He was a blacksmith by occupation, and was employed for several years in the different shops about the town. In 1869 he and P. J. Fitzgibbon formed a partnership and located in the present stand incorporated in 1893 with a capitalization of $125,000. Since that time the business has been materially increased and the product has also been sold in all parts of the United States and in many foreign countries.

“His. Home Life.

“Mr. Crisp was man led, and his wife and three grown daughters survive. The latter are Mrs. Joseph Williams, of Spring street; Mrs. Harry Michel, of West Hanover street, and Miss Hattie Crisp, who resides at home. William H. Crisp, the well-known grocer, was a brother of the deceased. He resided on Spring street in a handsome brick dwelling, and always took particular pride in the care and keeping of his home. He has recently

had the property renovated and improved. His home life was a congenial one, and the blow is a sad one to the loved ones who are left behind.  Mr. Crisp was always actively interested in municipal affairs, but never held any public office, as he devoted his time wholly to his business. He was a member of several secret and benevolent associations. The funeral, which will be under the direction of Undertaker Harry A. Ashmore, has not yet been fully arranged for.”

The August 15, 1899 issue of the Trenton Evening Times included the following item of interest:

“Taken a New Position.

“Harry Fitzgibbon, of South Broad street, has severed his connection with the Prudential Insurance Company and has taken a position with his father in the firm of Fitzgibbon & Crisp, the wagon builders.”

The 1900 Trenton City Directory contained three entries related to the firm:

Fitzgibbon Harry J, wagon builder, h 141 Philemon
FITZGIBBON PATRICK J, (Fitzgibbon & Crisp Co), h 344 Bellevue ave”

The 1901 Industrial Directory of New Jersey states that the firm’s 30 employees were engaged in the manufacture of wagons and carriages.

The New Jersey Bureau of Industrial Statistics, New Jersey Bureau of Statistics of Labor and Industries stated in their 1903 annual report, that in February of 1902:

“The Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage & Wagon Company of Trenton has been absorbed by a combination of carriage manufacturers, which includes about a dozen firms. The old name will be retained. The capital stock of the local company is $125.000. The establishment is the largest of its kind in the state.”

The carriage combine hinted at in the article never materialized and the firm remained in the hands of the Fitzgibbon & Crisp families. A 1903 issue of The Automobile announced that Fitzgibbon & Crisp had built a gasoline-driven rail car for a local interurban railway.

At about the same time they started building wood bodies for some of the regions pioneer automobile manufacturers and by 1908 their listing in the Trenton City directory advertised that fact:

"Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage & Auto Body Co., 36 Bank St - Wood and metallic bodies, auto tops."

The firm’s founder, Patrick J. Fitzgibbon, died on October 20, 1910, and the presidency was assumed by his son, Harry J. Fitzgibbon.

The June 17, 1911 issue of the Trenton Evening Times announced:

“Fitzgibbon & Crisp Busy.

“The Fitzgibbon & Crisp Company delivered last week the following auto bodies: Six-passenger opera “bus” to United States Motor Company of Philadelphia, for a Sampson chassis; a 12-passenger station bus to the Knox Company, of Philadelphia; an elaborate undertaker's car to Ivins & Taylor, on a Thomas chassis, and a fore-door touring body finished in brown and mounted on an Otto chassis.”

Despite his years of experience, Harry Fitzgibbon was unable to keep the Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage & Wagon Co. in the black after the death of his father and following a complaint by the firm’s largest creditor, the Trenton Trust and Safe Deposit Company, a bankruptcy court appointed Charles Walker receiver in early 1912. At the end of the year, the judged ruled the firm insolvent and ordered the firm’s property and assets to be auctioned at a public sale to take place on January 14, 1913.

The Trenton Evening Times published a notice of the sale in early January:

“Wagon and Body Plant
Tuesday January 14, 1913, 2 PM

“The plant of the Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage and Wagon Co., located in the heart of Trenton, N.J., including land, buildings, machinery, stock, fixtures, work finished and unfinished, and all personal property, except book accounts. The plant has been profitably operated by the receiver since June 1912.

“Sold subject to a mortgage lien of $40,000 represented by a bond issue maturing in 1922 (not in default) and city taxes due, to amount about $3,000. The sinking fund for the retirement of bonds is worth about $17,000.

“Terms: 10 per cent, purchase price cash; balance upon delivery of deed, after confirmation of sale by court.

“Further information upon application to receiver.
Receiver Fitzgibbon & Crisp Carriage & Wagon Company, Bank Street”

A trio of Trenton businessmen - all directors of the Trenton Trust and Safe Deposit Co.; H. Arthur Smith, James C. Tattersall and Lion L. Woodward - believed that with proper management the firm could be salvaged. They arranged to purchase the firm from the firm’s receiver and reorganized it as Fitzgibbon & Crisp, Inc., with Woodward shouldered with the task of making the firm profitable.

Within a few short weeks a plan to manufacture a Fitzgibbon automobile was promoted by Woodward who proposed an additional capitalization of $100,000 to finance the venture. The automobile venture did not go beyond the planning stage, however the announcement garnered the struggling firm some much-needed publicity.

In August and September, 1913, 2 motorized ambulance bodies were constructed for the US Army’s Quartermaster Corps., Medical & Hospital dept. The bill for both bodies was $4,682, or $2,341 each, a rather pricey amount for the time.

Fitzgibbon & Crisp had a long-term relationship with the Thornton-Fuller Automobile Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Organized on December 11, 1911, Thornton-Fuller was the Philadelphia distributor of the Simplex and later Crane-Simplex automobile.

Samuel S. Thornton, a principle of the firm, had earlier served as the sales manager for J.M. Quinby & Co.’s Philadelphia branch.

Thornton resigned from Quinby to open Thornton-Fuller, and was given Simplex’s Philadelphia, Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey distributorship, which up until that time was held by Quinby. Bad blood with Colonel Quinby led to Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s lucrative arrangement with the Simplex’s Philadelphia sales branch.

At that time Fitzgibbon & Crisp was not well-known for their funeral cars, but all that changed when they began limited production of the funeral omnibus, the first example being announced in the February 28, 1914 Trenton Evening Times:


"What is unquestionably one of the finest bodies ever built for a motor vehicle has just been completed by Fitzgibbon & Crisp, Inc. builders of carriages and wagons. The body has been erected on Packard automobile chassis and is to be used as a funeral car. It was intended that the car be tried here in this city by Murphy's undertaking establishment, but the plans did not materialize and the car will be shipped to New York. The car is done in black and is capable of carrying a casket, bearers and mourners. The upholstering is the finest ever put in an automobile. The vehicle can also be used as a club car.”

A few months later another business feature/advertisement appeared in the April 4, 1914 Trenton Evening Times:

Firm Makes Specialty of building Automobile Bodies to Order – Quick Repairs

“Issuing no catalog and not having any traveling salesmen but enjoying a business that necessitates the running of their departments overtime is the unique position enjoyed in the business world by Fitzgibbon & Crisp, the local wagon and automobile top manufacturers. The employees of the firm have been, working over time almost continuously for the past year and one department works all night.

“The success secret of Fitzgibbon & Crisp is that they employ artisans - men who thoroughly understand the work assigned to them. Some of these mechanics have been in the employ of the firm thirty years and their long experience has made them expert. The work that these men turn out is the trade-getter for their firm. Their product, by elegance and fineness of construction, invariably brings a return order.

“In securing these artisans, Fitzgibbon & Crisp have made it an aim to get the best possible in respective trades. After this line of men is secured, the firm, by its fair treatment, is usually successful in retaining them. Everything is harmonious between the men and the firm and labor disputes are unheard of.

“Fitzgibbon & Crisp specialize in design work, such as the making of commercial bodies, special design bodies for limousines, ambulances, hearses and other undertaker vehicles. The firm at present has in its warerooms two funeral coaches that were made especially for a New York undertaker. These coaches are a work of art. They each hold twenty-eight people and contain a separate compartment for the casket and family of the deceased. The furniture is of solid mahogany, and each hearse is lighted by electricity and contains a special ventilating system.

“The firm has also in its warerooms two limousine automobiles that were built for the United States government. They were ordered for army generals for use in Washington and San Francisco. These cars, which are handsome in design, are convertible so that the medical department may use them as ambulances.

“Fitzgibbon & Crisp are the largest builders of commercial bodies in the state. They are kept so busy in this and the special design line that an order for 10,000 pleasure bodies was recently refused. Their special bodies are usually designed for the high-grade cars. They might properly be termed a firm that makes bodies to order. While the firm specializes in design bodies, it still continues to build and repair wagons and carriages. Orders for this line of work are quite large and are continually being received. In order that the fellow that constantly uses his wagon or automobile may not be inconvenienced for any length of time, the firm has opened a night service department. By this department, the man who is unfortunate enough to have a breakdown may have his damaged vehicle repaired and ready for service, in a comparatively short time. This department has become popular and its mechanics are busily employed. James C. Tattersall is president of the Fitzgibbon & Crisp Company, and the vice president is H. Arthur Smith, L.L. Woodward is the secretary treasurer.”

On February 20, 1915, Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s Lion L. Woodward applied for a patent for a dumping wagon, which would eventually bring the firm lots of business from regional municipalities.

The August 23, 1915 issue of the Automobile reported:

“Trenton Body Builds — Fitzgibbon & Crisp, Trenton, NJ, maker of automobile bodies, will build an addition to its plant on Bank street.”

The November 30, 1915 issue of the Trenton Evening Times gave a few more details of the planned addition:

“The Fitzgibbon & Crisp Wagon and Carriage Company is spending $100,000 in an addition, which will give 200 more men employment and place the firm in a position next Spring to make an enormous quantity of automobile bodies with which they have been experimenting recently.”

In fact it was decided to locate the new facility 3/4 of a mile away from the Bank Street factory at the southwest corner of Calhoun and Dunham Sts., adjacent to a siding of the Philadelphia & Reading Rail Road Co. Once it was up and running, all paint, trim and body building activities were transferred to the new facility at 467 Calhoun St.. The firm’s old Bank St plant was subsequently turned into an auto service center.

The new body facility allowed them to get into the lucrative interurban rail car manufacturing business and for the next decade small numbers of electric railcar bodies were built in Trenton.

Before Fitzgibbon & Crisp specialized in commercial bodies they produced bespoke bodies, primarily on Mercer and Crane-Simplex chassis. Production bodies were also supplied to the Trenton-built Mercer automobile which was built by the Roebling and Kuser families. Peak production was in 1916 when some 1,400 cars were built.

After former Packard Vice-president Emlen S. Hare took over Mercer in late 1919, the Trenton automaker turned to building more luxurious motorcars and Mercer’s stylish Raceabout and Sportabout bodies were built by Fitzgibbon & Crisp.

Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s 1916 NJ Corporate Tax record stated the firm had $150,000 in authorized capital stock and paid a 1% tax of $150.

Trenton Evening Times, March 23, 1917

“Fitzgibbon & Crisp, Inc. Exhibit Attractive Features at Auto Show

“Fitzgibbon & Crisp, Incorporated, have exhibited for the first time their especially-designed bodies for Ford cars at the Automobile Show yesterday afternoon. Unusual interest was aroused among dealers and public and an interested crowd surrounded the exhibit, afternoon and evening. F.F. Woodward of Fitzgibbon & Crisp, Inc. states that the plant is building a number of these bodies to meet the demand for comfortable riding bodies for Ford chassis that will permit of special colors and trimming.

“The one exhibit is painted a rich dark green and trimmed in French tapestry with green plush head lining. It has silk roller curtains in the rear and is cozy as can be with rug carpet. Yale locks on the doors, large inside compartment for packages and room for an extra seat, which can be furnished, if desired. The gasoline tank is built in the back of the body and is filled from the outside. The body is of steel and all mountings are of nickel. It is complete in every detail, with even a rain-vision windshield.

“The body on exhibit is the first one to be completed, but others will be seen upon the streets soon, and one of the first will be used by Fitzgibbon & Crisp themselves. Considering the grade of materials used and the excellent workmanship, the bodies are very reasonably priced and doubtless many Ford owners will invest in them.”

Another Fitzgibbon & Crisp funeral omnibus was constructed in 1919 on a Pierce-Arrow truck chassis. Designed to eliminate the funeral procession from urban traffic, it could carry a driver, casket and 19 mourners and pallbearers. The Albert Brown Mortuary of Oakland, California utilized a picture of the vehicle in its advertising during the mid-1970s, although the advertisement does not claim they ever owned or operated such a vehicle.

Fire trucks were another Fitzgibbon & Crisp product as evidenced by a June 10, 1917 article in the Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser:

“A fully-equipped automobile chemical engine, costing $2,800, has been delivered to the Lawrence Road Fire Co. by the C.P. Weedon Motor Co. of Trenton, which was awarded the contract some months ago. The chassis is the same as is used in the Jeffrey ton-and-one-half trucks and the body was built by the Fitzgibbon & Crisp Co. of Trenton. The machine is the latest model and the Lawrence Road Fire Co. is justly proud of its appearance. It carries two 40-gallon tanks, ladders, hooks, axes, bars, lanterns, hand extinguishers and other equipment and can, if needed, transport 18 men.”

The Firm’s entry in the 1920 Trenton City Directory listed the following officers; Lion L. Woodward, president; Lloyd H. Rockhill treasurer; and Samuel Simon, secretary. James C. Tattersall was still involved with the firm as was H. Arthur Smith, the President of the Trenton Trust and Safe Deposit Co. Two associated firms were listed at the firm’s Calhoun and Dunham Sts. factory; Fitz Gibbon & Crisp Co. and All Weather Conditioning Co.

In addition to funeral cars, Fitzgibbon & Crisp manufactured many types of commercial bodies. A modern forty-two passenger sight-seeing bus body was pictured in Kingston Forbes’ ‘The Principles of Automobile Body Design’, published in 1922. The Trenton Police Department were also Fitzgibbon & Crisp customers, pictures exist of a circa 1920 Paddy Wagon that was affectionately known as the Black Mariah.

The Thornton-Fuller Automobile Co. of Philadelphia was a long-time Fitzgibbon & Crisp customer and in 1924 commissioned them to build an armored body for a heavy-duty Dodge Bros. chassis. Thornton-Fuller had been appointed the Philadelphia territory distributors for Dodge Bros. in 1921, and would later organize a commercial vehicle division to handle Graham- and Dodge-Bros trucks.

Thornton was an original Dodge Brothers dealer, having been identified with the marque since its 1914 debut. In 1914 he sold 400 Dodge vehicles, in 1926 that number had risen to 7,800. In his role as one of the nation’s largest Dodge distributors, Thornton was given a seat on Dodge Bros. board of director in 1927. Under the leadership of his son, George H. Thornton, Thornton-Fuller remained an important Dodge-Plymouth distributor until 1964.

On Jan 12, 1922 Trenton resident Joseph Gasser patented a combined high hoist and dump wagon which was assigned posthumously to the New Jersey Twin Hoist Co., 4-12 Wood Street, Trenton. The January 1922 patent was a notable improvement over Gasser’s earlier patents for similar devices which were filed on February 21, 1920; October 11, 1920; October 12, 1920; August 29, 1921; January 6, 1922; June 22, 1922. It is unknown if Gasser sold the manufacturing rights to his hoists and dumping wagons to Fitzgibbon & Crisp, but the similarities of the two designs look to be more than coincidental.

In early 1924 Fitzgibbon & Crisp announced to the trade that they were building a complete line of hydraulic and gear driven hoists and dump bodies from 1000 pounds to seven tons. A single patent was applied for by body engineer On December 19, 1924 Joseph Dale Herron applied for a patent for dumping mechanism which was assigned to the firm. A 4-page illustrated catalog of Trenton Hoists and Bodies for standard Ford one-ton Trucks was released by the firm in 1925.

In the mid twenties a fair number of inte-rcity coach bodies were constructed, many on purpose-built Safeway Six-wheel bus chassis. One example included a distinctive oval rear side window with a brass railing wrapped around an exposed rear observation platform. Individual seats accommodated thirty-three passengers who were warmed by vertical radiators of Fitzgibbon & Crisp design. Loading or unloading was via a 32-in door located to the right of the driver. At the left rear was located an emergency door that exited onto the rear observation platform.

Between 1924 and 1927 Fitzgibbon & Crisp bodied twenty-seven double-deck Six-Wheel coaches for the Surface Transportation Corp. of New York City.

In 1926 Lion L. Woodward was rewarded for his work in turning around Fitzgibbon & Crisp by his election as President of Ardmore, Pennsylvania’s Autocar Company. At that time Autocar was suffering from poor sales and increased competition which resulted in a failed reorganization of the firm in 1925. It was hoped that Woodward would work his magic on the Ardmore truck-maker.

In the short term the new arrangement proved beneficial to both parties. Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s factory was located only 45 miles away from Autocar’s Ardmore, Pennsylvania plant and during 1926 the firm bodied a record number of Autocar chassis.

The Lower Merion School District, Ardmore, Pa., inaugurated its transportation system with district-owned and operated vehicles in 1914 with six Autocar buses. Lower Merion’s all-new 1926 fleet consisted of five 35-passenger Autocar and one 35-passenger Mack all bearing Fitzgibbon & Crisp school bus bodies. The firm’s school bus bodies were built in 25- and 46-passenger versions for use with Autocar’s 2½-ton, six-cylinder Ranger chassis.

Unfortunately Woodward died (on January 16. 1927) within a year of assuming the new post and was replaced by Robert Page Jr., the manager of the truck-maker’s Boston branch. Back in Trenton, Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s board of directors promoted the firm’s chief engineer, Hudson T. Winner, to President.

In 1929 Fitzgibbon & Crisp introduced a new high lift coal body for mounting on light duty Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and other light-duty truck chassis. Power for lifting and shaking was transmitted by chain via a power take-off incorporated into the vehicle’s drive-train. A two-cylinder hydraulic hoist could elevate the body by 7 ft for dumping. It could be equipped with multiple loading compartments allowing for precise accounting of deliveries. The body floor was 18 in. lower than standard truck bodies with a total capacity of 14 cu. yd., with 6 yd. from floor to load line.

In 1930 Fitzgibbon and Crisp built a furniture van body on a Mack 3½ -ton chassis with a wheelbase of 19 ft. 2 in. for a New York City firm. When the 6 ft. 2 in. wide side doors and full-width tail gates were closed they fit flush, harmonizing with the remainder of the body, even to the 2 in. molding intended to act as a panel guard in traffic.

The 1931 Industrial Directory of New Jersey states that Fitzgibbon and Crisp’s 195 employees were engaged in the production of ‘auto bodies’. At that time the term ‘auto bodies’ included bodies for buses and commercial vehicles as well as passenger cars.

As early as 1930, the firm furnished the New Jersey Dairymen's League with six aluminum insulated bodies. Soon after Fitzgibbon & Crisp developed a new dry-ice refrigerator body, that would soon prove popular with the regions grocers and dairymen. The new bodies were cooled by the patented Ice-fin system, a conductive cooling system whereby a highly conductive metal surface carries heat from the loading compartment to a sealed Carbon-dioxide compartment.

By using resistance pads the Icefin system of single surface conduction melted the refrigerant more slowly, providing a constant temperature that could be easily maintained right up until the CO2 cake dissolved. Consequently no advantage could be gained by over-icing or in putting into the ice chamber more ice or carbon dioxide than would be actually required.

The firm’s new line of Trenton Insulated bodies for ice cream and frozen food haulers featured the patented Icefin system which came installed in an insulated three or four cu. ft. bunker in the roof of the truck.

Named for the series of highly conductive radiating fins extending across the front and bottom of the ice bunker, the Icefin system could be powered by three different cooling systems; traditional ice, chemical (carbon dioxide) dry ice or standard mechanical refrigeration. In semi-trailers the later system consisted of a small four-cylinder engine-powered Servel compressor with coils arranged in sections around the top of the trailer. In a self-contained refrigerated trucks the Servel compressor would be powered by the engine via a belt-driven compressor.

The Trenton line included heavily insulated ten-ton capacity semi-trailers which were divided into individual metal-lined compartments that could be varied to match the required environment of its cargo using multiple Ice-fin controllers.

The trailer body was insulated with 3½ in. high grade insulation with aluminum panels on the interior. When fully loaded each 22’ trailer could haul either 2,000 gallons of frozen products, 150 40-quart cans of milk, or a combination of the two.

The firm’s 1932 catalog, Trenton Bodies for Ice Cream Trucks, catalog 1031, devoted 20 pages to illustrations and descriptive matter on truck bodies using the Icefin system of solid CO2 refrigeration.

The following text is from a 2-page Frozen-Food Refrigerator Bodies brochure:

“In the transportation of ice cream and other frozen foods it is very important that temperatures well below freezing be maintained at all times, despite hot weather, long routes and frequent opening of the doors, for even momentary thawing of frozen products is ruinous.

“These requirements are fulfilled by Icefin Conductor Plate Refrigeration, using Solid Carbon-Dioxide as the refrigerant. The advantages of the Icefin system are many and important.

1- Positive temperature control. The Trenton Icefin system can be regulated to maintain any temperature down to 40 degrees below zero F.

2- Uniform temperatures. Intensity of refrigeration does not depend upon nor vary with the amount of CO2 in the system. (Note: In a body lacking positive control, the temperature rises as the refrigerant is consumed.)

3- Economy. Consumption of Solid Carbon Dioxide is limited to the amount necessary to maintain the desired temperature and depends upon length of route, initial hardness of ice cream, etc. None is wasted. (Note: Bodies lacking positive control are apt to waste solid CO2 by cooling to excess when first charged with refrigerant.)

4- Dependability. No moving parts, thermostats, circulating gases, liquids or other trouble makers. Control is accomplished by varying the number of resistor units between the CO2 ice and the conductor plate.

5- Maximum payload. The ice reservoir is located in the roof of the body and heat from the interior is conducted to it by a metal plate which forms the ceiling of the compartment; thus none of the loading space is occupied.

“Other systems of refrigeration

Trenton Bodies can also be furnished with Ice and Salt, Frozen Brine or Mechanical Refrigeration.

“Body Insulation and Construction

Trenton low temperature bodies are insulated with 2 inches of Armstrong’s L.K. corkboard. 2 inches of balsa wood and one-half inch of special one-piece panel - a total of four and one-half inches of substantial, unbroken insulation. The corkboard is protected on either side with refrigeration paper and thoroughly waterproofed.

The interior tanks are 18-gage Armco iron, with a 4-gage boiler plate bottom.

The framework is of oak, joined by mortise and screws. Exterior panels of ply metal.


Performance, workmanship and materials are fully guaranteed by Fitz Gibbon & Crisp, Inc., pioneers in the development of Solid Carbon-Dioxide refrigeration, and builders of high quality custom bodies for more that 80 years.”

The following text is from a 2-page Non-Frozen Food Refrigerator Bodies brochure:

“Trenton Icefin Bodies for Meats, Dairy Products and other Non-Frozen Perishables (Water Ice of Solid CO2 Refrigeration)

“Trenton Icefin Bodies for carrying butter, cheese, eggs, meats and other perishables, are generally equipped with the Trenton Icefin Cooling Unit, which can be furnished for use with either Solid, Carbon Dioxide or Water Ice.

“The unit should not be confused with ordinary metal bunkers, which may have a similar outward appearance, but which do not employ the Icefin principle of refrigeration and temperature control, by means of which the desired temperature can be attained and maintained with but slight variation and minimum consumption of refrigerant. The Icefin unit is protected by patents pending and is made only by Fitz Gibbon & Crisp, Inc.

The unit is small, compact and practical. Essentially it consists of a container, across the front and bottom of which are a series of radiating fins which serve to conduct heat directly to the ice inside of the unit. Temperatures are controlled in a very simple manner by varying the number of resistor units between the ice and the conductor plate. A baffle so directs the air that it sweeps rapidly over the fins, setting up a positive circulation at high velocity, which reaches and uniformly cools the entire body providing far greater capacity than is possible with ordinary bunkers, baskets or ice-boxes.

Installation or removal require but a few minutes time.

“Body Insulation and Construction

Substantial oak frame mortised, glued and screwed. 3 inches high grade insulation. Panels of autobody steel. Interior lined with Aluminum or ply wood, as desired. One door on right side, single door at rear. High grade chromium plate hardware. Heavy duck roof, finished in aluminum. Shelving as desired. Body well ironed throughout. Finished in any color desired.

“Other methods of Refrigeration

Trenton Bodies can also be furnished with Mechanical, Frozen Brine or Icefin Conductive Plate refrigeration.

“Guarantee-Performance, workmanship and materials are fully guaranteed by Fitz Gibbon & Crisp, Inc., pioneers in the development of Solid Carbon-Dioxide refrigeration and builders of high quality custom bodies for more than 80 years.”

The firm used both cork and Kapok insulation in the body sides, ends, roof and partitions of Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s insulated bodies, depending on the requirements of the customer.

Kapok refers to a light weight fiber insulation obtained from the fruit of the Asian Kapok (silk cotton) tree. Both cork and Kapok fiber matting were commonly used for insulating refrigerated truck bodies prior to the introduction of spun glass (fiberglass) insulation in the mid 1930s.

When it was first introduced, truck body builders reserved the use of the expensive spun glass matting for under-floor applications as it was the only insulation available that didn’t deteriorate when exposed to standing water. After World War II, fiberglass was the insulation of choice until it was replaced by styrene foam paneling in the late 1950s.

Four self-bailing, sealed drains were built into each corner to facilitate easy removal of condensation. Fitzgibbon & Crisp also used a layer of balsa wood and spun glass insulation under the steel and aluminum floor in the event moisture leaked through the seams of the floor.

On April 7, 1931 Hudson T. Winner, Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s president, applied for a patent for a multi-compartment garbage hauling body and was soon promoted to President of the firm. The firm’s chief salesman, Donald W. Drummond, was promoted to Vice-president in charge of sales at the same time.

The new body was well received and in 1932 Fitzgibbon & Crisp received an order for 400 large refuse bodies from the City of New York that formed part of a brand-new 774 vehicle refuse fleet.

By 1933 the Trenton Ice Cream Bodies catalog included 18-pages of illustrations and specifications:

“Trenton Bodies, manufactured by Fitz Gibbon & Crisp, Inc., for use with ice cream, are made in several different types — solid carbon-dioxide, mechanical. By using the patented system Fitzgibbon & Crisp can reduce the weight of the finished truck body or trailer by 20%.”

A 1933 announcement in the Commercial Car Journal follows:

“New Hydraulic Body Hoist - A new hydraulic body hoist with high-angle lift and quick action; a complete, self-contained, compact unit has been announced by Fitz Gibbon & Crisp, Inc., Trenton, N.J. The maker claims that an abundance of power is provided without subjecting either chassis or hoist to undue strain.”

In the mid-Twenties the Koppers Seaboard Coke Co. of Kearny, New Jersey decided to popularize the use of coke as a domestic heating fuel, and within a few years fleets of purpose-built coke delivery trucks were found on the streets of every major city in the Northeast. As Coke was somewhat bulkier than coal, it required a special body, many of which were supplied by Fitzgibbon & Crisp.

Soon after Prohibition ended in December, 1933, Fitzgibbon & Crisp introduced a series of low-bed beer barrel and keg bodies for the brewing industry. The capacity of the standard body was 42 whole barrels, or 82 half-barrels, or 265 cases. Kegs or cases were unloaded through hinged or sliding type doors on both sides of the body. Empties were loaded at the rear of the body in spaces left by full cases moving forward.

In 1934 Fitzgibbon & Crisp manufactured 2 Hand Test rail car bodies for the Sperry Rail Service of Danbury, Connecticut. Hand Test cars were self-propelled truck-based vehicles used for inspection and verification of track defects. For over one hundred years, Sperry had been the leader in the field of building and leasing rail flaw detector cars, and they’re still in business today at

In 1933 Fitzgibbon & Crisp introduced a new line of trailers and truck bodies that would be marketed under a separate brand called ‘Universal Trailers’. A satellite sales office was established in the brand new McGraw-Hill Building, at 330 West 42nd St., New York, New York, manned by industry veterans Bruce R. Dourte and Harry R. Jacobson. Prior to the establishment of the New York City office, the sales department had been located in Trenton at 168 W. State St..

The Universal line included insulated bodies cooled by the firm’s patented Icefin system.

A 1934 issue of Power Wagon included the following description of a Universal trailer made for F.G. Vogt and Sons, Inc., a Philadelphia meat packer:

“Body is of composite construction using aluminum panels on the outside. Insulation is of kapok and body is equipped with Icefin cooling units. Power brakes are Bendix-Westinghouse air brakes and power unit is a White tractor.”

“Pioneers and leaders in the field of refrigerated truck and trailer bodies. You can be assured of premium freight rates with a Fitz Gibbon Refrigerator Body on a Universal Trailer.”

Soon afterwards Fitzgibbon & Crisp built a number of streamlined bodies for engine under the seat (aka COE) Autocar chassis. One 19-ft streamlined furniture van was built in 1935 using a streamlined Autocar cab for the A.H. Stiehl Furniture Co., 28 West 20th St., New York, New York. Dimensions of the side loading body were 19 feet long, 8 feet wide, 6½ feet high.

In 1935 Fitzgibbon & Crisp built the refrigerated bodies for Borden’s first Golden Crest milk trucks. Thirty 1½- and 2-ton Dodge chassis were leased from the Madrid Motor Corp. 2550 Haverford Rd, Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and delivered to Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s Trenton plant for installation of special insulated and refrigerated bodies built to Borden Silver Seal specifications.

In 1935 Fitzgibbon & Crisp president, Hudson T. Winner, sold his interest in the firm in order to form the Winner Manufacturing Company. The firm initially produced resin-covered rafts and would go on to fill numerous wartime contracts which included reinforced plastic pontoon bridges and 28’ Naval assault boats.

In 1936 the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company received an order from the Nairn Transport Company, Ltd., for two stainless steel bus trailers, built on the principle of the firm’s lightweight streamlined trains. The first trailer had luxurious accommodations for 19 seated passengers, the second for 14 horizontal travelers who would spend their long journey in private upper or lower sleeping berths.

Budd contracted with Fitzgibbon & Crisp to build the interiors of the luxury air-conditioned coaches, the first recorded use in a motor coach. The novel air conditioning system was developed by the Carrier Corp. of Syracuse, New York, and installed by Fitzgibbon & Crisp in its Newark, New Jersey factory in early 1937.

The two custom-built tractors were powered by a 150 hp Cummins Diesel engines and built by the combined efforts of two Cleveland Manufacturers, White Motor Co. and Van Dorn Iron Works. The vehicle had a custom-built radiator, Timken axles and purpose-built Firestone tires.

The Whites’ 4x2 drive was found to be more effective at maintaining high speed in the hard, flat desert than Nairn’s previous 6x6 Marmon-Herrington tractors. The Cummins diesel provided 9mpg, a spectacular achievement considering just ten years previous the firm’s gasoline-powered Six-wheel coaches had averaged a paltry 2.5 mpg.

The unusual land yachts were described in great detail by Edgar M. Jones in the October, 1937 issue of Modern Mechanix:

"Desert Travel - Modern Style by Edgar M. Jones

"SHUTTLING across the sands of the Syrian desert, between Damascus and Bagdad, are two shiny, new trailer-busses, fresh from the shops of Philadelphia. Built by Budd for the Nairn Transport Company of Syria, with the same technique of welded, lightweight, stainless-steel that made the now famous Zephyr trains, the new busses are a close approach to the luxury of a deluxe railroad car.

"As in any public carrier, passenger comfort is of prime importance. Accordingly, the plans incorporated Budd experience in making railroad streamliners and auto bodies, with the Nairn need for an economical, speedy, lightweight, rugged bus which could travel the rough terrain with a minimum of trouble. To guard against the extreme temperatures of desert night and day (zero at times and often as high as 140 degrees), complete insulation and conditioning of air was specified. Leg room to equal Pullmans cut passenger capacity to seventeen in the day bus and fourteen in the sleeper. Extra wide chairs limited double seats to one side of the aisle and singles to the other.

"The new busses lop nine hours from former crossing time and make the six-hundred-mile trip over trackless waste in fifteen hours, while passengers comfortably sway on rubber cushions. Coach seats face the front, but the sleeper is divided into compartments with seats facing each other. At bed time, the seat backs swing up to form upper berths supported by tubular frames. The gap between the seats is filled with an extra cushion and the lower is made. Sheets, pillows, blankets and curtains make the berths ready for sleepy travelers. Lighting and adjustable outlets for conditioned air are provided for each berth.

"Following a formula akin to the hostess or steward plan on American airlines, a native throughout the trip comforts passengers with ice water, tea and coffee as well as box lunches with wrapped sandwiches and fruit. Each patron is provided with a small container having a patented lock for the protection of tooth brush, cash, jewelry, etc. Lockers for storing blankets, pillows, clothing and miscellaneous equipment are in the front of the trailer, while the rear has a dressing room which also contains wash basins and toilet facilities.

"The flooring is surfaced with heavy linoleum which extends up the walls for six inches so that a flushing by hose is possible.

"Walls, doors, and partitions are faced with birch plywood. The ceiling is made of perforated aluminum which acts to deaden sound. All windows are of safety glass and are curtained with drapes. A silvery corrugated exterior, looking for all the world like something made from Mother’s washboard, has some properties for deflecting sun rays, but any persistent outside heat or cold is stopped by insulation four inches thick in the roof and two inches thick in the sides.

"Powered by a 150 h. p. Diesel motor, the tractor unit, sheathed in aluminum, furnishes a cab for the driver and his helper, air conditioning equipment, and space for baggage. At the rear of the tractor unit are hinged wings to enhance the streamlined effect.

"Five 6.6 volt batteries connected in series and located in the tractor unit comprise the 32 volt lighting system for the bus. When the motor isn’t running, interior lighting is used sparingly. Compression for the cooling system is obtained from a gasoline engine. Air intakes are in the roof and exhaust fans on each side push out the warm air. Filled to capacity with passengers, baggage, water, and two hundred gallons of fuel oil, the total weight goes over fifteen tons.

"The one and only scheduled stop between points is Rutbah which is the nearest thing in real life to the movie conception of desert outposts. Grim walls, radio towers, and detachments of soldiers remind travelers of Beau Sabreur and the Foreign Legion. The hotel, a large restaurant, and an ice-making plant do a thriving business at this meeting point for air and motor travelers . Possessing the only wells which do not go dry during the hot spell, Rutbah attracts the Arabs who camp outside the fort with their camels and livestock.

"During the rainy months of January and February, water collects in the hollows of the desert. Puddles and mud, hundreds of yards wide and several miles long, spot the trail. As there is no telling the extent of this area, it is impracticable to detour. Drivers with an acquired Oriental fatalism on coming to mud, warn passengers, then drive at full speed to slide across on the belly of the bus. As a concession to this practice, the new trailers (turtle-like) have completely enclosed bottoms. Sandstorms force a complete stop (seldom over an hour or so). The tight fitting doors and windows prevent discomfort. 

"To the astonished natives and wondering resident Europeans, the new busses are but the most recent surprise that Norman Nairn delights in springing upon the slow-moving East. He was the first to have a speed boat to skim the Mediterranean near Beirut; the first to own an airplane. Always wanting speed, Nairn now in his forties, has made a record of spectacular but profitable ventures."

In 1937 architect Hugh Stubbins designed a Trailer Home for possible manufacture by the firm. Surviving renderings in the collection of the Frances Loeb Library at the Harvard Design School show the trailer home in plan, section and axonometric views.

As did most commercial body builders at that time, Fitzgibbon & Crisp continued to offer streamlined truck bodies and trailers. One ‘ultra-modern’ unit was built in 1938 for Dutchland Farms on a COE GMC chassis. The firm’s popular lines of Trenton refrigerated bodies and Universal Trailers continued to be offered as late as 1940.

In late 1940 the firm’s board of directors accepted an offer to purchase their Trenton body plant at 467 Calhoun St. (at Dunham St). The buyer was the newly created Philco Corporation, who wished to relocate their industrial lead-acid storage battery plant from Philadelphia to Trenton.

The timing couldn’t have been better for Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s stockholders as within a few short months, most of their all-male workforce would either have enlisted or been transferred to an essential Armed Forces supplier. The deal was finalized in early 1941 and by mid-1941 batteries were running off the assembly lines of the Storage Battery Division of Philco Corp., which was now manned by a number of former Fitzgibbon & Crisp employees.

When he found himself out of a job, Harry R. Jacobson, Fitzgibbon & Crisp’s New York City sales representative, formed the Universal Trailer Sales Corporation and continued selling trailers and truck bodies from his office in the McGraw-Hill Building at 330 West 42nd St, New York, New York.

Trade Names: Trenton (refrigerated bodies, high lift coal bodies), Lion, Universal (trailers & truck boxes). Lion Bodies was listed in the 1929 Chilton directory as a subsidiary, and was likely named after the firm’s deceased former President Lion L. Woodward.

In 1947 Philco’s Trenton Battery Division was acquired by the Gould-National Battery Co., a Buffalo, New York-based battery manufacturer. When Gould-National went out of business in the early 1980s, it became the home of Magic Marker Industries, the manufacturer of the famous “Magic Marker” brand permanent felt-tipped marker. The firm abandoned the site in 1989 and filed for bankruptcy.

Locally known as the ‘Magic Marker site’, the 4-acre site contained numerous hazardous materials, and between 2003 and 2007 the City of Trenton’s Dept of Housing and Economic Development excavated more than 18,000 tons of contaminated soil clearing the way for a proposed 42-unit housing project. A City of Trenton press release states: “The Magic Marker site is a local and national ‘poster child’ for brownfield remediation”.

One of the firm’s original factory buildings, 20 Bank St. (aka 101-107 South Warren Street), has been restored and was placed on the NJ Register of Historic Places in 1990 as NJRHP ID#1769 - Fitzgibbon & Crisp Factory.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Moe Crosby






Floyd William Parsons, George S. Burgess, Edward Pierce Hulse – New Jersey: Life, Industries and Resources of a Great State, New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, pub 1928

William Stainsby - 1901 Industrial Directory of New Jersey pub by Bureau of Statistics of New Jersey, Trenton, NJ

1931 Industrial Directory of New Jersey, pub New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce

History of Trenton pub 1929

Harry J. Podmore, Revised and Edited by Mary J. Messler – Trenton, Old and New - Pub 1964

Cathleen Crown, Carol Rogers – Trenton pub 2000

John T. Cumbler - A Social History of Economic Decline: Business, Politics, and Work in Trenton‎ - pub 1989

Edward John Barrington, Douglas-Scott-Montagu (Lord Montagu of Beaulieu), G. N. Georgano - Early Days on the Road pub 1976

Edgar M. Jones – Desert Travel-Modern Style, Modern Mechanix, Oct 1937 issue

Desert Bus - Time Magazine, Monday, Feb. 15, 1937 

Kingston Forbes - The Principles of Automobile Body Design: Page 275 pub 1922

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

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

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