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Graff Mfg. Co.; Graff Motor Coach Co.
Graff Manufacturing Company 1917-1922; Graff Motor Coach Co. 1922-1935 - Chicago, Illinois
Associated Builders
C.P. Kimball

Oscar C. Graff was born in Naperville, Illinois in 1864 to two German immigrants, Lewis and Mary (Price) Graff. His father had passed away sometime prior to the 1880 census which lists his mother, Mary (43yo saloon keeper and boarding house operator) and four siblings: Ida (19yo), Clara (17yo), Edwin (13yo), and Albert (10yo).

After completing his public education he took a job with the C.P. Kimball Company in Chicago as an apprentice carriage builder in 1884. He married Rosa Kaiser of Chicago in 1887 and during the next two years attended night school at the Bryant & Stratton Business College where he took courses in business and mechanical drawing.

In 1889 his blessed union with Rosa produced a son, Walter W. Graff, and soon afterwards he began working in the Kimball drafting department. Just after the turn of the century Kimball began building automobile bodies, and between 1906 and 1910, Graff was awarded three automobile-related patents, two for windshields and the third for a novel shock absorbing fender (aka bumper).

Kimball severely curtailed their operations at the start of the First World War providing Graff with an opportunity to form his own body-building firm, the Graff Manufacturing Company which commenced operations in early 1917 at leased quarters located at 2909 Indiana Ave., Chicago, Illinois.

Graff specialized in closed bodies and soon developed a working relationship with the Chicago branch of the Packard Motor Car Company.  Graff is also known to have bodied a Rolls-Royce, a few Cadillacs and was also a custom coachwork supplier to the Chicago Marmon distributor.

Graff was listed as a Marmon custom coachbuilder (along with C.P. Kimball, Larkin, Brewster, Brunn, New Haven Carriage Co., Rubay and Hume) in a 27 page catalog called “Specially Constructed Bodies… for the Marmon Chassis by America’s Master Coach Builders” put out in 1920 by the Marmon Chicago Co.

The November 8, 1922 Salt Lake Tribune included the following paid article/advertisement for Western Motors, the Salt Lake, Utah Packard distributor:

“Western Motors Company Exhibits Last Word in Excellence in Automobile

“Here is a sedan that is grace and elegance itself. It is no more an automobile, as automobiles go, than a Rembrandt is a "sketch." This handsome Packard is the peer of all excellence in manufacture; it is custom made.

"Custom made means that this majestic coach is hand fashioned, as is the hand tailored suit of clothes. Its lines are so formed as to attract at once the admiration of all. Individuality and exclusiveness are its features. The body was constructed by the Graff Manufacturing company of Chicago, builders of exclusive custom bodies. It is mounted on a standard Packard twin-six chassis.

"The body is of Willey's sedan blue with gray stripings and black moldings. The upholstering, which is the last word in appearance and comfort, is Laidlaw cloth over Marshall cushion springs. In the roof are two ventilators, and the appointments are complete even to a cigar lighter. In the lavish interior are two hassocks, for foot rests. A smoking set may be placed in the rack at the right, while on the left is a lady's five-piece vanity case. Twenty-three coats of the best paints have been applied skillfully to the all aluminum body. Interior footings and the twelve-inch lamps are of sliver plate.

"The interior is spacious, the driver having every convenience of room and ease of operation. Seven passengers may be comfortably seated. This elaborate and distinctive machine is on display in the salesroom of the Western Motors, Incorporated, at 457 South Main Street.”

Graff’s work was regularly shown at the annual Chicago Auto Salon and at the January 1924 Salon the Chicago Rolls-Royce dealer displayed a Graff-built Silver Ghost.

An attractive 4-passenger Club Sedan was built in 1924 for Stanley Field, the nephew of the founder of Chicago’s  Marshall-Field & Co. department store chain. The rear compartment was separated by a glass divider and a porthole was provided for communication between master and servant.

In addition to building there own bodies, Graff also modified standard Packard coachwork to suit the needs of the customer. In 1924 they offered a rumble seat coupe that was built using a standard Packard rumble seat roadster (runabout) body to which they added a padded leather faux cabriolet permanent top. The design proved popular and was subsequently used on factory built Packards.

As the quality and variety of factory-built coachwork increased, Graff turned to the manufactured of bus bodies to help pay the bill and in 1922 reorganized the firm as the Graff Motor Coach Company. Custom bodies continued to be produced in small numbers but by 1925 the firm devoted all of its energies to the motor coach.

Both long distance inter-city and pay as you enter metropolitan coaches were produced on a variety of chassis for the regions emerging private and municipal transit companies.

The firm survived until 1935 when its founder, Oscar C. Graff decided to take an early retirement.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Albert Nelson Marquis Who's Who in Chicago: The Book of Chicagoans, a Biographical Dictionary of Leading Men of the City of Chicago‎ pub 1931

George P Hanley, Stacey P. Hanley - The Marmon Heritage

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

George H. Dammann & James A. Wren - Packard

Beverly Rae Kimes - Packard: A History of the Motorcar and Company

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

John Webb De Campi - Rolls-Royce in America

Hugo Pfau - The Coachbult Packard

Walter M.P. McCall - 80 Years of Cadillac LaSalle

Maurice D. Hendry - Cadillac, Standard of the World: The complete seventy-year history

Ed Strauss & Karen Strauss - The Bus World Encyclopedia of Buses

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Donald F. Wood - American Buses

Denis Miller - The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trucks and Buses

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