Great Eagle 1910-1915, United States Carriage Company, 1870s-1917, Columbus, Ohio

  The United States Carriage Company specialized in building cabs, hearses and ambulances and was amongst the first firms to market an auto hearse. They were also the manufacturer of the Great Eagle automobile.

U.S. Carriage was formed by Charles Frederick Myers, a 13-year-old German immigrant who arrived in Columbus Ohio in 1869. He apprenticed at one of the Carriage City’s numerous vehicle manufacturers and went on to found the United State Carriage Company sometime in the late 1870s.

Located in downtown Columbus at the corner of South 4th and Main Sts., Myers initially built Broughams and Landaus in the continental style, but during the late 1880s he began to specialize in service vehicles, specifically hacks, hearses and ambulances. During that period J. T. Davies, who would later achieve fame as Crane & Breed’s chief body designer, was a journeyman at the firm. 

By the mid-1890s additional manufacturing capacity was badly needed so Myers took on a partner named Col. Atcheson, incorporating the firm in May of 1896 with a re-capitalization of $300,000.  On November 3rd of that year a fire destroyed the main structure of their 309-319 S. 4th St. factory causing a reported $30,000 in damage, all of it covered by insurance.

By the turn of the century, hundreds of the firm’s vehicles had been sold to funeral homes and liveries across the Midwest. However, Myers and Atcheson didn’t get along and on March 25, 1899, a circuit court judge settled a suit between them by ordering the sale of the firm.

Myer’s, the majority shareholder, kept control of the firm and his son Frederick joined him in the management of the firm soon afterwards. Myer’s two sons had spent their summers at the factory, but only Frederick Christopher, born August 5, 1883, followed in his father’s footsteps. His other son, John Wesley, elected to go on to University where he studied medicine, becoming one of Columbus’s most prominent physicians.

Although the firm advertised to the trade, they also relied on small town newspapers to help publicize their vehicles. The following article/press release appeared in the March 16th, 1901 edition of the Sandusky (Ohio) Daily Star:


“New Funeral Car Received Today by Charles J. Krupp

“Charles J. Krupp this morning received from Columbus one of the finest funeral cars ever manufactured. It is from the shops of the United States Carriage Company, of Columbus, and as it was made for exhibition purposes, the finest of workmanship and material is found in every detail. The car is mounted on rubber tired, silver trimmed wheels, and the body is of most exquisitely hand-carved Venetian ebony. Upon each side are three lights of heavy French beveled and bent glass, made in Europe, and the panels are of the Gothic style. The driver’s seat is trimmed in black hammer cloth, marked with the initial K. The interior is of solid mahogany, with unobtrusively rich silver and gold trimmings. The whole is surmounted by a mosque roof and the general effect is one of elegance and simplicity.”

Another glowing tribute appeared in the September 7th, 1905 Columbus State Journal:

“Massillon Firm Purchase Magnificent Funeral Car

“The exhibit of the United State Carriage Company at the state fair is one of the finest in the history of the state, and is attracting general attention. Exhibit no. 635, in their display, however is attracting possibly more attention, and receiving greater praise than any exhibit at the fair. It is a full paneled funeral car with the new style column boot. The carving is the most exquisite known to the art of wood carving, and the car is unquestionably the handsomest funeral car ever turned out in the United States. It is a veritable palace on wheels for the dead. The great reputation of this firm throughout the country as a leader in the building of funeral cars is fully maintained by the exhibit of this handsome funeral car now on exhibition at the fair. The undertaking firm of Hollinger & Hansen, of Massillon, O., were so pleased with this car that they have closed a deal for the purchase of it, which will give Massillon the handsomest funeral car ever built. The United State Carriage Company also received an order for an elegant casket wagon from the same firm, to be constructed after their own ideas.”

Frederick C. Myers proved an able administrator, and shortly after the turn of the century, his parents went on an extended tour of Europe, returning to the place of his birth. Unfortunately, Charles Frederick Myers passed away during the trip and was unable to take his last ride in one of own creations as he was interred in his homeland.

Frederick Christopher Myers assumed the presidency of U.S. Carriage which continued to manufacture livery and professional vehicles. Their first motor hearse body was built on a 1907 Packard chassis, and by late 1909 they announced to the trade that they were going to produce their own vehicle.

The September 8th, 1909 issue of the Horseless Age included the following:

“The United States Carriage Company, of Columbus, Ohio, has decided to engage in the manufacture of touring cars, runabouts, motor hearses, cabs and ambulances. The concern will manufacture a four-cylinder engine, with which the vehicles will be equipped. The new cars will be on the market early next year.”

Between the late 1800s and the early teens, United States Carriage Co. participated in the annual  Ohio Agricultural and Industrial Exposition which was held each fall in Columbus. The firm’s early exhibits at the Expo’s Vehicle Hall included landaus, broughams, hearses, hacks and ambulances. Their 1909 exhibit consisted of motorized limousines and conveyances for the dead and injured on various chassis. In 1910, the firm’s first automobile was exhibited alongside their professional car offerings.

Many of U.S. Carriage’s existing customers were in the funeral and/or livery business, and the firm’s sturdily-constructed chassis was designed from the ground up for public service. Christened the Great Eagle, the 40 hp prototype debuted the following February (1910) and was available with a 7-passenger limousine (Model 1215) or landaulet (Model 1217) body on a 126” wheelbase.

The following year two new models were offered with a choice of limousine or landaulet bodywork. The Model 4-50 featured a new 36 hp four on a 135” wheelbase while the model 6-60 included a 41 hp six on a slightly longer 138” wheelbase. The Great Eagle was now marketed to two distinct groups, the Gasoline Car to the private citizen and the Public Service Car to municipalities and livery/funeral trades. A 72hp Rutenber six-cylinder was optional on the firm’s Public Service Cars.

The 1911 Great Eagle Model 1241 Motor Ambulance rode on the firm’s 135” wheelbase 4-cylinder chassis and featured an open cab with an enclosed rear compartment, high-mounted rectangular plate glass windows, side ventilators and an electric gong. A differently-styled Motor Hearse on the model 6-60 chassis featured 6 conservatively-sized columns with four rectangular beveled-glass windows above the belt line which featured a wide band of intricately carved molding.

In 1912 Great Eagle offered a totally-enclosed 10-passenger undertaker’s limousine with a 72hp six-cylinder Rutenber engine on their all-new 141” wheelbase chassis. The model 1260 Motor Hearse rode on the shorter 135” chassis and featured an enclosed cab with 8-columns and intricately-carved faux draperies surrounding a centrally mounted plate glass window. Great Eagles of this era were easily identified by their leather-strapped engine-covers and massive proportions.

In 1913 the Great Eagle chassis was revised once again. The 135” wheelbase Model B now included a 50 hp 4-cylinder engine and the 142” wheelbase Model C featured a 60 hp 6-cylinder engine sourced from Rutenber. The firm’s Public Service Cars were now available with a new 147” wheelbase chassis which was designed specifically for commercial applications.

Typical of the firm’s professional cars were their 1913 offerings. The Model 1252 6-column funeral coach was mounted on the 142” chassis and featured a casket compartment with four massive plate glass windows set upon intricate carved-wood panels. On the 147” chassis, Great Eagle offered the Model 1268 ambulance, a limousine-style rear-loading coach with a large frosted side window that included an attendant’s entrance just behind the driver’s side door. Also available was a totally different limousine-style invalid car that used 3 large sedan-style windows in the rear compartment.  

The service car line now included taxis, landaulets and limousines for livery service as well as police patrol wagons based on the firm’s limousine-style invalid cars.

The firm continued to rely on newspaper articles for publicity such as this article that appeared in the June 1st, 1913 issue of the San Antonio (Texas) Light (Texas)

“Auto Hearse To Be Put In Service Here

“Vehicle Magnificently Appointed and Equipped With All Modern Devices

“The first automobile hearse in San Antonio has arrived and after a few days display at the Alamo Auto Sales Company’s show window, will be put in use by the Shelley-Loring Undertaking Company.

“The hearse is long, low, gracefully-shaped, six cylinders, of “Great Eagle” make and was bought from the United State Carriage Company of Columbus, O., at an approximate cost of $6,000. It is of light grey color and has trimmings of silver and gold. The panels are hand carved, as are the doors and the entire front is shielded with plate glass. It has all the equipments of the modern automobile, a self-starter, electric lights, and a dome light, inside. It also has demountable rims and a removable mound on the inside, to be used in case of long trips. The interior is finished in mahogany.

“A feature is that it is entirely quiet, even when run at lowest speed, which, if desired, can be made to go as slow as the horse-drawn hearse. Although this motor hearse has been purchased by the Shelly-Loring Undertaking Company, the concern will not totally discard the horse service. The auto hearse will be used in those cases where there are a number of automobiles in the funeral and where the cemeteries are located at a distance, such as the Mission burial park and the Roselawn cemetery.”

Later that year, the October 3rd, 1913 issue of the New York Times reported:

“Dead Man's Long Auto Trip

“Moran's Friends Have Brought His Body 3,200 Miles Toward Home.

“Special to the New York Times

“Chicago, Oct. 2 – The body of Michael Moran of New York City, on its 5,000-mile automobile trip to the grave, passed through Hammond, Ind., to-day.

“Moran, a wealthy New Yorker, went last Spring to the Pacific Coast for his health. One day he said to William A. Peck of Los Angeles, with whom he was motoring: “Peck, I have a premonition that I am going to die.”

“Peck laughed at him and said that if he did he (Peck) would see that he got an automobile, funeral all the way to New York. Within a few days Moran lay dying, and on bidding goodbye to friends, insisted that Peck keep his promise, giving his nurse a check for $5,000 to pay the expenses.

“Moran’s coffin was sealed hermetically, and Peck, with Bert F. Mayo of Los Angeles, and H.H. Hambley of San Diego, in an automobile, started with the body on Aug. 25. The trip was beset with many difficulties. In Nevada they were thirteen hours going twelve miles through a sandstorm. To date the party has traversed 3,200 miles.”

Coincidentally, William A. Peck was the western sales manager for the United States Carriage Company, which had a sales office in Los Angeles. Peck made the most out of the free publicity and took numerous photographs of the Great Eagle hearse that was used to convey Mr. Moran. Unthinkable today, Peck even placed an advertisement on the side of the vehicle conveying the fact that it was traveling from “San Francisco to New York”.

Peck, who was in charge of both US Carriage and Great Eagle sales in 27 states, later recalled that the free advertising he received on the trip was worth $15,000 to him. “Practically every newspaper along the route gave me a story and many of them were on the front page,” concluded Peck.

The journey left from San Francisco’s Lanyon Funeral Home on August 25th and he arrived in New York on October 1st, after 37 days on the road. The fully enclosed Great Eagle funeral coach was equipped with a 72-hp Rutenber six-cylinder engine and heavy-duty Hoover springs that successfully carried the 6,560 pound vehicle and its cargo across the country. The only failure reported was a broken spring that occurred during the Nevada leg of the journey.

For 1914 model designations returned to their original 1912 versions, albeit the horsepower was now reflected in the model number. The 50 hp, 4-cylinder became the Model 4-50, albeit with a new longer 138” chassis, and the 6-cylinder 60 hp was now called the 6-60. The Gasoline Car line included new a 2-passenger roadster (Model A) and 7-passenger touring (Model B & C), while the firm’s closed bodies were only available in the Public Service Car line.

The Great Eagle line for 1915 was a repeat of the previous year’s offerings.

Receivership for United States Carriage Company arrived in an interesting way. It was requested by Katherine Myers, wife of the president, who held a note of $6,000 against the company and feared her money would be lost if other creditors, who were threatening, were permitted to take action.

The company went into receivership in February of 1915. A number of creditors were planning an action, but curiously, the firm’s receivership was requested by Katherine Myers, the wife of president Frederick Christopher Myers. She feared that her $6,000 personal investment in United States Carriage would be lost if the firm’s other creditors initiated the action.

During 1918 rumors of a possible re-emergence of the Great Eagle were mentioned in the trades, however no evidence of a vehicle can be found. On March 2, 1917, all remaining assets of the United States Carriage Company were disposed of.

Early on, the Great Eagle was occasionally referred to as the United, however no vehicles were manufactured under that name. There was another United State Carriage Company located in Andover, Maine that manufactured the French steamer at the turn of the century but the two firms were unrelated.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Thomas A. McPherson



For more information please read:

Carl Burgess Glasscock – Motor History of America; Or, The Gasoline Age: The Story of the Men who Made it (pub 1945) First ed. published in 1937 under title: The gasoline age; the story of the men who made it.

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

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional car Society)

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

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

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

Gunter-Michael Koch - Bestattungswagen im Wandel der Zeit

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

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

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Marc Ralston - Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - There Is No Mistaking a Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Thomas E. Bonsall - The Lincoln Motorcar: Sixty Years of Excellence

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Arthur W. Soutter - The American Rolls-Royce

John Webb De Campi - Rolls-Royce in America

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Hugo Pfau - The Coachbult Packard

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

George H. Dammann - 90 Years of Ford

George H. Dammann & James K. Wagner - The Cars of Lincoln-Mercury

Thomas A. MacPherson - The Dodge Story

F. Donald Butler - Plymouth-Desoto Story

Fred Crismon - International Trucks

George H. Dammann - Seventy Years of Chrysler

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

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

George H. Dammann & James A. Wren - Packard

Dennis Casteele - The Cars of Oldsmobile

Terry B. Dunham & Lawrence R. Gustin - Buick: A Complete History

George H. Dammann - Seventy Years of Buick

George H. Dammann - 75 Years of Chevrolet

John Gunnell - Seventy-Five Years of Pontiac-Oakland


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