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Hayes Mfg. Co.
Eastman Metallic Body Co., 1900-1902; Cleveland, Ohio; Wilson-Hayes Mfg. Co., 1903-1916; Hayes Manufacturing Company, 1904-1924; Detroit, Michigan; Hayes-Ionia Co., 1909-1927; Ionia & Grand Rapids Michigan; Hayes-Hunt Corp., 1922-1926; Elizabeth, New Jersey; Hayes Body Corp., 1927-1939; Ionia & Grand Rapids, Michigan
Associated Builders
Count Alexis deSakhnoffsky, Hayes Manufacturing Corp., 1939-1955; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Hayes Products Co., 1929-1955; Victor Body Corp., 1928-1929; Hayes Industries, 1929-1955; Lansing, Michigan; General Body Corp., 1937-1961; Detroit, Michigan

Hector Jay Hayes was born in 1869 to Nathan B. and Mary A. (Olmstead) Hayes, on the family’s North Plains farm which was located in Ionia County, Michigan. His dad owned a lumber mill and was also involved in a number of local business including the Hayes-Spaulding Hardware Store in Ionia and the Hayes-Olmstead Bank in Muir. Hector attended both the Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing and Cleary Business College in Ypsilanti, Michigan and worked for his father in the family’s lumber business.

Hector disliked his Christian name, preferring the more businesslike H. Jay Hayes. When cycling fever swept through the country after the introduction of the safety bicycle, H. Jay went to work for the Clipper Bicycle Co. becoming the firm’s Cleveland, Ohio representative. It was in this position that he became acquainted with Henry F. Eastman, a Cleveland inventor and early automobilist.

The pair built a three-wheeled electric motor car in 1897-98, that had a body made entirely of metal. Hayes and Eastman patented the design and formed the Eastman Automobile Company in 1898. The battery used in Eastman Electro-Cycle was a prototype made by Cleveland’s Willard Storage Battery Co., and enabled the vehicle to travel about twelve miles per charge.

Hayes later recalled: “We spent several weeks in Detroit, Michigan, during our organization period and visited the Edison Electric Company on Willis Avenue, to have the battery recharged, and Henry Ford was employed there and would connect the wires onto the battery in the automobile and we would visit while the battery was being charged. He later told me he was working on his first automobile in the basement of the Edison Company during the time we were in Detroit.” Ford and Hayes became friends, and various Hayes firms supplied fenders for Ford’s Model T during the teens and twenties.

However, the electric storage battery technology was in its infancy and had yet become practical so a steam power plant was substituted on the production vehicle, which had now grown an additional wheel and two springs to better support the heavier steam apparatus.

The firm was incorporated in West Virginia, and the manufacture of the Eastman Steamer commenced in 1900 with H. Jay Hayes as manager. According to the Motor Age its steel body was "made of sheet steel backed by an asbestos covering which retains the heat and muffles any possible noise, making a practically indestructible body which will not crack or warp and which admits of a high finish that can be baked on the same as in finishing bicycles, making it also possible to re-enamel in new colors in a few hours, while in ordinary carriage painting a number of days are necessary to secure a good finish".

In 1900, Hayes drove an Eastman Steamer from Detroit to Grand Rapids, a 5-day trip of 105 miles, becoming the first person to drive an automobile across the state of Michigan. He exhibited the car at the 1900 Chicago Automobile Show where their all-metal body was the center of interest. Hayes experience in the bicycle industry taught him that interest equaled sales, so in May of 1901 he convinced Eastman to sell the firm to Cleveland resident A.M. Benson, who reorganized it as the Benson Automobile Co. Benson opened a new Cleveland factory and built approximately a dozen Bensons – all equipped with Eastman metal bodies – before it closed later in the year.

Things went much better for Eastman and Hayes who reorganized as the Eastman Metallic Body Co. and became the nation’s first all-metal automobile body builders. However, it wasn’t long for this world and went bankrupt in 1902.

Hayes realized that Detroit was becoming the center of the nation’s auto industry, and on speculation built an all-metal replica of the curved-dash Oldsmobile to show to Ransom E. Olds. Olds liked what he saw, but didn’t feel that the a metal body was necessary, however he admired the effort put forth by Hayes and offered him a contract to build metal fenders for the car.

Based on the order, capital was obtained from a Detroit resident named Mr. Wilson, and in 1903 the Wilson-Hayes Mfg. Co. leased a downtown Detroit factory at 750 Bellevue Ave to fulfill the contract with Oldsmobile. A display ad in a 1916 issue of Motor Age indicates that the firm was still in business at that address, and still producing automobile bodies and sub assemblies.

It was at this point that the business affairs of H. Jay Hayes became complicated. Apparently whenever an existing plant could no longer keep up with demand, rather than add an additional factory to the existing concern, he would just start another company, all of which were conveniently located adjacent to the automobile manufacturers they supplied.  This would happen time and time again over the next 15 years, and Hayes name would appear both on the board of directors and in the title of at least 12 separate companies. As to why he did this, or how he kept track of all of his holdings, that remains a mystery.

In 1904 Hayes started another firm called the Hayes Manufacturing Co. Hayes Mfg. Co. was a pioneer in stamped sheet-metal fenders, and would eventually go on to produce hoods, cowls, tool boxes and complete bodies in two separate metro-Detroit factories. Hayes is sometimes credited with the introduction of the crowned fender to the United States, which first appeared on some Hayes-built Ford Model T fenders in the mid-teens, however the design originated in Europe much earlier, most likely in Brussels, Belgium just after the turn of the century.

Unbeknownst to many, the Ford Motor Company relied upon outside suppliers for most of its coachwork during its first quarter century. It’s hard to determine who made Ford’s first automobile bodies but soon after the Model T was introduced the names of various Michigan-based sheet-metal, millwork and body-building firms begin to appear on Ford’s supplier list.

Initially most of the Model T’s bodies were supplied by Ford's existing auto body suppliers C.R. Wilson (1903) and Everitt Brothers (1908). O.J. Beaudette (1910), Kelsey-Herbert Co. (1910), American Body Co. (1911), Hayes Mfg. Co.(1911) Milburn Wagon Co. (1911), Fisher Body Co.(1912), and the Kahler Co. (1915). Wm. Gray & Sons supplied Henry Ford’s Windsor assembly plant with automobile bodies from 1906-1912. Regardless of their origin, all of the Model T’s bodies were interchangeable; however the individual parts in a body would not necessarily fit a similar-looking body if it was made by a different manufacturer.

Apparently things were going well for Mr. Hayes as another Hayes-controlled firm, the Hayes-Ionia Co., was formed in 1909 in Hayes’ hometown of Ionia, Michigan to produce automobile bodies and sheet-metal parts and sub-assemblies.

In 1915 Hayes presented a talk to the annual conference of the Society of Automobile Engineers detailing his experiments with the unitized body. Following a hum-drum history of the automobile body up until that time, Hayes asked his audience: "What do you think about the moot theory of combining the body and frame into one unit?"

After a short silence, Hayes presented a 15-minute dissertation on the virtues of unitized body construction explaining that by making a car smaller and lighter, it was possible to overcome the two main disadvantages of combined body and frame construction: excessive cost and body vibration.

Hayes then stunned the attendees by announcing that the following week, he would commence the manufacture of a new Vehicle called the Ruler Frameless which would feature a unitized body and chassis.

The low-slung Ruler actually appeared at the end of 1916, and was built by the Ruler Motor Car Co. of Aurora, Illinois. The 1917 model year touring and roadster were priced at a very affordable $595 and included a semi-monocoque construction.

The Ruler used a tubular triangular platform which housed the clutch, transmission and differential. This was connected to the body via a single ball-and-socket joint located at the center of the front cross-member and two points located above the rear springs. By disconnecting the ball at the front and the springs at the rear, either the body or the chassis could be removed in a matter of minutes.

Plans called for 3,000 examples, but unfortunately, the Ruler Motor Car Co, of Aurora, Illinois was out of business by the end of 1917 after producing only a handful of the unique automobiles.

However, Hayes other activities were going well as the Hayes-Ionia Co., formed in 1909, received a large contract from Chevrolet in 1917 and built a second plant 40 miles to the west, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

During the mid-twenties, the two Hayes-Ionia plants employed 3,000 producing over 120,000 bodies per year with a value of $30 million. The Ionia, Michigan plant covered eleven acres, with three hundred and fifty thousand square feet of floor space, while the Grand Rapids factory included over five hundred thousand square feet of manufacturing capacity. By the mid-twenties, their customers included Chevrolet, GEM, Maxwell, Oldsmobile, Paige, Reo, and Willys-Overland. A 350,000 sq. ft. Indianapolis, Indiana Hayes-Ionia plant was also established in the mid-twenties to supply Marmon with closed bodies.

Another Hayes organization appeared in November 1922, this time in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Hayes-Hunt Corp. purchased a 500,000 sq. ft. plant to supply the Elizabeth, New Jersey and Long Island City, New York Durant Motor Co. factories with closed bodies. Hayes-Hunt built over 400 bodies per day for the various Durant marques which included the Durant, Star and Flint automobiles. Hayes-Hunt is also listed as production body builders for Marmon, Reo and Graham.

H. Jay Hayes was president of the firm and even established an office in nearby New York City to oversee his small body-building empire. In a surprising move, the faltering Durant Motors purchased the entire Hayes-Hunt operations outright on May 24, 1928.

On July 22, 1924, the directors of the Hayes Manufacturing Co. voted to dissolve the Detroit-based company because of a falling off of the sheet metal business.

Hayes-Ionia was reorganized as the Hayes Body Corporation on September 15, 1927, and two months later H. Jay Hayes retired as president. However, he did not retire from forming new businesses as a couple of months later he purchased the former Auto Body Co. plant in Lansing, Michigan organizing the Lansing Manufacturing Corp. to operate it. In April 1928, Lansing Manufacturing Corp. was reorganized as the Victor Body Corp., and by June was re-tooling to furnish commercial bodies for Reo. Hayes also hoped to provide bodies for Durant who had a large assembly plant in Lansing on Verlinden Ave.

Yet another firm, called the Hayes Products Co. was established by H. Jay Hayes to supply wood-grained window trim, dashboards and other trim to the auto industry. Records indicate that the firm was also involved in manufacturing early automobile radio sets, which were often integrated into the dashboard. In April 1929, Hayes announced that another company, Hayes-Industries Inc., was being formed to combine the activities of the Victor Body and Hayes Products Co.

In 1929 Hayes - the man - retired to a luxury apartment located in the brand new One Fifth Ave. apartment building in New York City where he lived with his wife, the former Florence N. Frayne and daughter, Esther Frayne Hayes. His daughter was an accomplished travel writer, whose book “At Home In China” gave a lively account of her experiences living in China as a visiting professor at Tsing Hua College in Peking.

Now 60 years old, Hayes stayed busy as well attending board meetings and attending to his many social obligations which included membership in the Michigan and the National Manufacturing associations, the Westchester-Biltmore Club of New York, the Detroit Club, the Detroit Athletic and Golf clubs, the Kent Country Club of Grand Rapids, and the Ionia Country Club.

A number of talented body designers and engineers worked for Hayes, the most famous being Count Alexis deSakhnoffsky. Following a short stint at Vanden Plas in Belgium, deSakhnoffsky emigrated to the United States and was hired by Hayes as their art director in 1929. For his personal Cord L-29, he designed a striking coupe that won him the Gran Prix at Monaco’s 1929 Concours d'Elegance and the Grand Prix d'Hommeur at the 1929 Beaulieu Concours. The gorgeous aluminum coachwork was built by Hayes, who at the time were also building series-built custom bodies for the Chrysler Model 75 dual cowl phaeton.

In 1930 Hayes signed a three-­year contract to build bodies for the American Austin/Bantam that were designed by deSakhnoffsky, and later made a deal to supply bodies for the 1931-32 DeVaux. Although DeVaux advertisements stated that deSakhnoffsky had designed the cars coachwork, in reality the bodies he designed weren’t actually used. Instead, leftover Hayes-built Durant bodies were supplied to DeVaux with deSakhnoffsky-designed fenders, hood and grill to update them. By the time the DeVaux appeared, deSakhnoffsky had been hired away by Packard’s Edward Macauley, and was in no position to complain.

In fact the DeVaux was built in a leased portion of Hayes huge Grand Rapids plant, and the bodies were transported across a second floor bridge that ran over the street that separated the two buildings. DeVaux’s successor, Continental, continued to utilize various leftover Hayes-built bodies.

In the early Depression era, many manufacturers shared bodies to help reduce. The Peerless Custom Eight and Marmon Big Eight shared the same Hayes-built body between 1930 and 1932, and the 1932 Marmon 8-125, 1932-34 Reo Flying Cloud 6S and 1933-34 Franklin Olympic shared a different Hayes design. Automobile customers rarely compared the actual bodies, and addressed their attention to a vehicle’s front end, which could be easily disguised using a different grill or front fenders. General Motors started doing it at the same time, and the practice continues today.        

Another talented Hayes employee was A.L. (Augie) Nelson, their vice-president of engineering. He was an expert at designing complex deep-draw metal stampings and was eventually hired away by General Motors, where he designed Fisher Body Co.’s turret top.

During the early thirties, Hayes built bodies for Checker, Chrysler, Continental, DeVaux, Franklin, Graham, Hupp, Marmon, Packard, Peerless, REO, and Willys. However, as the decade went on many of their customers succumbed to the long-term effects of the Depression. The Marmon Motor Car Company went into receivership in 1933 and Hayes’ Indianapolis plant followed soon after, and their Ionia, Michigan plant was in not much better shape. The only Hayes plant with any business to speak of was in Grand Rapids, and even that facility was running far below capacity. In order to keep their remaining 1,000 employees busy, they produced sheet-metal sub-assemblies for General Motors and refrigerators and coolers for Coca-Cola, Kelvinator and Norge.

Although he was no longer directly involved in his many enterprises, H. Jay Hayes was always on the lookout for new opportunities and in 1937 organized the General Body Corp., of Detroit, who manufactured Steam-Lite brand travel trailers in the years before the War.

In 1938, Huppmobile’s general manager Norman DeVaux bought what remained of the Cord 810/812’s body dies and sheet-metal stampings and repackaged it as the Hupmobile Skylark using a Hupmobile Senior Six chassis. John Tjaarda restyled the coffin-nosed automobile and four prototypes were built to show off at the upcoming fall automobile shows. The program was approved and in early 1939, the old Cord dies were brought to Hayes’ Grand Rapids plant where they stamped out a trial run of thirty Skylark sedans. The cars were assembled at Hupmobile’s Detroit factory as was a single Skylark Corsair Convertible.

Due to their precarious financial situation, Hupmobile was unable to build any more Skylarks, however DeVaux made a deal with Graham-Paige offering them the dies providing they built them some Skylarks in return. Graham-Paige went for the deal, and in 1940 built 350 Skylark sedans for Hupmobile and 1450 Graham Hollywoods for themselves. Once again, the sheet-metal was produced at Hayes’ Grand Rapids plant using the original Cord stampings which by the end of the run were no longer usable. Unfortunately, neither firm made any money out of their short-term partnership and were both out of the automobile business within the year.

In 1939 Hayes supplied Chrysler with a special turret-top coupe with a split rear window, whose side window and door treatments forecast the look of the 1950s hardtop coupes. 1,000 Town Coupe bodies were built for Chrysler; 264 for DeSoto, 134 for Chrysler and 602 for Dodge. The design was not carried over into 1940. 

The Hayes Body Corp. was reorganized as the Hayes Manufacturing Corp., on December 26, 1939. They still produced a few automotive bodies, however most of their work centered around producing stampings and sub-assemblies for regional manufacturers who included General Motors, Pontiac, Buick, Chrysler, Bantam, Checker, Willys-Overland. They also provided stampings to their former arch-rivals Briggs Mfg. and Fisher Body, however at this point Hayes was no longer considered to be “the competition”.

Now fully retired, H. Jay Hayes moved to Long Island where he spent the rest of his days with his wife and daughter in his Forest Hills, New York estate.

During the war, Hayes Mfg. Corp. produced numerous stamped steel and aluminum items for the US Navy, as well as thousands of Jeep bodies for the Army. Following the war they produced refrigerator cabinets and truck cabs for a number of smaller truck manufacturers.

In 1949 Raymond H. Dietrich leased a portion of Hayes’ Grand Rapids plant where he opened up a small design and fabrication firm called Raymond Dietrich Inc.

A number of limousines and show cars were built there for Packard, Ford, Checker and Lincoln, including a Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousine for President Harry S Truman. The 4-door convertible had a 145” wheelbase, and weighed just over 6,000 lbs. Powered by a 337 cu in Lincoln V8, the 20 feet long car included retractable steps under the rear fenders, red flashers, a rear-mounted spare, and flag holders on the front bumper. When President Eisenhower came into office, he requested that the car be fitted with a removable dome-shaped Plexiglas bubble-top, so he could wave to the crowds in rainy weather. It was nicknamed “Ike’s Bubble-Top”. JFK used this car during his Inaugural Parade in 1961, and the car was retired later that year and replaced by the famous 1961 Lincoln X-100 limousine. The Truman car remained on the East Coast where it served as a Ford Motor Company's VIP car for a number of years. In 1967 it joined the Lincoln “Sunshine Special” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan where it can be seen today. 

Raymond Dietrich Inc. also built 2 prototypes for a proposed 1951 Kaiser Convertible and consulted with a group headed by Joseph Frazer (ex-Kaiser-Frazer) and John Roosevelt - the son of FDR - that planned to make an electric automobile based on the design of two French engineers. 

Due to unforeseen problems with the UAW in regards to an untenable UAW craftsmen/apprentice ratio and a general lack of work, Dietrich closed the Grand Rapids shop in 1953 and returned to consulting for Checker, where he had been working since before WWII. 

By the mid-fifties nearly 100% of Hayes output was refrigerator cases and on October 18, 1955, the firm was reorganized as the United Industrial Corporation which was absorbed by Topp Industries Corp. on December 31, 1959.  Topp Industries Corp. was a California-based firm active in the defense and aerospace industry, unrelated to the modern Rochester, Indiana firm that specialized in Fiberglass holding tanks. Topp Industries was only interested in obtaining a small subsidiary of Hayes and sold the firm’s Grand Rapids facilities to American Seating Inc. Today, American Seating employs over 900, and remains one of the nation’s largest producers of stadium and urban transportation seating systems.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -







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