The Hesse Group, a beverage truck body and trailer builder headquartered in St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, Canada can proudly boast that they are North America’s longest-lived coachbuilder. They are direct descendants of a firm originally founded by William G. Hesse (b. July 5, 1838-d. Dec. 10, 1907), a German blacksmith and wagon builder who established his first shop in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1857. During the next century and a half, Hesse and its successors manufactured horse-drawn vehicles and coachwork first in Leavenworth, Kansas and in later years, Kansas City, Missouri. The firm that survives today was a Canadian partnership, Parco-Hesse that dates to 1983. Now controlled by the Cambli Group, the Hesse facility in St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, Canada manufactures a complete line of beverage bodies and trailers, whose manufacture commenced in its Kansas City, Missouri plant, approximately one century ago.
In 1903 Otto H. Hesse, Joseph Falk (foreman of the painting department of the William G. Hesse & Son Mfg. Co.), William K. Miller (Kansas City carpenter), and Emil F. Haas (Kansas City blacksmith and wagon maker) formed the Hesse Carriage Co., acquiring the assets and property of the bankrupt Grand Avenue Carriage Co., 1704-06 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri. It first appeared in the Kansas City Directory in 1904 as follows:
The Grand Avenue Carriage Co. was a recent incorporation, having been announced to the trade in the January 1902 issue of the Hub as follows:
The firm was organized in 1900, and is listed in the 1901 Kansas City Directory as follows:
Its 1902-03 Kansas City Directory listing being:
Although the Hesse Carriage Co., shared officers, directors and stockholders with the William G. Hesse & Son Mfg. Co., the two firms were corporately unrelated.
Otto was awarded 5 US patents during his lifetime, the first being short-turning vehicle gear, which was found on the short tongue ‘Hesse Patent’ short tongue Ludlow spring wagon which could turn around in a six-foot circle.
The patriarch of Leavenworth's Falk family was Joseph Falk (born 1830 - died April 30, 1895, aged 65 in Leavenworth) a shoemaker who emmigrated from his hometown of Baden-Württemberg, Germany in 1860. The 1870 US Census lists the family in Leavenworth as follows:
The 1895 Leavenworth directory reveals that his two youngest sons worked for the city's two largest carriages makers, W.G. Hesse and Bayer Bros:
Joseph M. Falk's listing in the 1900 US Census follows:
The 1900-1903 Leavenworth directories reveal that Joseph was now working alongside his younger brother Walter at the Hesse works:
By the end of 1903 the business of the recently-organized Hesse Carriage Co. had increased to the point where expansion made sense, and the partners purchased a 105’ x 124’ plot located at the corner of Oak and Seventeenth streets, upon which they erected a four-story, mill constructed, brick building. When the new factory was completed in 1904, their old 1704-1706 Grand Ave. building became the home of the Mellinger Tire & Rubber Co.
The 1910 US Census reveals another addition to the Falk family:
Like many early automobile body builders the firm had an entire floor
(the 4th) devoted to the storage of winter bodies and summer bodies
although the introduction of the all-weather top in the mid-teens soon
made the practice obsolete. Hesse
Carriage also offered custom-built tops and seat-covers but like most
metropolitan vehicle builders, constructing commercial vehicle bodies
eventually became the firm's main line of work, although an occasional
custom body was produced for one of Kansas City's numerous
Although it never became a major part of their business, Hesse Carriage Co. built a small number of buses during the teens and twenties as evidenced by a February, 18th 1915 article in the Kansas City Star:
Further details of the firm's motor coach work was included in the following article published in the March 4th, 1915 issue of the Kansas City Star:
some very early Ford trucks were sold with commercial bodies, Ford
discontinued the program in 1913. For the next ten years Ford literally
gave away their truck body business to independent builders such as
Hesse who offered a complete line for Ford's Model T and TT chassis.
In 1915 the firm constructed a satellite facility located down the street at 1730-1732 Oak Street, in order to handle their increasing commercial body business, theApril 12, 1915 issue of The Automobile reporting:
At the start of 1919, founding member William K. Miller sold his share in the firm to Joseph M. Falk, the January 26, 1919 eidition of the Kansas City Star announced his new business venture:
The production of aftermarket Model T bodies fell off dramatically in the years following the debut of a new 'fully equipped' Ford Motor Co. Truck sales program which commenced with the 1924 model year. Although Hesse Carriage offered a complete line of commercial bodies, a niche market developed for their beer and soft drink bodies and trailers which by the mid-thirties had become their most-popular line, with sales extending to all parts of the midwest.
The Depression marked a downturn in business and the firm survived through its service department which offered not only painting and body repair, but complete mechanical overhauls. They also consolidated their operations into their 1700 Oak Street facility, a classified ad in the April 15, 1930 issue of the Kansas City Star offereing to let their 1730 Oak St factory:
With no direct heirs to take over his Leavenworth-based business operations, Otto H. Hesse formally retired in 1930, at which time he sold all of his Leavenworth, Kansas properties. However he did retain a financial interest in the Hesse Carriage Co., which was corporately unrelated. The Hesse’s celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on October 10, 1937, and Otto passed away in 1942 at the age of 77. Upon his passing, control of the firm passed to the Falk family. (When Joseph M. Falk passed away in 1957, Joe M. Falk Jr. and Charles T. Falk became sole owners of the Hesse Corp. / Hesse Carriage Co.)
Classified ads in various issues of the Kansas City Star during 1939 indicate the firm was doing a big beverage body business at the time:
The July 28, 1939 issue of the Kansas City Star reveals that Hesse Carriage Co. had recently relocated across the street to 312-314 East Seventeenth street:
With no direct heirs to take over his business operations, Otto H. Hesse formally retired in 1930, at which time he sold all of his business properties in Leavenworth, although he retained his financial interest in the Hesse Carriage Co., in Kansas City, which was corporately unrelated. The Hesse’s celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on October 10, 1937, and Otto passed away in 1942 at the age of 77. Upon his passing, control of the firm passed to the Falk family. When Joseph M. Falk passed away in 1957, Joe Falk Jr. became sole owner of the Hesse Carriage Co.
When the United States started ramping up for the Second World War, Hesse Carriage was awarded a contract to supply the US Armed Forces with fire truck bodies to be used at U.S. Army and Navy air stations. The firm required more space for the government contracts, leasing additional manufactuing space at 1720 Cherry Street, Kansas City.
After the War the Falks incorporated as the Hesse Corporation, a holding company, of which the Hesse Carriage Co. became a subsidiary. They commenced plans for the construction of a massive factory to be located on a 10-acre plot located 5 miles northeast of downtown Kansas City.
In 1948 they won another governemnt contract to supply fire apparatus beds for the US
Air Force Class 530B Fire Engine, which was constructed using Reo-type
chassis and gasoline engines.
The 93 bodies constructed by Hesse were unsual due to the fact that the pumps and controls were housed in heated insulated cabinets that allowed the engine to be used at temperatures from 65 degrees below zero to 125 degrees above.
The bodies were amonst the first to be constructed in the firm's new 6700 St. Johns Ave. factory.
The 1954 Chevrolet Silver Book includes an ad for
Hesse stand-up-drive route delivery bodies as well as the firm's
popular beverage bodies which included the firm's 'disappearing panel
In the early 1960s the firm manufactured portable air compressors marketed as the 'Hesse Hornet' utilizing Kaiser Model CJ-3A 4-cylinder industrial engines with a modified head. The No. 1 & 4 fired cylinders were
the No. 2 & 3 cylinders were used to compress the air. It included a heavier fly wheel to make up for having
on just two cylinders. General Motors elected to display an all-aluminum Hesse beferage body at its 1964-65 World's Fair exhibit in NEw York City.
During the 1960s and early 1970s Hesse
Carriage Co. operated a satellite facility in Dover, New Jersey to
handle the firm's expanding Northeast operations.
In December 1972, the Falk family sold a controlling interest in the Hess Corporation to
bottling executive Ray A. Maher.
1983 Hesse established a Canadian partnership, Parco Hesse Corp. in
Quebec - aka Hess Canada and later established a Polish subsidiary,
Europe in Dobczyce, Poland.) In 1996 Hesse Corp.’s North American
were purchased by the Remcor Corp. becoming Hesse Group div. of Remcor.
Remcor shuttered the Hesse Group plant at 6700 St.
Johns Ave. Kansas City in the late 2000s, consolidating operations at the Hesse Group plant in Granby, Quebec, Canada.
In 2013, Cambli Group Inc., St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, Canada purchased the Hesse Group from Remcor and relocated its operations to St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, Canada. Cambli is the largest manufacturer of armored trucks in North America – Cambli Group manufactures them in Canada and Cambli International Corp. manufactures them in Lovelock, Nevada.
To see Group Hesse's current lineup of beverage, battery and propane transportation equipment see http://grouphesse.com/
In 2007, after standing vacant for over a decade, the former Hesse Carriage Co. factory, located at 17th (317 E. 17th Street) and Oak streets (1700 Oak St.) was converted into a 46-apartment unit (8 two-bedroom apartments and 38 one-bedroom units) and added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Mark Theobald for Coachbuilt.com
Appendix - Hesse Carriage Co. addresses:
Grand Avenue Carriage Co., 1704-06 Grand Ave., 18??-1898; Hesse Carriage Co., 1704-06 Grand Ave., 1898-1903; Hesse Carriage Co., Inc., Seventeenth & 1700 Oak sts., 1903-1939; 1732 Oak Street, 1917-1930; 312-314 East Seventeenth st., 704-706 Broadway, 1939-1946; 1720 Cherry St., 1946-1948; 6700 St. Johns Ave., Hesse Corporation, 1948-1996; (In 1983 Hesse established a Canadian partnership, Parco Hesse Corp. in Granby, Quebec - aka Hess Canada and later established a Polish subsidiary, Hesse Europe in Dobczyce, Poland.) In 1996 Hesse Corp.’s North American operations were purchased by the Remcor Corp. becoming Hesse Group div. of Remcor. In 2013, Cambli Group Inc., St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, Canada purchased the Hesse Group. Cambli is the largest manufacturer of armored trucks in North America – Cambli Group manufactures them in Canada and Cambli International Corp. manufactures them in Lovelock, Nevada.
Appendix 2 - Hesse Carriage Co. Patents:
US Pat No. 622623 - short-turning vehicle gear - Filed Jan 5, 1899 - Issued Apr 4, 1899 to Otto H. Hesse.
US Pat. No. 1212949 – trailer running gear - Filed Apr 21, 1916 - Issued Jan 16, 1917 to Otto H. Hesse.
US Pat. No. 1330805 – fifth-wheel and turning-bolster for trailers - Filed May 2, 1919 - Issued Feb 17, 1920 to Otto H. Hesse.
US Pat. No. 1577463 – tractor trailer - Filed Jun 12, 1923 – Issued Mar. 23, 1926 to Otto H. Hesse.
US Pat. No. 1598079 – land vehicle - Filed Jul 16, 1923 - Issued Aug 31, 1926 to Otto H. Hesse.
US Pat. No. D102182 - Design for a salesman’s display trailer - Filed Aug 24, 1936 - Issued Dec 1, 1936 to Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. 2227180 – Removable automobile seat cover - Filed Oct 22, 1938 - Issued Dec 31, 1940 to Charles T. Falk assignor to Washable Seat Cover Company, Kansas City,
US Pat. No. 2450589 - Top-stiffening tie bar for open-top trucks - Grant - Filed May 28, 1945 - Issued Oct 5, 1948 to Joseph M. Falk and Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. 2454438 – Holder and carrier for bottles - Filed Apr 30, 1945 - Issued Nov 23, 1948 to Joseph M. Falk and Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. 2495447 – Motor Truck Body - Grant - Filed Aug 3, 1946 - Issued Jan 24, 1950 to Joseph M. Falk and Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. 2939604 – Removable hinged covers for drums - Filed Nov 17, 1958 - Issued Jun 7, 1960 to Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. 3011652 - Adjustable mast and boom for hoists - Filed May 21, 1957 - Issued Dec 5, 1961 to Joseph M. Falk and Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. 3319062 - Disposable nested reflectors for lighting fixtures - Filed Jan 25, 1965 - Issued May 9, 1967 to Charles T. Falk
US Pat. No. D204247 - Beverage body for trucks - Filed Jan 28, 1965 - Issued Apr 5, 1966 to Eldon F. Miller assigned to Hesse Carriage Co.
US Pat. No. 3352594 – Truck body - Filed Nov 10, 1965 - Issued Nov 14, 1967 to Eldon F. Miller assigned to Hesse Carriage Co.
US Pat. No. D211323 – Handle for overhead door - Filed Apr 27, 1967 - Issued Jun 11, 1968 to Charles T. Falk