Alphabetical Index|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z


quicklinks|buses|cars|customs|designers|fire apparatus|limos|pro-cars|taxis|trailers|trucks|woodies

Wm. G. Hesse; William G. Hesse & Son Manufacturing Company
Wm. G Hesse, 1857-1892; William G. Hesse & Son. Mfg. Co., 1892-1930; Hesse Motor Car Co., 1908-1930; Leavenworth, Kansas
Associated Firms
Hesse Carriage Co., Kansas City, Missouri

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.

William George Hesse, the founder of the enterprise, was born on July 5, 1838 in Henningsleben, Saxony, Germany to Henry and Anna (Wartman) Hesse, both natives of Saxony, where William Hesse, our subject’s grandfather and namesake, settled during the Napoleon war, living there until his death in 1846. To the blessed union was born three children; Frederick Henry, William George, and Anna Sophia Hesse.

At first William’s grandfather followed the harnessmaker's trade, but afterward carried on a starch factory and brewery. His father Henry was a blacksmith by trade and built up a large trade in his hometown of Langensalza, Saxony, which was later taken over by his eldest son, Frederick Henry Hesse, a veteran of the Germany Army. Like his older brother, young William learned the trade of blacksmithing and wagon repair at his father’s side and in 1853 booked passage on a steamer heading from Bremen to the United States.

After a 42-day voyage he arrived at the Port of New York and during the next several years worked as a journeyman blacksmith in Manhattan, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and for two years in St. Louis, arriving in Leavenworth in 1857. Soon after (some sources say 1857 – some 1858) he established his first shop on Shawnee street between Third and Fourth streets, relocating to larger quarters at Seventh Street and Metropolitan Ave. in 1860.

Although the repair of wagons was his primary focus at the time during the next decade he introduced his own line of wagons, which soon developed a good reputation among the various freight companies that transported large goods overland from Kansas to new settlements located to the West. In 1871 his Seventh Street wagon works were destroyed by fire and he relocated to another facility located on Cherokee street, between Fourth and Fifth streets.

In 1878 he erected a new 3-story brick factory at 420-422 Cherokee street, and an 1883 history states the building had just been enlarged, its dimensions being 48 ft. x 112 ft. and its 35 skilled workmen were engaged in the manufacture of farm wagons, spring wagons, buggies, carriages, etc., with annual sales of $40,000, not including the firm’s decade-long specialization in general blacksmith and repair work.

In March of 1858 Hesse married Selina Stauber (b. May, 1838 in Zurich, Switzerland, emigrated with her parents to St. Louis.) and to the blessed union was born seven children - four of which survived infancy, those being Otto H. (b. Oct. 10, 1865-d. 1942); Louise (m. Dr. J.L. Everhardy); Sophia (m. Jas. Maguire); and Emilie (m. A.L. RuhI) Hesse.

After a public education in the Leavenworth schools, George’s only son Otto H., born October 10, 1865 became associated with his father in the family business, learning every branch of the business from a mechanical (drafting, blacksmithing, woodworking, painting and trimming) and business (accounting, sales, distribution) standpoint.

In 1880, Hesse began a more extended manufacture of light work, and in 1885 erected a large brick factory at 721-729 Pawnee street, between Seventh & Broadway.

On Oct. 12, 1887 Otto H. Hesse married Lena M. Besser, and to the blessed union was born a son, Carl William, (b. Nov. 25, 1899-d. Jan. 24, 1900) Hesse.

In 1892 Otto was made partner in the business, which was reorganized as William G. Hesse & Son Manufacturing Company, with W. G. Hesse as president and O. H. Hesse vice-president and secretary. During the next decade Otto helped double the business of the firm and an 1899 history states the firm operated two 4-story buildings, 60’ x 60’ and 60’ x 80’ respectively, and a 56’ x 125’ lumber yard. The 3-story 418-422 Cherokee street repository and hardware store encompassed a floor plan of 48 ‘x 125’, and a separate top factory was located at in the same block at 408-410 Cherokee St.

In July of 1899 Alexander Pieper was admitted as a member of the firm and the Pawnee Street plant was enlarged, creating seventy-seven thousand and two hundred square feet of floor space.

Upon his father’s retirement in 1900, Otto H. Hess took over a president. In 1903 the firm erected a large warehouse and lumber yard, the entire complex now occupying fifteen lots on Pawnee and Dakota streets.

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:

“Hesse Carriage Co., 1704-06 Grand Av. O.H. Hesse, pres.; Jos Falk, v-pres.; W.K. Miller, sec.; E.F. Haas, treas.”

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:

“KANSAS CITY - The Grand Avenue Carriage Co. of Kansas City, capital stock $6,000. Incorporated by J.L. Mayers; S.J. Jarvis and F. Jarvis.”

The firm dated from 1900, and is listed in the 1901 Kansas City Directory as follows:

“Grand Avenue Carriage Co., The - 1704 Grand Ave., J.I. Mayes, S.J. Jarvis.”

Its 1902-03 Kansas City Directory listing being:

“Grand Avenue Carriage Co., The - 1704 Grand Ave., Frank Jarvis, president & treas.; S.J. Jarvis, sec.”

Although the Hesse Carriage Co., shared officers, directors and stockholders with the William G. Hesse & Son Mfg. Co., it was a separate firm and corporately unrelated. Its history can be found on the Hesse Carriage Co. page which is located HERE.

Otto H. Hesse 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. A short description of Otto’s patents, which are pictured at the right, follows:

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.

(*The term refers to US Patent Nos. 184250 and 204589 - "Improvement in spring vehicle" and "Improvement in vehicle spring and axle" - issued on Nov. 14, 1876 and June 4, 1878, respectively, to Samuel W. Ludlow, of Cincinnati, Ohio)

William G. Hesse died December 10, 1907, and his wife Selina on October 13, 1909.

In 1909 Otto H. Hesse erected a two-story and basement, mill constructed, brick building at 408-410 Cherokee street, and equipped it with modern, up-to-date machinery for the sales and servicing of automobiles, both gasoline and electric. In 1910 he erected a 3-story brick structure, at 418-422 Cherokee street in order to build auto and buggy tops, and repair and paint all kinds of vehicles. The combined Cherokee street properties used in the vehicle business had a frontage of 125 feet with a total of 162,070 square feet of capacity for the sales, storage and repair of motor vehicles.

During the ramp up to the First World War, William G. Hesse & Son Mfg. Co. constructed a number of motor ambulances and ambulance trailers for the US Army, as noted in the Army Appropriation Bill, pub. 1918 (pp1071):


“Motor ambulances, trailer ambulances, und spare-parts cars for the same have been purchased by the Medical Department during the fiscal years 1916 and 1917 as follows:

“From William G. Hesse & Son Manufacturing Co., of Leavenworth, Kans., by contract of October 19, 1915, one Ford chassis, with special alterations and accessories, equipped with body for field-ambulance service and for traction, and one trailer car equipped as an ambulance; lump-sum cost of the two vehicles combined. $1,170.20.

“From William G. Hesse & Son, above, by contract of March 10, 1916, five Ford chassis, equipped with bodies for field-ambulance service and for traction, and five trailer cars for the same equipped as ambulances, at lump sum for each of the combined vehicles of $1,094.46.”

Hesse was best known for its sturdy 4-wheel, 2-wheel and semi-trailer and in 1917 introduced their first purpose-built camping trailer, the June 10, 1917 issue of The Automobile Journal rerporting:

“The Hesse Camping Trailer is manufactured by the Wm. G. Hesse & Son Manufacturing Company of Leavenworth, Kan. This trailer is equipped with a water proof top, which may be opened so as to form two sleeping rooms, separated from the body of the trailers car which forms the kitchenette. The sleeping rooms are each provided with three windows with duck curtains, which are drawn up and down by cord on the inside. A heavy enamel duck cover conceals the entire top of the trailer when traveling, making it rain and dust proof.

“As a general rule nearly all of the manufacturers of camp trailers either make or market a full line of camping material and accessories, which may be obtained either with the general equipment or separately at an additional cost. Individual requirements and preferences, however, sometimes required that special accessories be purchased.”

The entire Hesse line-up was highlighted in an article published in the October 1, 1917 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal:

“The Hesse Line of Trailers

“The William G Hesse & Son Mfg. Co., Leavenworth, Kansas, is producing three types of trailers, the 4-wheel, 2-wheel and semi-trailer. The Hesse trailer is of the improved style of chassis construction and is built on the patented Hesse Ludlow spring suspension with a 4 wheel steering device and a shock absorbing draw bar connection for attaching the trailer to a truck. The springs are attached to the axle by a shackle and hanger, which oscillates when the load is applied and when running over uneven ground. This also adds to the life of the wheels, tires and, in fact, the entire trailer. With this construction the weight is carried at the collar or the strongest point of the axle. The patented steering device, which is used on the 4-wheel models, makes it imperative that the four wheels of the trailer follow the tracks of the rear wheels of the truck perfectly at all times. The light models, 2 and 4-wheel types, are suitable for any kind of business requiring the hauling of merchandise. They can be operated in connection with a truck or pleasure car.

The heavy models, Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9, are built with chassis only, but can be furnished with any style of body. These models are being used with stake bodies, wing bodies, dump bodies, etc., for hauling all kinds of merchandise. Hesse trailers are constructed of high grade materials. The axles, springs, shackles, hangers, frame and forgings are of high quality steel. Bower roller bearings are used as are artillery type wheels and a standard make of rubber tires.

Specifications of the heavy duty trailer, No. 9, which is illustrated:

Capacity—2000 lb.
Axles-—Rectangular section, special heat-treated.
Bearings-—Bower roller.
Wheels—Artillery type, 1 9/16 in. spoke.
Tires—30 x 2 1/2 in. solid rubber.
Chassis--3-in. channel, gusseted and riveted; length, 8 ft.; width, 42 in.; 9 cross sections; height to top of frame, 32 in.
Springs—1 3/4 in., special Hesse Ludlow, oil tempered and heat-treated.
Track—56 in.
Weight-—Estimated 875 lb.
Coupling—Hesse patented shock absorbing, quick coupling.
Pole——Pole and doubletrees can be furnished for horse hitch when desired.”

Display advertisements were offered to the firm's dealer network - the text from a representative ad that appeared in the May 31, 1919 issue of the Deseret Evening News (Utah) follows:

“Hesse Trailers Are Times Savers and Money Makers

“At last here is a thoroughly practical trailer – one that will save you from 30 to 60 per cent of your delivery or haulage costs and will operate perfectly under the most trying conditions.

“The Hesse Trailer can be operated in connection with truck or pleasure car. It will practically double your hauling capacity with little additional cost of operation.

“Designed with a patented steering device which makes all the wheels of the trailer follow the tracks of the rear wheels of the truck under every condition – on the sharpest curve or the roughest road.

“Designed in models for every use with capacities ranging from 800 pounds to 5 tons. The smallest auto can handle a trailer with 800 pounds’ capacity, over almost any kind of a road.

“Can be furnished with or, with-out body. Scores of body types already designed. Special ypes bodies can be designed for individual need.

“Hesse Trailers are constructed of very best materials. The axles, springs, shackles, hangers, frame and forgings are of the highest quality steel. Only best grade of artillery type wheels and standard rubber tires used. The lumber – hickory, oak and ash – is all air-seasoned, clear stock.

“A practical finished product – not an experiment – that’s what the name and the reputation of these famous pioneer trailers stand for.

“For country or city use they everywhere meet a long felt demand. While in town, come in and look these over.”

With trailer manufacturing being their main focus, the firm joined the Trailer Manufacturer's association, the July 2, 1919 issue of Good Roads reporting:

“More Companies Join Trailer Manufacturers Association

“During the past month three more manufacturers of trailers have joined the Trailer Manufacturers Association which, as noted in previous issues of "Good Roads," was organized last March and opened headquarters in New York City on May 1. The new companies are the Southern Motor Manufacturing Association, of Houston, Texas; the William G. Hesse & Son Manufacturing Company of Leavenworth, Kan.”

Otto H. Hesse patented a unique 2-point adjustable trailer hitch and receiver in the early 1920s that allowed for a quick and easy method of attaching two-wheel trailers to a farm tractor or semi-truck cab.

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.

408-410 Cherokee became home to the Electric Vulcanizing Co.; 418-422 Cherokee became home to Henry F. Ming, another tire dealer and the factory at 721-729 Pawnee st. remained unoccupied until after the Second World War wheh it was razed to make way for housing for returning veterans.

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 Hesse Carriage Co. in Kansas City passed to the Falk family. A complete history of the Kansas City, Missouri firm can be found HERE.

A chronology of Hesse’s Leavenworth operations follows:

Wm. G. Hesse (blacksmith and wagon repair), Shawnee st., btw. Third & Fourth sts; 1857-1863; Wm. G. Hesse (blacksmith and wagon repair), cor. of Seventh & Sioux sts., 1863-1871; Wm. G. Hesse (wagon mfg.), 1871-1883 Cherokee, between Fourth and Fifth streets; 1878-1892, Wm. G. Hesse (wagon & carriage mfg.), factory 721-729 Pawnee st.; William G. Hesse & Son Manufacturing Company (wagons, carriages, trailers, auto bodies), factory 721-729 Pawnee st. (razed in 1950s), 1892-1932; Repository & Hardware store, 418-422 Cherokee St. (still standing), 1909-1928; Top Factory, and later Hess Motor Car Co., 408-410 Cherokee St. (now parking lot), 1907-1932; Leavenworth, Kansas.

(An unrelated firm founded by H.D. Hesse (b.1829 in Germany) - later Hesse & Garrett - manufactured waggons in Burlington, Iowa in the 1850s and 1860s. A third Hesse Carriage Co., founded by John Hesse, manufactured carriages in Dubuque, Iowa in the 1860s.)

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







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

Chapman Publishing Co. - Portrait and Biographical Record of Leavenworth, Douglas and Franklin Counties, Kansas; pub. 1899 

William G. Cutler - History of the State of Kansas, pub. 1883

Frank W. Blackmar - Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, Vol. 3, part 2; pub. 1912

Submit Pictures or Information

Original sources of information are given when available. Additional pictures, information and corrections are most welcome.

Click Here to submit pictures or information


quicklinks|buses|cars|customs|designers|fire apparatus|limos|pro-cars|taxis|trailers|trucks|woodies

© 2004-2014, Inc.|books|disclaimer|index|privacy