In 1870, Anderson & Harris, a Dayton, Ohio farm implement manufacturer, established a satellite carriage and wagon works at Elmwood Place, a newly organized northern suburb of Cincinnati. The village was laid out in 1875 by Frank L. Whetstone and L. C. Hopkins and by 1880 had a population of 136, many of whom were employed by Anderson & Harris.
The Anderson & Harris Carriage Company was constructed adjacent to the tracks of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad (C.H. & D. R.R.) at the corner of Center Hill (now Township) and Elmwood Ave.’s.
The 1874 Cincinnati business directory listed the firm as Anderson & Harris Carriage Co – Elmwood Place, Cincinnati.
On July 28, 1888 their Cincinnati plant was destroyed by fire with a loss estimated at $50,000. $30,000 of the loss was covered by insurance. The plant was rebuilt, and was one of the first Elmwood Place businesses to be wired for telephone service. Although the firm’s products were largely unremarkable, the antics of its vice-president made national headlines in 1889.
The November 24, 1889 issue of the New York Times reported:
On December, 10, 1889, Kyle was formally charged with embezzlement after a thorough examination of Anderson & Harris’ books revealed he had taken over $50,000.
Between 1895 and 1896 Anderson & Harris manufactured a bicycle, which was marketed as the Fleetwood. On June 19, 1896 the firm was placed in the hands of P.G. March and a Cincinnati solicitor named Otto Pfleger. Its liabilities were listed at $80,000, assets $100,000.
The firm remained in business for a short time, but on June 16, 1897, the firm’s vice-president, Nicholas Curtis, petitioned the court for a receiver, stating that the firm was in arrears for taxes and that no dividends had been paid out in seven years. The rest of the firm’s board opposed that move, electing to reorganize it as the Highland Buggy Company. Colonel A.E. Pound was listed as the firm’s president, and H.J. McCullough, secretary, treasurer.
Established with less than-stellar finances, the Highland Buggy Co. had a hard time convincing new investors of their solvency and on May 16, 1906 it was once again forced into bankruptcy, its liabilities totaling $90,000, its assets, $110,000.
With a skeleton staff of 50 hands, the firm’s receiver managed to keep it doors open and sometime during 1909, sold it to two brothers, named James and William Morrison, who reorganized it as the Highland Body Manufacturing Company.
The Morrisons were the children of Cincinnati natives Thomas and Olivia Proctor Morrison. William was born in 1872, and James in 1876. The brothers were members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and held degrees from Cornell University in mechanical engineering. Consequently, the pair were well-suited to the task of turning an old-school buggy maker into a modern motor vehicle body manufacturer.
The reorganization of the firm was announced in the leading automobile trades, with their stated product line being “Highland Bodies for Motor Trucks.” William Morrison served as the firm’s president in charge of sales, James Morrison, president, in charge of manufacturing.
From its inception, the firm was closely associated with commercial bodies for the Ford Model T. Although some very early Ford trucks were sold with commercial bodies, Ford discontinued the program in 1913. For over ten years Ford literally gave away their truck body business to independent builders such as Highland. However that all stopped in 1923 when declining sales and profits caused them to implement a new fully equipped Ford Truck sales program starting with the 1924 model year.
Sales were so brisk that in May of 1913 the Morrisons bought back most of Highland Body’s stock, reducing the firm’s liabilities from $50,000 to $5,000. At that time the firm advertised regularly in the automotive trades in addition to the Ford Owner, a magazine that was distributed to purchasers of the Ford Model T.
Exponentially increasing sales created a need for additional manufacturing capacity and during the mid-teens, the firm was recapitalized twice, the first time for $81,900, and again in 1917 for $150,000.
Two of the firm’s bodies were selected for inclusion in Kingston Forbes' landmark; "Principles of Automobile Body Design".
Highland established large factory branches in Detroit and Chicago and by the early twenties was one of the countries largest commercial body builders. During the late teens, their Cincinnati neighbor, Trailmobile, utilized the talents of the Morrison brothers engineering skills as a large number of their patents dating from that time were assigned to the trailer manufacturer. The first were a semi-trailer and 5th wheel designed by James Morrison in 1919.
Dean E. Baskerville, a well-known Detroit body engineer, got his early training at Highland under the tutelage of the Morrisons. He eventually became chief body engineer at Maxwell after short stints with Dodge Brothers, Packard, Motor Car Supply Co. and Troy Mfg. Co.
In 1921 a federal judge held the Field Body Corporation of Owosso, Michigan in contempt for violating an injunction against infringement of one of the Morrison brothers’ patents.
In 1922 they designed a “Combination Open and Closed Cab” that featured pocket doors that slid into the rear of the cab when not needed. The doors included windows that could be folded back into the back part of the cab during warm weather.
The firm was a frequent exhibitor at the annual New York and Chicago Good Roads Expositions which were sponsored by Good Roads magazine. Highland introduced their Coupe Cab at the 1927 New York show, one of the nation’s first true extended cabs. By that time all of Highland’s cabs were built with steel roofs that were built with insulated three-ply 18 gauge panels.
In 1928, William Richards, the former manager of the Corbitt Motor Truck Co. body plant, relocated to Cincinnati to become a Highland body engineer and designer. Two years later Highland introduced their first Sleeper Cab. Designed using a modified Coupe Cab it was initially offered for Ford, and White truck chassis.
Highland’s sales suffered during the early day so the Depression and in 1932 the Morrisons decided to sell a controlling interest in the firm to their much better financed Cincinnati neighbor, Trailmobile, with an exchange of stock.
Unfortunately William Morrison wouldn’t live to see the great success of his firm under Trailmobile ownership as he passed away on April 3, 1933, and as he was unmarried, his brother James inherited his Trailmobile stock.
The November 1st, 1932 Cincinnati Examiner reported on the purchase of a fleet of new Kroger tractor trailer trucks and illustrated how Trailmobile and Highland Body worked in tandem to increase each other’s sales.
In 1934 Highland Body hired Harvard graduate, A.H. Morse, as their new factory manager. Later that year, the firm entered the bus manufacturing business, introducing a vehicle designed for inter-city commercial passenger service.
The Trailmobile merger resulted in a combination of the firm’s engineering departments which were head by Highland’s chief engineer, James J. Black, who became Highland’s chief body engineer in 1932.
In 1935 John Weber began his long career at Highland Body/Trailmobile. Weber was later put in charge of the firm’s combined truck cab division, and when it was spun off in 1948, became Truck Cab Mfg.’s president.
The firm’s 1935 product mailers included a number of new products developed in association with Trailmobile such as new Stake & Rack Bodies, Livestock Trailers, Smooth Pane Trailers, and Refrigerator Bodies and Trailers.
In 1936 Highland Body sent out an eight-page mailer describing the winter sales benefits of their new line of Chevrolet-based sleeper cabs. Under Trailmobile, both firms enjoyed continued sales success and by 1937 the Trailer Company of America and its subsidiaries employed close to 1,400.
In 1941 Highland Body received a contract from the Railway Express Agency (REA) to build a fleet of Express Messenger bodies. Unfortunately it was the firm’s last large commission before it converted over to war work. Later that year they became one of 28 firms selected to manufacture the G518 1-Ton cargo trailer for the US Army.
The “Ben Hur” trailers (named after its most prolific producer, the Ben
Hur Mfg. Co.) were typically towed behind 2.5 ton trucks but during the war
could be found being towed behind 1 ton to 7.5 ton trucks and even some
Armored Vehicles. The G518 typically consisted of an 8’ x 4’ steel or wood
box mounted on a heavy-duty 1-ton single axle trailer. Most were covered
with a wood or metal frame and tarpaulin. Variations of the trailer were
used to haul fire pumps, mobile kitchens, generators, and other goods
Under Trailmobile’s 1943 consolidation the supplies, equipment and personnel of Highland were gradually transferred to Trailmobile’s 31st and Robertson facility in the northeast Cincinnati suburb of Oakley. On January 1, 1944 Highland’s employees were placed on the Trailmobile payroll, and the Elmwood Place commercial body builder faded into obscurity.
However, a Highland spin-off, the Truck Cab Manufacturing Co. - formed in 1948 by Highland’s truck cab engineer, John Weber - remains in business today producing cabs for fire trucks, crash vehicles, crane carriers, snow removal and construction equipment at their 2420 Anderson Ferry Rd. factory in Cincinnati, Ohio.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com