Kissel Motor Car Co. - 1906-1942 - Hartford, Wisconsin & National-Kissel - 1928-1929 - Boston, Massachusetts

    Louis Kissel and his two sons, George and William, were engaged in the manufacture of agricultural equipment and stationary gasoline engines in Hartford, Wisconsin. In June of 1906 the entered into the production of automobiles by forming the Kissel Motor Car Company. Cars built by the Kissel family emphasized old world craftsmanship and attained international renown for their advanced design and outstanding performance, which helped the company to prosper. The Kissel Kar Company was part of a group of industries in Hartford owned by the Kissels which included the Hartford Plow Company, the Kissel Manufacturing Company, and the Hartford Electric Company.

Kissel entered the professional car field in 1916 using their famous worm-drive 32hp 126" wheelbase chassis. They offered a small range of models which included a conservative-styled hearse and a simple delivery-van-styled ambulance. In addition to the cargo trucks slated for Allied and US Army use, Kissel Kar ambulances also served during WWI.

During World War I the Kissel firm went into the production of trucks for the Army, and during the later months of the war devoted itself almost entirely to the production of trucks. During the war the Kissel plant employed as many as 1400 workers. Following the Armistice, Kissel dropped the Germanic looking and sounding "Kar" form their name. Henceforth the Kissel Kar would be known and advertised as the Kissel Automobile.

For 1918 Kissel introduced a coach with wide beveled-glass windows surrounding the casket compartment. Although tastefully executed, it looked more like a miniature bus than a funeral car.

The long (142" wheelbase) and stylish 1925-1926 Kissel funeral coaches included nickel-plated disc wheels and optional leather-back landau styling with either a 61hp six-cylinder or a new Lycoming-based 71hp straight eight engine mounted on Kissel's patented rubber-cushioned long and low chassis.

Starting in 1927, Kissel professional car bodies were supplied by Illinois neighbor, Eureka Manufacturing Company. Kissel's were amongst the most striking coaches of the late 1920s, their innovative styling and long and low profile made them favorites among style-conscious funeral directors. They included detached cycle-type front fenders, stylish Gordon spare tire covers, and center-opening side doors that allowed easy access for caskets or gurneys. Their catalogs depicted some very sleek and attractive ambulances, service cars, funeral cars and combination coaches, all built using the same framing and Kissel's incredibly long and low chassis which was offered in two wheelbases, 142" and 162".

During 1928 and 1929 200 Kissel-built coaches were distributed through the National Casket Company of Boston, Massachusetts and called National-Kissels. Available with a choice of two straight-eights (either 126hp or 95hp) or a much less expensive 73hp six, all three engines were available as side-loading funeral coaches or ambulances. A special town car featuring an open driver's position was offered on the 126hp White-Eagle equipped chassis and included an incredibly long wheelbase of 162". Unfortunately, a dispute had developed between Kissel's body supplier, Eureka and the Henney Motor Company surrounding Eureka's 3-way casket table. As National wished to avoid being a party to any lawsuits threatened by Henney, they ended their distribution of the Eureka-bodied Kissel coaches, forcing Kissel into receivership during September 1930. Ironically, the National Casket Company now turned to REO for a new line of funeral vehicle chassis that were bodied by Eureka's arch-enemy Henney.

The last motor vehicles built at the Kissel plant were a small batch of 25 Ruxtons built in 1931. From then on Kissel production was focused on their successful marine engines built for Sears, Roebuck and Co. Upon the death of George Kissel in 1942 the company was sold to the West Bend Aluminum Company.

Kissel manufactured vehicles from 1906-1930, professional cars from 1916-1930.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -


KISSEL (US) 1908-1931

Kissel Motor Car Co., Hartford, Wis.

The first Kissel truck was mounted on a regular 4­cylinder shaft-drive passenger car chassis, but by 1910 the company was offering large trucks up to five tons capacity with chain drive on the bigger models. These used Wisconsin or Waukesha engines and carried names such as Heavy Duty, Dreadnought and Goliath. A patented differential lock to aid traction on soft surfaces was featured, as was a removable winter cab with all­enclosed plate glass windows. The 1912 range consisted of five models from 1500 lbs. to 5-tons.

During World War I Kissel engineers made important contributions to the design of the Class A and B trucks (see Liberty), and in 1918 the factory was turned over entirely to the manufacture of F.W.D. 4-wheel drive trucks. During the 1920s conventional trucks in the 1- to 5-ton range were made, using their own, Buda or Waukesha engines. In 1923 they introduced the 18­passenger "Coach Limited," a bus styled like the pass­enger car line, with double drop frame and 20-inch disc wheels. Wheelbase of this "stretched sedan" was 202 inches. This design led, in 1925, to the "Heavy Duty Safety Speed Truck" with the same low chassis and Kissel 6-cylinder engine of the bus. Ambulances and hearses became a major part of Kissel's production from 1926 onwards, on lengthened stock car chassis with Kissel 6-55 engines to 1928, and Lycoming WS after that. They were distributed by the National Casket Company, hence their name National-Kissel. Further attempts to bolster falling sales resulted in a deal with Bradfield Motors Inc. of Chicago to distribute taxicabs, trucks and buses. The former Yellow Cab officials who formed Bradfield colla­borated with Kissel in creating a handsome taxicab body.

These Bradfield or New Yorker cabs with Continental engines were offered even after Kissel's failure, assembled by Bradfield in space rented from the receiver well into 1931.


    For more information please read:

25 Year History of the Kissell - Antique Automobile Magazine - Vol. 25 No. 5 Sep-Oct 1961

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

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

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

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

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Thomas A. McPherson - Eureka: The Eureka Company: a complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Superior: The complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Flxible: The Complete History

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

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

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

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Automobile Manufacturers Worldwide Registry

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

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

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

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


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