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James N. Leitch Co.
James N. Leitch Company, 1895-1913, Amesbury, Massachusetts
Associated Builders
Currier, Cameron & Company

In April of 1898, Currier, Cameron & Co. became the first Amesbury carriage builder to build an automotive body. The Stanley Motor Carriage Co. of Newton, Massachusetts, commissioned them to construct ten bodies for its new steam-operated automobile. As was their practice at the time, Currier & Cameron constructed the coachwork and subcontracted the painting and trimming to the Shields Carriage Co. 

The bodies built for Stanley were made completely of wood, utilizing thin-walled paneling affixed to a sturdy ash framework. The body was a single seat runabout with a steam engine and boiler installed horizontally underneath the bodywork that could easily accommodate a passenger sitting next to the driver.

Stanley was pleased with the firm’s work and Currier, Cameron & Co /Shields Carriage Co. 80 craftsmen produced fifteen runabouts per week through 1900. 

Currier, Cameron & Co.’s work did not go unnoticed, and in February of 1900, the Locomobile Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut gave them a contract to produce 20 bodies per week in three varying styles; a runabout, a Victoria and a roll-up. The Locomobile was also steam-powered and used an engine licensed from their competitor, The Stanley Motor Carriage Co. of Newton, Massachusetts. 

The Shields Carriage Company was unable to keep up with the increased business for Locomobile, so an agreement was reached between Currier, Cameron and Richard E. Briggs whereby his firm agreed to paint and trim all of the Locomobile bodies in return for a quarter of the overall Locomobile contract. 

Sales of the new steam-powered Locomobile exceeded the firm expectations and a fourth Amesbury builder, the James N. Leitch Co., was soon contributing to the Locomobile body program. Briggs was the largest of the four firms, but couldn’t dedicate more space as their various factories were busy building their patented High Point wagons and interurban railway cars which debuted in 1889. 

The firm of James N. Leitch had been established in 1895 to produce millwork and carriage bodies in the white for some of Amesbury’s larger carriage manufacturers. 

Leitch was a British-born engineer who had worked for the long-established Amesbury firm of Ellis & Son. Originally founded in 1867 as Huntington & Ellis, William G. Ellis commenced business on his own account in 1875 and maintained his factory on Friend St., Amesbury. In 1888 two of his sons, David and William, joined the firm and the firm became Ellis & Son. William passed away unexpectedly in 1890 and a third brother names James joined the family business. 

In January 1889, William G. Ellis Sr., commenced the manufacture of electric interurban rail cars and the business grew, eventually employing 80 hands. James N. Leitch was instrumental in the railcars success and held a patent for its unique coupler.

A large fire destroyed the Ellis works in 1895 and the strain bankrupt the longtime carriage builder. The Briggs Carriage Co, another Amesbury carriage builder, had also entered into the manufacture of interurbans around 1890 and hired many of Ellis former employees.

Leitch decided to go into business for himself and along with a partner, James F. Irving, established the James N. Leitch Company in order to manufacture carriage millwork. Leitch also designed a number of novel convertible carriage bodies offered them in-the-white to a number of larger Amesbury builders.

When Currier, Cameron & Co. became overwhelmed with orders from Locomobile, they turned to Leitch for bodies in the white to help meet the order, and Leitch eventually became part of the official Locomobile body program.

As business increased the firm relocated from their rented quarters in the old Electric Light plant on Oakland Street to larger quarters on Cedar Street adjacent to Brigg’s railcar manufacturing facility.

Amesbury was also an early producer of taxicab bodies for firms in Boston and New York and both Leitch and Hollander & Morrill supplied bodies to Harlan P. Whipple’s Taxicab Service Co. which was headquartered in Boston. At the time Taxicab Service was using Sultan, Berliet and ALCO chassis.

What follows is the text of a December, 15, 1908 letter sent by Leitch to one William H. Gray, whose office was located at 377 W. Broadway, New York, New York: 

Dec. 15, 1908

Mr. Wm. H. Gray, 377 West Broadway, New York City

Dear Sir, -

In accordance with our conversation with you last week in Amesbury, we are putting in writing the prices that we decided to use as a basis to start from.

The prices were as follows:

Limousine equal in size to Packard, aluminum body
1 body Leitch $500.00  
1 body Hollander $490.00  
In lots of ten, Leitch $450.00  
  Hollander $450.00  
Taxicab bodies
1 body Leitch $187.00  
1 body Hollander $197.00  
In lots of ten, 5% less      
Town Car bodies
1 body Leitch $290.00  
1 body Hollander $260.00  
In lots of ten, 5% less      

In regard to touring car bodies. It would be impossible to make a price until we fund out what you wanted as we build touring car bodies all the way from $70.00 to $250.00, in the white, roughly speaking, however for most cars selling in the neighborhood of $2,000.00 to $3,000.00 the body would be, in the white, somewhere around $100.00. If you have an opportunity to figure on anything in this nature if you will send us the name of the car and type we will submit figures immediately thereon.

We are now working on the sample Packard and the sample cab and will push them along as fast as possible.

Yours very truly,

James N. Leitch Company


It’s not known who Gray worked for, but he may have been a buyer for one of New York City’s numerous livery firms. Soon afterwards Harlan P. Whipple and his partner, Winthrop E. Scarritt, started buying up taxi outfits in New York and Philadelphia and business picked up for Amesbury’s taxicab builders. By 1910 Whipple & Scarritt’s “Taxicab Trust” controlled over 1,000 taxis in Manhattan alone.

By that time Leitch and Irving had recapitalized the firm for $40,000 and constructed a new three story brick factory adjacent to the banks of Clark's Pond. Also introduced at the same time was a new line of bespoke coachwork that was advertised through a catalog which was sent out to high-end domestic and imported automobile dealers in Boston and New York. The title page of that catalog follows:

“James N. Leitch - James L. Irving

“Season of 1908-'09

“To a large number of motor car manufacturers in the United States the James N. Leitch Company requires no introduction. However, to such as we have not already had the pleas­ure of doing business with, we wish to say: We are in the business of building all classes of vehicle bodies, and our experience embraces a period of twenty years, the first ten of which we gave most of our attention to the building of carriage bodies for the trade. With the coming of the motor car we at once turned our energies to the automobile, and we were among the pioneers in this line. We believe that, without exception, we have built I more motor car bodies since 1900 than any firm doing business in the Eastern States. Our products are in wood, steel or aluminum, and are warranted to be mechanically right in construction, as well as of the very best material and workmanship.

“Our facilities for handling large orders for motor bodies are unexcelled, and all work is personally superintended by the members of our firm. In Amesbury we are rather happily situated, being within one hour train ride of Boston, yet in the country enough to enable us to employ the best type of American skilled workmen at a minimum wage. For this reason we can quote lower prices, material and workmanship considered, than is possible elsewhere. We can unhesitatingly refer intending customers to any of our long list of former and present customers.

“In presenting our 1908-'09 Catalogue to the trade, we wish to state that we have not tried to show all the styles of motor car bodies that we manufacture, but have tried to represent only a few of the most popular types. Some motor car manufacturers, as well as users of motor cars, have ideas of their own which they wish incorporated in their bodies; to those we would say, that we will be pleased at any time to estimate from their blue prints and specifications or supply special designs for their approval.

“James N. Leitch Company.”

One account claims that Leitch employed forty-five skilled hands and twenty-five laborers at the time, but that number appears to be overly optimistic based on their estimated output of 3-5 bodies per week. Leitch’s Cedar St. plant was severely damaged by a 1913 fire that destroyed most of their stock of dried lumber and the firm appears to have vanished from the Amesbury scene at the same time.

A single known Leitch-built automobile body is known to exist, a dark blue touring car that graces a 1913 Locomobile that took part in some early Glidden Tour revivals.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Steve Klomps






Amesbury as a Body-Building Center – Autobody Magazine, October 1923

Pamela Mutch Stevens – History of Amesbury, Massachusetts

John Bartley - Amesbury as a Body-Building Center – April 13, 1943 – Collection of the Amesbury Public Library

1908-‘09 James N. Leitch Catalog – Collection of the Amesbury Public Library

Orra L. Stone - History of Massachusetts Industries Vol I-IV - Boston, MA, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. 1930

Sara Locke Redford - History of Amesbury, Massachusetts (pub 1968)

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

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