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Mifflinburg Buggy Company, 1897-1917; Mifflinburg Body & Gear Co., 1911-1917; Mifflinburg Body Company, 1917-1942; Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania
Associated Builders
Mifflin Body Works – 1943-1953

Mifflinburg Body Co. is primarily remembered today for the wood station wagon bodies they produced from the late teens through the start of the Second World War. The small Pennsylvania city where they were located is also the home of the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum, an actual 19th century carriage factory that remains in it original un-restored condition.

In 1845, George Swentzel set up a buggy-building business in Mifflinburg, a small town situated in Union County, Pennsylvania, northwest of the Susquehanna River Valley not far from Bucknell and Susquehanna Universities. The success of Mifflinburg's first buggy business attracted others to the area and within ten years Mifflinburg was home to thirteen coachmakers.

In a Mifflinburg Telegraph article dated Feb. 9, 1881 its author, George Sloch stated that 597 sleighs had been built in one month and queried, “Is there a town in the state the size of Mifflinburg that has a better record?” From 1850-1920 the town was home to 75 or so vehicle manufacturers, and it’s been called “Buggy Town” ever since the early 1880s.

Near the end of the century it became obvious to three of Mifflinburg’s leading builders, Alfred A. Hopp, Harry F. Blair and Robert S. Gutelius, that unless they adopted modern techniques of mass production, they would be soon be out of business. The trio formed the Mifflinburg Buggy Co. in 1897, at the former carriage works of Thomas Gutelius, Robert’s uncle.

Harry F. Blair had not only worked in his family’s shop, but had recently been a salesman for the Lawrence Paint and Varnish Co. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Robert S. Gutelius had learned the trade from his father, Jacob, and had worked as an independent distributor and eventually as an executive with the Murphy Varnish Co. of Chicago, Illinois. As Alfred A. Hopp had operated his family’s Chestnut St manufactory for many years, he was put in charge of the new factory while Blair and Gutelius handled the firm’s sales and procurement.

Mifflinburg Buggy's 358 Walnut St. factory was greatly enlarged and modernized with modern milling machines and other labor saving devices allowing the firm to produce parts that were formerly sourced from outside suppliers. By the end of the century, “The Big Three”, as they were now referred to, manufactured close to 50% of the vehicles produced in the region.

Period advertisements boasted that their factory was the largest in Central Pennsylvania, and that their vehicles were often priced 10% to 20% less than the competitions due to the firm’s great efficiency and economies of scale.

A 55 page Mifflinburg Buggy Catalog dating from the early teens offered a "curly poplar Concord," a "Genteel Road Wagon," a "Pneumatic Road Wagon" (with newly invented hard-rubber or "noiseless" tires), a "Jenny Lind," a "Rosedale Surrey" and a "four-seated platform spring wagon."

In a 1903 article Gutelius listed the firm’s most popular products, "We don't experiment with fancy styles. We aim to make in the best possible manner the vehicles for which there is the greatest demand: The Piano-Box Top Buggy, the Gentleman's Run-About, the Solid Rubber-Tire Buggy, the Whalebone Bike, the Special Surrey, the Extension Top Surrey." At the time the plant had an annual capacity of 2000 vehicles, which were sold through dealers in 12 states.

After 6 years, Alfred A. Hopp left the firm, establishing a brand new factory in partnership with James R Ritter, the region’s premiere buggy salesman. In a bold move, Hopp and Ritter built their brand new factory adjacent to the existing Mifflinburg Buggy factory. In fact, the Hopp Carriage Co.’s (1903-1922) new plant was so close to the existing Mifflinburg property that Blair & Gutelius successfully sued Hopp for trespassing during construction.  

Mifflinburg’s two remaining partners incorporated the firm in 1903. William F. Sterling, a successful carriage builder with plants in Scranton, PA and Cleveland, Ohio was brought in to take over the factory. The reorganized firm’s shareholders included Sterling, the firm’s founders - Harry F. Blair and Robert S. Gutelius, two Union County attorneys - Harry and David Glover, and a local real estate investor - Harry B. Young.

Hopp Carriage and Mifflinburg Buggy competed side by side for the next decade, each producing as many as 2000 vehicles per year. Other local builders remained active as well. Both John Gutelius & Son and William F. Brown produced large numbers of buggies in Mifflinburg, and in 1910 the town’s annual production was estimated at 5,000 vehicles per annum.

Carriage building in an agricultural community was normally a seasonal occupation. Work might be limited to a couple of hours per day during the summer, but the ranks expanded in the fall when sleigh production was ramped up. Plants were typically the busiest during the winter when the firms changed over to wheeled vehicle production in preparation for the anticipated spring buggy rush.

The emergence of the automobile, and in particular, Henry Ford’s Model T did not go unnoticed in Mifflinburg. In 1911, a group of the town’s leading carriage builders, headed by Horrice W. Orwig, organized the Mifflinburg Body & Gear Co. The firm was formed to accomplish two goals. The first was to supply the area’s builders with a locally produced source of carriage gears, axles and other metal parts, the second, was the construction of both carriage and automobile bodies in the white that could be sold to regional manufacturers.

Orwig was the firm’s general manager and chief stockholder, while Mifflinburg Buggy’s Robert S. Gutelius, Harry F. Blair and William F. Sterling all held a substantial interest in the firm. William F. Brown and two of Robert S. Gutelius’ cousins, David F. and John. W. Gutelius were also investors. A new 3-story brick factory was erected on the northwest corner of Walnut & N. Eighth St., adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s PRR Bellefonte Branch.

An advertisement appearing in the nation’s leading carriage building journals announced:

“A New Body and Gear Factory. Mifflinburg Body & Gear Co. are manufacturing a full line of Bodies, Seats and Gears - in the white- for the trade, all of which will be manufactured under the most approved and up-to-date methods and under a system of inspection that has never been excelled. Our slogan will be Quick Service and Honest Goods. Mr. O.S. Buck who for twelve years has been with the York Wagon & Gear Co., York, Pa., will have charge of the manufacturing department and his chief aim will be the justification of our slogans. We will make a specialty of Automobile Bodies and will also make special works to order.  Tell us what we can do for you.”

In 1913, Mifflinburg Buggy Co. built their first body destined to reside on a horseless carriage. It was a large omnibus body that was delivered to the City of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. During the following year, several more were constructed for use by Pennsylvania’s Bellefonte and State College Motor Transit Line. Buggy production was gradually phased out in favor of custom bus bodies for heavy-duty trucks and commercial bodies for Ford’s Model T.

Although some very early Ford trucks were sold with commercial bodies, Ford discontinued the program in 1913; leaving the field wide open for enterprising commercial body builders through 1924 when the first factory-built Ford Model T pick-ups were introduced.

Mifflinburg offered commercial bodies for the Model T in their 1916-1917 catalog of High Grade, Hand Made Vehicles, Sleighs and Commercial Automobile Bodies and Trailers. Page 3 of the catalog states: "The various styles illustrated in this booklet are designed especially for the Model "T" Ford Chassis."

Despite growing evidence to the contrary, a 1915 Mifflinburg Telegraph article emphasized the continued importance of horse-drawn transportation concluding that the town’s adopted nickname, “Buggy Town remains applicable for Mifflinburg.” Local firms still active in the trade included Berry Bros., William F. Brown, John Gutelius and Son, William A. Heiss, Hopp Carriage Co., Mifflinburg Body & Gear, Mifflinburg Buggy Co. and D.B. Miller. 

One year later, the paper noted the number of employees employed by a few of the community’s remaining firms; William F. Brown – 12 hands, John Gutelius and Son – 33 hands, Hopp Carriage Co. – 35 hands, Mifflinburg Buggy Co. – 48 hands and D.B. Miller – 12 hands.

In 1916 the board of directors of the Mifflinburg Body & Gear Co. accepted a buyout offer from Mifflinburg Buggy’s Robert S. Gutelius and William F. Sterling. The firm gradually relocated their buggy and body building operations to the 5-year old Mifflinburg Body & Gear Co. plant and on December 29, 1917 reorganized the combined operations as the Mifflinburg Body Co. to indicate its new product line.

The firm’s 1918-1919 catalog offered both "Suburban" and "Country Club" station wagon bodies for the Model T as well as a line of both open and enclosed delivery van bodies and stake trucks for the 1-ton Ford Model TT chassis.

Business continually improved and an addition was built onto the rear of their Eighth St. factory in 1919, doubling their manufacturing capacity. A 1920 census of the town’s carriage shops revealed a total of 32 hands employed at the 5 shops that remained in business. Luckily, most of the craftsmen laid off in the late teens found employment with Mifflinburg Body.

1922 marked the debut of a catalog devoted to bodies designed for Chevrolet’s Four-Ninety and Model G commercial chassis. The catalog was basically identical to the firm’s Ford catalog, except that the bodies were all illustrated mounted on Chevrolet chassis.

A new building was also constructed later that year, a few hundred feet to the west of the existing factory. The two buildings were interconnected using a gangway running between the respective structure’s third floors.

When Billy Durant introduced his Model-T fighting Star automobile, Mifflinburg was chosen as the firm’s exclusive supplier of suburban and delivery van bodies. The 1923 Star Station Wagon is generally accepted as the first catalog station wagon offered by a major manufacturer. Chassis from Durant’s Elizabeth, New Jersey, factory were shipped by rail to Mifflinburg where the completed bodies were mounted. Depending on their final destination, the completed vehicles were either driven away by Star dealers or shipped back to the New Jersey plant.

Mifflinburg’s station wagons were dropped from the Star catalogs in 1925, however Star dealers knew where to get them. The business with Star must have been profitable as Mifflinburg issued a 1926-1927 catalog advertising their “Custom-Built Commercial Bodies for Star Four Commercial and Star Six Compound Fleetruck Chassis”.

In 1924, a large single story steel storage shed was erected to the south of the newer left hand side factory. Within two years production was further increased by a second addition to the rear of the building built in 1922. Another gangway was added at the same time that connected the 3rd floor of the new addition to the rear half of the older building located to the north.

During the late 20s as many as 500 hands were employed at the busy Mifflinburg Body factory requiring the firm to run their own Bus line to bring in workers from the surrounding countryside.

Although Mifflinburg bodies could be ordered direct from and installed at the factory, many were sold through authorized distributors who stocked the firm’s most popular bodies, crated and ready for assembly on the customer’s chassis. In the late 20s Mifflinburg opened a combination export office and showroom in the heart of the city’s “Automobile Row” at 1776 Broadway, New York, NY with a "Mounting Station" located in Brooklyn at 2562 Atlantic Avenue.

During 1928, Mifflinburg claimed that they were the “second largest manufacturer of wooden bodies in the United States”. Approximately 20-25 bodies were completed each day with annual sales of close to $1 million dollars.  Although they were not selected to contribute to Ford’s 1928-1932 Model A station wagon program, Mifflinburg offered a slip-in cargo body for the Model A Business Coupe and Roadster. The slip-in pick-up bed was installed in place of the rear deck lid or rumble seat creating an open cargo area that extended 18” from the rear of the body.

The firm continued to supply light commercial bodies and pickup boxes to a number of regional automakers. Commercial versions of the short-lived American Austin (pickup, suburban and delivery van) built nearby in Butler, Pennsylvania from 1930-1935, used bodies furnished by Mifflinburg. A Nov 24, 1930 headline in the Clearfield Progress, Clearfield PA, announced the good news; “Old Mifflinburg Auto Body Plant Making Bodies For Austin Automobile.”

Business remained strong for most of 1929, but by early 1930, it became apparent that the market crash that took place in October of the previous year might have long-term consequences.

Station Wagon orders stopped coming in and by 1931 it became apparent that drastic measures were called for. William F. Sterling retired and his son, Oren Sterling, took over as president.

In 1929 Congress authorized funding allowing the US Postal Service to replace their aging fleet of surplus WWI Parcel Post delivery vehicles. A standardized body was eventually agreed upon and in 1932, Mifflinburg produced over 1,000 examples for the agency. A February order called for 550 bodies for the ½ ton Ford Model A chassis followed by a June order for 500 bodies for the Ford 1-1/2 ton chassis.

Although the firm never produced any funeral coaches, they had been building invalid coaches, ambulances and paddy wagons since the late teens and the Mifflinburg Telegraph reported that a large order of ambulance bodies were shipped to Hawaii during 1932.

Despite a stable export business, domestic commercial body sales continued to decline, prompting Mifflinburg’s directors to convert half of the factory over to the manufacture of bedroom and parlor furniture in February of 1933.

Mifflinburg’s export business remained strong during the Depression and their knocked down (CKD) bus and commercial bodies helped keep the firm in business. A circa 1935 catalog (#310), announced Mifflinburg’s “…New Deluxe Line of Custom Built School Bus and Motor Coach Bodies Combining New Improvements, Safety Features, Quality and Value.”

According to the 4-page Mifflinburg Catalog #11, the firm also distributed a line of Mifflinburg-branded hydraulic hoist dump bodies for 1-1/2 ton trucks during the mid thirties. It’s doubtful that the large steel bodies were actually manufactured in Mifflinburg, and they were likely built by Cresci, Universal or Gar-Wood.

By 1936, the firm could no longer afford their swanky 1776 Broadway showroom so the mounting station in Brooklyn was abandoned and Mifflinburg’s entire New York City operation was consolidated further downtown at 549-551 West 39th Street, New York, NY.

Throughout the 30s Mifflinburg offered suburban bodies in their numerous commercial body catalogs. The had some success selling bodies to Chevrolet dealers, and a few Dodge light trucks carried Mifflinburg bodies as well. Through the mid-thirties the design of Mifflinburg’s station wagons remained much the same as those produced in the late 20s. However a dramatic new design emerged starting in 1937 that pre-dated the handsome Brooks Stevens-designed Monart station wagons that made their debut in 1941.

They featured stylish yet sturdy body framing and A-, B- and C-pillars like those found on Campbell-Midstate Couriers of the mid 40s. However, their lengthy rear overhang gives them a decidedly Monart-like overall appearance. However it’s easy to tell a Monart from a Mifflinburg as no Mifflinburg woodies are known to have been built on 1942-43 Ford or Mercury chassis as the firm was already out of business. The only existing picture of a late 30s Mifflinburg wagon shows the body on a 1937 Packard chassis. Another distinguishing feature is that on Monarts, the bottom half of the rear quarter panel curves inward, towards the rear wheel while the Mifflinburg’s quarter panel slopes outward, away from the rear tire.  

Mifflinburg also built a fair number of wood-bodied 4-door Carry-alls on Chevrolet light truck chassis through late 1941. They’re similar in appearance to the Highlander bodies built by Campbell Mid-State, but differ in that the tail end slopes outwards.

When Roy Evans revived Butler, PA’s American Austin as the Bantam in the late 30s, Mifflinburg supplied the automaker with wooden bodies for the short-lived $595 1939-1940 Bantam Station Wagon. Unfortunately the car was not a success and only a handful of the original 317 wagons produced are thought to exist.

Short on cash, on April 1, 1938, the company took out a $150,000 mortgage upon its plant and equipment, hoping to secure a bond issue of the same amount. Unfortunately, the bond sale only realized $36,800 in cash, leaving the firm $93,328.60 in debt. Consequently the Mifflinburg Bank and Trust Co. demanded additional collateral as security for the indebtedness and on October 23, 1938, collected $95,000 worth of the unsold bonds as collateral.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Mifflinburg was one of the 28 firms that manufactured G518 1-Ton cargo trailers for the US military. 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

From 1941 to1945 G518 Trailers were made by the following 38 companies:

American Bantam, Ben Hur, Century Boat Works, Checker, Dorsey, Gertenslager, Henney, Hercules Body, Highland Body & Trailer, Hobbs, Hyde, Mifflinburg Body, Naburs, Nash Kelvinator, Omaha Standard Body, Pke, Queen City, Redman, Steel Products, Strick, Transportation Equipment Corp, Truck Engineering Corporation, Willys Overland, Winter Weiss, Baker, Covered Wagon Co., Keystone, And Streich.

Despite the lucrative government trailer contract, Mifflinburg’s sales continued to fall and on June 11, 1940, its many creditors petitioned for the reorganization of the company under Chapter X of the Bankruptcy Act. The firm never emerged from bankruptcy and the receiver held a public auction of the firm’s machinery and property on Monday, November 30, 1942. The winning bidder was Lewis Markus, the owner of the American Billiard and Bowling Co. of New York.

Markus renamed the business the Mifflinburg Body Works, and a 1945 article in the Mifflinburg Telegraph stated that the firm was currently engaged n the manufacture of "...pool tables, bowling alleys, shuffle boards, toy cars, scooters, strollers, hand trucks, warehouse trailers, prefab houses ...and radio cabinets."

The Body Works filed for bankruptcy in 1952, and the factory was eventually purchased by the Colonial Products Co. of Red Lion, Pennsylvania. In 1973, Colonial Products became Yorktowne Inc., a Division of the Wickes Corp. Yorktown Inc. was acquired by the Elkay Mfg Co. in the 1990s and continued to utilize the former Mifflinburg Body plant to kiln-dry and mill wood used in the production of the firm’s popular line of Yorktowne kitchen cabinets. Unfortunately, in 2005 Yorktowne management relocated its Mifflinburg operations to Danville, Virginia rather than comply with Pennsylvania’s stringent new air pollution standards.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - 


more pictures




Mifflinburg Buggy Museum - 523 Green St., Mifflinburg, PA

Randie D. Johnson, Elisabeth McKinley & R. J. Brungraber - The History of the Mifflinburg Body Works - Antique Automobile, Vol 37 No 2, Mar-Apr 1973

Charles M. Snyder - Buggy Town: An Era In American Transportation – 1984 - Oral Traditions Projects – Union County Historical Society, Lewisburg, PA

Charles M. Snyder - Buggy Town: An Era in American Transportation – 1984 - Pennsylvania State University Press - University Park, PA

Charles M. Steese - 1792-1927: The History of Mifflinburg PA, 1929 - Saturday News Publishing Co., Lewisburg Pa. 52 pp.

Memories of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania: 1792-1967 - 175th Anniversary booklet

Charles M. Snyder – Mifflinburg: A Bicentennial History

Donald J. Narus - Great American Woodies and Wagons

Leslie R. Henry - Henry's Fabulous Model A

Donald J. Narus - Chrysler's Wonderful Woodie: The Town and Country

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