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Milburn, Eberhart & Beatty; George Milburn & Co.; Milburn Wagon Co.
A. Eberhart & Co., 1840s-1853; Milburn, Eberhart & Beatty, 1853-1859; George Milburn & Co. 1859-1869; Milburn Wagon Co. 1869-1878, Mishawaka, Indiana; 1873-1923 - Toledo, Ohio
Associated Firms
Dura Mechanical Hardware Co.; Dura Co.; Milburn-Bass Wagon Co.; Chattanooga Wagon Co.

Toledo, Ohio’s Milburn Wagon Co. is best-known today as the manufacturer of the Milburn ‘Light Electric’ automobile, one of a handful of electrics that experienced marginal success (Milburn produced approximately 4,000 cars between 1915 and 1923) in the years leading up to the First World War. Although the electric brought them prestige - President Woodrow Wilson's Secret Service agents had a small fleet of them - it was the firm’s production automobile body-building activities that created most of the firm’s profits.

As early as 1909 Milburn began constructing automobile bodies for regional manufacturers which included Ford, Ohio Electric, Oldsmobile, Overland, Pope and Willys, and during the early teens they marketed their own line of aftermarket Ford commercial bodies when Ford Motor Co. abandoned the commercial trades. Milburn continued to manufacture production bodies into 1923 when the firm’s factory was purchased by General Motors, who planned to utilize it for their Buick subsidiary. Constructed in 1873, Milburn’s Toledo plant was one of the first wagon factories to be completely mechanized, and for the next 35 years were one of the largest wagon builders in the country.

The firm’s founder, George Milburn (#1) (1820-1883) was born in Alston, England on June 3, 1820, to Thomas and Nancy Ann (Dickinson) Milburn. Immediately following his father’s July 7, 1835 death he emigrated to Canada with the remainder of the family, which included his mother and older brother John. They remained in Ontario, but George took a position in the United States, relocating to Goshen, Indiana where he went to work for a local dry goods merchant.

On an 1838 train trip to Chicago to further his employment opportunities, Milburn met Waterford, Indiana merchant Cephas Hawks Sr. who, impressed with his person, hired him as his bookkeeper. For the next several years he remained in the employ of Mr. Hawks, and a subsequent partnership, Hawks & Ballentine, and on April 8, 1841, was united in marriage to Barbara Ann Stouffer (b.1821-d.1910), the daughter of John Stauffer of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The newlyweds moved to Bone Prairie in Kosciusko County, Indiana and engaged in farming on a small scale. In 1846, they moved to a farm in St. Joseph County, about three miles southeast of Mishawaka, Indiana. In 1847, Milburn brought his family to Mishawaka, Indiana. To the blessed union were born six children: Henry M. (b.1842-d.1908); Ann (b.1842-d.1916 - m. Harper & m. Studebaker); John Joseph (b.1847-d.1928); Mary (b.1849-d1922); James K. (b.1851-d1927) and Charles F. (b.1854-d.1927) Milburn.

In 1849 Milburn and family moved to Mishawaka and entered into business with Adoniram B. Judson, a merchant, first as a clerk and then as a junior partner in A.B. Judson & Co., a prosperous general store located at the corner of Main and Vistula Streets.

In 1853 Milburn purchased an interest in A. Eberhart & Co., (Adolphus Eberhardt b.1824-d.1893) which was commonly known as the Mishawaka Wagon Works, after which it conducted business in the style of Milburn, Eberhart & Beatty. Eberhardt’s factory was located on the south bank of the St. Joseph River, approximately where Riverfront Park resides today. Milburn’s 1867 investment in the Mishawaka Hydraulic Co. helped ensure that the wagon works continued to receive a portion of the motive power generated by the dam located just downstream from the factory.

G. W. Hawes' Indiana State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1858 & 1859 continued to list the two firms as separate entities:

“Eberhart, A. & Co., carriage manufacturers.


“Milburn, George agent Rising Sun Insurance Co.”

In 1858 Milburn bought out Eberhart & Beatty and reorganized as George Milburn & Co., and on August 23, 1869, incorporated the Milburn Wagon Company for$100,000. The incorporators were: George Milburn, Thomas H. Milburn and John Milburn.

During the short-lived Mormon Rebellion Milburn was awarded a large number of wagons for the United States Government, at which time firm’s employees numbered 100. Unable to fulfill the entire contract in the specified time Milburn turned to a fledgling South Bend, Indiana firm to help complete it.

The South Bend wagon builder dated to 1852 when brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker started a blacksmith shop in South Bend. In 1857 their younger brother John Mohler bought out Henry’s share in the business which was subsequently reorganized as C. & J.M. Studebaker.

Midway through 1857 the Studebakers became a subcontractor to Milburn after the latter firm was awarded a contract to supply the US government with wagons to be used in the Army’s war against Mormon settlers in the Utah Territory which took place between May 1857 and July 1858. Unable to complete the order on time, Milburn enlisted the Studebakers to complete the additional 150 wagons needed to fulfill the order.

The profits derived from the Milburn subcontract materially accelerated the growth of the Studebaker Bros. and in 1858 they constructed their first brick manufactory in South Bend. Further contracts were awarded both Milburn and Studebaker and by the end of the Civil War, the two firms were the largest employers in the South Bend-Mishawaka area.

Coincidentally George Milburn’s eldest daughter Anna had recently become infatuated with one of the Studebakers. Following the untimely passing of Clement Studebaker’s first wife, Charity M. Bratt (1831-1863), he became acquainted with George Milburn’s eldest daughter, Anna (Milburn) Harper (1842-1916) who also had recently lost her 23-yo husband, J.W. Harper, and on September 13, 1864 Clement Studebaker and Anna (Milburn) Harper were married.

As a teenager George Milburn’s nephew and namesake, George Milburn (#2 - born in Ontario, Canada, May 13, 1839 to his brother, John Milburn and his wife Martha [Rose] Milburn), went to work at his uncle’s Mishawaka dry goods. He remained with his uncle after the purchase of the wagon works, and acquired a partial interest in the firm during the Civil War – remaining until 1876 when he disposed of his interests in the firm and relocated to Bristol, Indiana where he invested in an orchard and became a well-known fruit vendor. From 1890-1895 he served as Elkhart County auditor, and was likewise a member of the village board of Bristol for a number of years and was treasurer of the school board for nine years.

In 1867 George Milburn (I) invested money in the Mishawaka Hydraulic Co. (estab. 1867) whose incorporation was to "keep up the dam, water power, races, banks and other matters connected with the power, and to sell and dispose of water power to other manufactures", and was also a stockholder in the Oliver Plow Works and Mishawaka’s Milburn House, one of the ‘best conducted hotels between Detroit and Chicago’.

On March 4, 1871, George Milburn, William A. Lewis and William Moffitt organized the Hollow Axle Manufacturing Company, a $20,000 firm organized to produce Lewis’ patented hollow axles for railway cars, wagons and trucks.

During the following year Milburn asked the city fathers to help pay for a railroad siding that would connect the plant to the main line of the Lake Shore Railroad. Milburn felt that without it he would be unable to compete with his competition, which were - for the most part – all located or built adjacent to a railroad.

Milburn’s proposal was defeated, and he began a regional search for more suitable quarters for his growing business. On September 5, 1872 a large fire destroyed 32 buildings in Mishawaka’s business district causing over $80,000 worth of damage, further hastening Milburn’s resolve to move.

Several proposals were entertained, and Milburn eventually accepted a proposal from a group of Toledo, Ohio businessmen who included W. J. Wells, F. J. King and C. P. Griffith. A stock offering was proposed and within the year a reported $300,000 was pledged by Toledo’s citizens.

A company was organized, June 14, 1873, consisting of George Milburn, John Milburn, George R. Hudson, J. H. Whitaker, W.W. Griffith, A. L. Kelsey and William Baker, all of whom were directors. The original officers of the company were: George Milburn, president; J. H. Whitaker, vice-president; G. R. Hudson, secretary and treasurer.

On June 24, 1873 the city of Toledo offered a 32-acre parcel to the new enterprise in Auburndale, a newly established western suburb just west of the city line. Purchased for a discounted $30,000, the Monroe Street property was located adjacent to the Detroit branch of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, and a groundbreaking ceremony took place on September 9, 1873.

The firm’s growth suffered two setbacks at the end of 1873 that postponed the opening of the plant by an entire year. The first was a devastating storm that struck Toledo on December 4, 1873 that caused a collapse of a large portion of the new plant, entailing a loss of over $20,000.

The second was the ‘Panic of 1873’, a major depression connected to the September, 18, 1873 failure of Jay Cooke & Co., the largest banking house in the United States. Wages and prices dropped dramatically during the next several months resulting in the failure of 23,000 businesses which caused 3,000,000 Americans to join the ranks of the unemployed.

Although the Milburn Works finished the year ending July 1, 1873, with $446,652 in sales, the next fiscal year’s profits were almost non-existent as order for new wagons seemingly ground to a halt. Milburn cut production in half and tightened the belt wherever they could, and by the spring of 1875, business had recovered to pre-Panic levels and the new plant in Toledo was 100% operational.

May 13, 1875 Goshen Times:

“The Milburn Wagon Company experienced another mishap at their Toledo works last week. A lot of machinery piled on the second floor crashed through to the first floor. Fortunately it was before work hours and nobody was injured, and the damage to the machinery and building was slight.—Mishawaka Enterprise.”

October 9, 1875 Scientific American:

“Remarkable Explosion.

“To the Editor of the Scientific American:

“On August 28, a terrific explosion took place at the works of the Milburn Wagon Company at this place, under the following circumstances: The shop is cleared of shavings by a system of pipes and pneumatic fans. The magazine was located in the boiler room, and was about 25x10 feet, and 28 feet high. Near the top of the magazine was a 20 inch sheet iron pipe leading into the main chimney stack, and immediately under it was a second one, similar in all respects. These were used to take the fine dust out of the magazine. Six feet below them were four 12 inch pipes leading in to the furnaces, and entering under the grate bars, These had valves to them, and were mostly kept closed. The works were running at the time of the occurrence; and a fire had just been put in, and the door closed, when it 'kicked,' as the term is, and an explosion took place in the magazine, which completely wrecked the boiler room and magazine, tearing the roof off and blowing the wall down. Fortunately no one was injured.

“This should be a warning to wood workers not to have direct communication between shaving magazines and furnaces, if fans are used, as few understand the explosive nature of the fine dust from woodworking machines.

“Toledo, Ohio.

The 1876 Toledo Directory lists Milburn as follows:

“Milburn Wagon Co., Manufacturers of Lumber Wagons, n. cor of Monroe and Detroit Ave.

“George Milburn Pres; John Milburn, supt; Charles F Milburn, cashier; George T. Milburn, shipper; James K Milburn, corresponding clerk, James Milburn Jr., traveling salesman.”

In September of 1876 Milburn opened an official factory branch in Nashville, Tennessee at 368 and 370 Front Street to handle the firm’s growing business south of the Mason Dixon Line.

On September 29, 1876 a massive fire destroyed the factory’s main building, causing a loss of $168,000, of which only $84,000 was covered by insurance. A second fire struck a portion of the very same building in December of 1877, causing significantly less damage. Thankfully the lessons learned in the preceding calamities made fire prevention a priority, and the wagon works would remain conflagration-free for most of the next half century.

The Wagon works listing in the 1877 Toledo Directory follows:

“Milburn Wagon Co., (George Milburn Pres, John H. Whitaker Vice Pres, George R. Hudson Treas, James K. Milburn Sec, Charles F. Milburn Cashier, John Milburn Supt.) Mnfrs Wagons, Carts, Spring Drays and Bob Sleds, Monroe bet CS and LS & MS Railways.”

Up to the year 1877, the company manufactured only wagons for farm use, but in that year buggies and spring wagons were added and during the next quarter century the line expanded to include farm wagons and carts, log-trucks, heavy city teaming gears, dump wagons, delivery wagons, drays of all kinds, and in the early 20th Century automobile bodies. Once source stated Milburn’s output in 1910 exceeded 30,000 vehicles, which included several thousand automobile bodies.

The 1879 Toledo Directory lists Milburn as follows:

“Milburn Wagon Co., George Milburn Pres, John H. Whitaker Vice Pres, George R. Hudson Treas, F.D. Suydam Sec, Charles F. Milburn Superintendent, Manufactures Wagons, Carts, Spring Drays and Bob Sleds, Monroe bet CS and LS & MS Railways.”

During the year the Tubular Axle Co. had relocated from Mishawaka to Toledo setting up shop in a new facility located right across the street from the Wagon plant.

The two firm’s listings in the 1882 Toledo Directory follows:

“Milburn Wagon Co., (J.B. Baldy Pres, F.D. Suydam Sec, George R. Hudson Treas), Mnfrs Wagons, Carriages, Carts, Spring Drays &c, Monroe bet CS and LS R’ys.”

“Tubular Axle Co., George and Charles F. Milburn proprs, LS & MS R’y, opp wagon works.

Failing health caused the firm’s founder to retire from business in 1880, and he removed to Johnson county, Kansas, where he passed away on January 31, 1883. Milburn’s obituary appeared in the February 3, 1883 edition of the Goshen Independent:

“Mr. George Milburn, the great wagon manufacturer, died at his home in Kansas on Wednesday morning last. The cause of his death was paralysis. He founded the Milburn Wagon Works, now at Toledo, but formerly at Mishawaka. His funeral will take place at South Bend.”

A short synopsis of his life appeared in the February 8, 1883 issue of the Goshen Times:


“Mr. Cephas Hawks, sr., settled in Waterford, Elkhart county, early in the summer of 1836, and engaged extensively in merchandising, milling etc. His business took him frequently from home on extensive journeys by stage.

“One day about the year 1838, while on his return from Detroit, he entered into a conversation with a fellow stage-passenger, who said he was on his way to Chicago with a view of seeking employment in some mercantile establishment. He was a youth of some seventeen or eighteen summers—a spare light-complexioned, blue-eyed young man of genteel appearance and attractive demeanor. Mr. Hawks took a fancy for his traveling companion, engaged him for his book keeper, and brought him to Waterford.

“Thus George Milburn became a citizen of Elkhart county. He was born in the village of Allstone, county Cumberland, England, on June 3, 1820, and emigrated to Canada in 1835. He continued in the employ of Mr. Hawks, and afterwards of Hawks & Ballentine, for several years, and on April 8, 1841, was married to Miss Barbara Ann Stouffer, a young lady of the neighborhood. Some time after his marriage he moved on a farm on Bone Prairie, Kosciusko county, where he remained but a short time. In 1846 he removed to St. Joseph county, occupying a farm near Mishawaka. In 1849 he took up his residence in Mishawaka and entered into business with Mr. A. B. Judson, a merchant, first as a clerk and then as a partner. In 1853 he became a partner in the Mishawaka Wagon Co., just organized, and in a few years became the sole owner of the concern, which now assumed the name of Milburn Wagon Works. His business prospered, and for several years his establishment was the largest in the country. During the war he received some heavy army contracts for wagons, and he gave employment to a large number of hands.

“Mishawaka, through the enterprise of Mr. Milburn, became a flourishing town, and many other manufacturing establishments sprang up. In 1873 the works were removed to Toledo, and the stock, which was transferred to the Toledo Wagon Works, was valued at S350,000. He now exerted himself in building up the new works, in which he was successful.

“Failing health induced him to sell out his interest at Toledo in 1880, and he removed to Johnson county, Kansas, where he died January 31, 1883.

“Mr. Milburn became a member of the M. E. church while residing at Waterford, but afterward withdrew from his church relationship. In 1849 he again united with the church, and became one of the staunchest members in Mishawaka. In 1868 he was a heavy contributor toward the erection of the magnificent M. E. Church in his town.

“Mr. Milburn was an active Republican politician and a good public speaker. He spoke but seldom, but always with good effect.

“Mrs. Milburn survives her lamented husband, and six children—Mrs. Clem Studebaker, Mrs. John R. Foster, Henry, John, Charles and James Milburn—mourn the loss of a father.

“The remains of Mr. Milburn arrived at South Bend on Saturday morning and were consigned to the tomb on Sunday afternoon.”

By the end of the century Milburn had established branch houses in Albany, N.Y.; Nashville, Tenn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Batavia, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa. They also owned an Arkansas saw mill which furnished the vast majority of the lumber used by the factory.

Charles F. Milburn was born in Mishawaka, Indiana on May 5, 1854 to George and Barbara Ann (Stouffer) Milburn and his siblings included Henry M., Anna (Mrs. Clem Studebaker), John J., Mary J. (Foster), and James K. Milburn.

The youngest of the family, Charles was educated chiefly in the Pennsylvania Military College at Chester, and at the age of seventeen went to work as an apprentice wagonmaker in the shops of the Milburn Wagon Co. which by that time had removed itself from Mishawaka to Toledo, Ohio. He was made a partner in 1878 and superintendent of the works in 1880. When his father retired Charles remained at Toledo as superintendent of the factory and in 1888 was elected president of the firm.

He retired/resigned in 1896 and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee were he became associated with W.J. Bass in the Milburn-Bass Wagon Company, which in 1898 was reorganized as the Chattanooga Wagon Company.

The firm won several lucrative contracts to manufacture wagons for the US Army during the Spanish-American War and its annual output of wagons was reported as upwards of 7,000.

On October 18, 1892, at Racine, Wisconsin, Charles F. Milburn married Miss Katharine Knapp, a daughter of Frederick and Catherine Knapp of that city. To the blessed union was born a son, Knapp Milburn, who, like his father, attended the Pennsylvania Military College eventually becoming a professional roadway engineer.

When Milburn President Charles F. Milburn and its Treasurer, George Hudson, resigned/retired in 1896, control of the firm was conveyed to Frank D. Suydam, a wealthy Toledo chair manufacturer and longtime Milburn director and shareholder. The news announced to the trade in the April 1896 issue of Engineering Mechanics:

“The Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, Ohio, announce a change of management as follows: F. D. Suydam, President; C.F. Milburn, retired ; John W. Stoddard, Dayton, Ohio, Vice President; Thos. Vanstone, Secretary and Treasurer; F. D. Suydam, promoted to Presidency; G. Hudson, formerly Treasurer, retires, and the office of Secretary and Treasurer is united. The Board of Directors consists of F.D. Suydam, John W. Stoddard, Thos. Vanstone, Herbert Baker, M. I. Wilcox, John S. Kinnau, H.R. Kelsey, G.R. Hudson and C.F. Milburn.”

Frank D. Suydam was born in Lebanon, Ohio, July 30, 1845, the son of Simon and Sarah (Dunlevy) Suydam. His earlier years were spent in Lebanon, Ohio, and his secondary education was acquired at Dennison University, in Granville, Ohio. He moved to Toledo, Ohio after leaving college in 1867 and became interested in the business of manufacturing chairs. In 1869 Suydam was elected president of the Toledo Bending Co., which position he held until his death.

Suydam acquired a substantial financial interest in the Milburn Wagon Co. when it moved to Toledo in 1873 and in 1876 was elected secretary, and in 1894 president of the firm, which office he held until his untimely death on April 17, 1911 after which his son, Horace W. Suydam (b.1872-d.1932) assumed Milburn’s presidency.

Just prior to Frank D. Suydam’s passing, Milburn’s capitalization was stated at $700,000, its officers: F. D. Suydam, president; T. W. Childs, vice-president; H. W. Suydam, secretary; and Frank Hafer, treasurer. The average number of men employed at the factory at the time ranged from 550 to 600.

Horace W. Suydam was born in Toledo, Ohio on September 26, 1872 to Frank D. and Mary W. Suydam. He graduated from Toledo’s Central High in 1890 and received a degree of electrical engineer from the University of Michigan in 1894. Upon his return to Toledo he joined the Toledo Bending Co. as its secretary and in 1896 became secretary of the Milburn Wagon Co., serving in that capacity until 1911, when he was elected president. It was under his term as president that Milburn entered the electric automobile manufacturing business.

Very little mention was made in the trades concerning Milburn’s automobile body building activities, the first mention appearing in the July 30, 1910 issue of Automobile Topics:

“At the present, the Milburn Wagon Works is building a large number of bodies for the Overland.”

In addition to its production bodies for Overland, Pope and other regional manufacturers Milburn also produced bodies for the Toledo-based Ohio Electric Car Co. Two Toledo-based brothers, F.H. (Frederick Holmes) and H.P. (Henry P.) Dodge, were financially involved with both Milburn and Ohio Electric, with H.P. Dodge serving as Milburn’s treasurer and F.H. Dodge serving as Ohio Electric Co.’s president.

In 1910, the directors of both firms entered into negotiations to join forces in the production of a single brand electric car. The planned automobile did not materialize and Milburn vowed to produce its own electric automobile, however its debut was put on hold due to increased demand for the firm’s motor bodies.

In 1911 the firm received a substantial order from the Ford Motor Co. for enclosed delivery truck bodies for the upcoming 1912 Model T delivery truck – an order which was shared by the O.J. Beaudette Co. of Pontiac, Michigan. The Model T delivery van was not the sales success that Ford had hoped for and was discontinued after the 1912 model year.

Unbeknownst to many, the Ford Motor Company relied upon outside suppliers for most of its coachwork during its first quarter century. It’s hard to determine who made Ford’s first automobile bodies but soon after the Model T was introduced the names of various Michigan-based sheet-metal, millwork and body-building firms begin to appear on Ford’s supplier list.

Initially most of the Model T’s bodies were supplied by Ford's existing auto body suppliers C.R. Wilson (1903) and Everitt Brothers (1908). O.J. Beaudette (1910), Kelsey-Herbert Co. (1910), American Body Co. (1911), Hayes Mfg. Co.(1911) Milburn Wagon Co. (1911), Fisher Body Co.(1912), and the Kahler Co. (1915). Wm. Gray & Sons supplied Henry Ford’s Windsor assembly plant with automobile bodies from 1906-1912. Regardless of their origin, all of the Model T’s bodies were interchangeable; however the individual parts in a body would not necessarily fit a similar-looking body if it was made by a different manufacturer.

However, Milburn’s executives were perfectly happy selling the delivery truck bodies to third parties, namely the nation’s ever-expanding number of Ford dealers, and the firm placed a series of display ads in the auto trades – the following display advertisement appeared in the February, 1912 issue of the Cycle And Automobile Trade Journal:

“HIGH GRADE Commercial Car Bodies Right Prices- Prompt Service

“We have had fifty years’ experience in the wagon business which has given us an experience of the greatest value, particularly in the designing and building of bodies for Commercial Motor Cars. We have the largest, most efficient and best equipped plant in the land. We are now making bodies for many of the leading concerns in the automobile industry and have facilities to take care of a lot more. Our large corps of experienced designers will furnish you drafts and estimates and assume the body design worries of the truck builder.

“The Milburn Wagon Company, Desk D., Toledo, Ohio.”

A number of follow-up advertisements appeared thereafter, the following was placed in the August, 1913 issue of Cycle And Automobile Trade Journal:

“Bodies for Commercial Cars

“We have the largest and most efficient and best equipped plant in the United States for the manufacture of Commercial Car Bodies. This is backed up by fifty years of experience. We can build any type, size or style of body of metal or of wood. Furthermore, we can design your bodies or work to your blue prints. Write us today.

“The Milburn Wagon Company, Desk D., Toledo, Ohio.”

Milburn’s electric car project became a priority at the start of 1914, and the firm hired a young freelance engineer named Karl Probst* (b.1883-d.1963) to handle the particulars.

(*Decades later Probst was credited with designing the prototype Bantam Jeep, although in reality it was actually Bantam’s Harold Crist - Probst was hired long after Crist had completed the engineering for the vehicle. However Bantam would likely have not gotten the Quarter Master Corps’ approval without Probst’s detailed engineering drawings.)

After many months of testing, the Milburn Electric was announced to the trade in the September 30, 1914 issue of The Horseless Age:

“Milburn Wagon Co. Announces Electric Line.

“A line of low priced electrics, including a coupe at $1,485, a roadster at $1,285, and a delivery wagon at $985 is being announced by the Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, O. The new models will make their appearance early in October. The Milburn Wagon Co. is one of the largest concerns in the general vehicle field and has for some years been building bodies for automobiles. To assist in the manufacture and sale of the new electric, several men who have been prominent in the automobile industry have recently become affiliated with the Milburn Company.

“The new electrics are of unusually light weight, this making possible their low price and also reducing the cost of running and maintenance. Development of the electric chassis has been in progress during the past two years, during which period numerous experimental cars were built and tried out in the service of the company.

“The coupe body is of graceful design with long stream lines, and though somewhat smaller than the conventional electric coupe, is said to afford comfortable accommodation for four persons. The doors are 26 inches wide, and the windows are of the sashless type. A dark, rich blue is the standard body color. Upholstering is in high grade French fabric. Both doors, as well as the front and rear windows, are provided with mechanical window lifters.

“Among the chassis features may be mentioned the cantilever springs and the low center of gravity, which latter adds to the safety of the car. The coupe weighs approximately 2,000 lbs., and has a wheelbase of 100 inches. With a battery equipment of 20 lead cells and 180 amperehours capacity it attains a normal speed of 17 and a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. The rated mileage on a single charge is from 60 to 75.

“A General Electric high speed motor is used, and the controller Is the General Electric's continuous torque, non-arcing drum type which affords four forward speeds and two reverse. Speed control and steering are effected by means of conveniently arranged horizontal levers. The front axle is equipped with Bower roller bearings, while the rear axle, which is of the three-quarter floating type, has shafts of chrome vanadium steel and employs Hyatt heavy duty roller bearings. The drive is of the direct worm type with no universal joints, and is supported on Hess Bright ball bearings. The springs are of the full cantilever type of chrome vanadium steel and are self-lubricating. Twelve inch internal and external, Thermoid-lined brakes act on each rear hub of the car. None of the braking strains are taken through the worm gear.

“The Milburn roadster has much the same specifications as the coupe except that it weighs 100 pounds less and has twenty-five ampere hours greater battery capacity, giving a mileage of approximately 75 under normal driving conditions. The normal speed of the roadster Is 19 miles per hour, the maximum 24. In the roadster the steering lever is replaced by a 16-Inch steering wheel, acting through a worm and nut gear. A rain vision windshield with a special one-hand top and curtains add to the distinctive appearance of the car.

“The Milburn delivery wagon, with a wheelbase of 90 inches, has a carrying capacity of 750 pounds in addition to the operator and an extra passenger. The price of $985 covers the chassis only, due to the wide variety of body types required for various conditions of service. Bodies of all types are furnished at prices ranging upward from $100. The delivery wagon has a battery capacity of 180 ampere-hours, a normal speed of 14 miles per hour and a maximum of 17. The car has a mileage of 40 to 50 on a full battery charge.

“The equipment of all the models is complete, consisting of two six-Inch front lamps, tail lamp, two inside corner lamps, for the coupe, bell, voltmeter, speedometer, eight-day rim wind clock, tire pump, hydrometer, jack, tools, etc. The tires included in the standard equipment are Goodyear special electric, 30 x 3 1/2 inches. Motz cushion tires, 32 x 3 1/2, are optional at an extra charge."

Production of the Milburn commenced in early 1915, the January 21, 1915 issue of the Automobile reporting:

“Milburn Enters the Field

“The Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, 0., is new to the field of electric vehicle makers, though it has long been a vehicle producer. The two new passenger models which it has brought out are modern creations which have as features comparatively light weight and low cost, the roadster model selling for $1,285 and the coupe for $1,485. The chassis is the same for both, the wheelbase being 100 inches and the rear springs, cantilevers. In each case a General Electric motor in conjunction with a Philadelphia battery.”

The Milburn was the lowest-priced electric of the time and much lighter than its competition. The most popular model was the closed doctor’s coupe which accounted for the majority of the 2,500 cars produced during its first two years on the market (1,000 cars in 1915 and 1,500 in 1916).

Two new models, the $1,685 Brougham, and the $1,995 Town Car, were introduced between late 1916 and early 1917. Like the coupe, the steering in the Brougham was controlled via a hinged tiller that dropped onto the driver’s lap from the left side of the interior. The Roadster and the Sedan had traditional steering wheels, while the Town Car owner could operate the vehicle via the steering wheel in the open front compartment or by using the tonneau-mounted tiller in the rear.

The August 1, 1917 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal introduced both models to the trade:

Caption to pic:

“Model 27, The Milburn Brougham.

“This model has capacity for four passengers, 105-in. wheelbase and standard tread. Tires are 32 x 3 ¼ in. Goodyear Cord, and equipment includes five lights, voltammeter, electric horn, speedometer, tools, jack, hydrometer, charging plug and pump.

“Lower Bodies on Milburn Electrics

“The new line of Milburn Electrics produced by the Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, Ohio, have been greatly changed in their general appearance by the adoption of the modern, low-hung design of body. They are also lighter in weight and greater in speed and agility. A very important and appreciated advantage in the Milburn is its modern seating arrangement. There is the customary stationary rear seat for two, but instead of extra chairs, there are two equally comfortable front seats which entirely disappear when not in use. Wide doors and ample room permit even carrying a trunk, packages or anything that is bulky. Its lightness, low-hung body, 105-in. wheelbase, Goodyear cord tires in combination with long, cantilever rear springs, make the Milburn a very easy riding car. The one-piece front glass may be lowered entirely, and when desired, there is a slanting glass rainshield at slight additional cost, to prevent rain from collecting on the front glass and obscuring vision. The rear window may also be entirely lowered and the door windows are raised and lowered and held in any desired position by the Dura mechanical window lifter. Though the car appears to be exceptionally low, there is unusual height from floor to ceiling and from seats to celling. The interior finish is in rich grey cloth and the upholstery is as comfortable as good looking.

“Extreme simplicity contributes materially to Milburn lightness. Further weight reduction is due to the selection of materials and the distribution of load and weight. Antifriction bearings of ball or roller type are used in every instance where they will serve to reduce friction. Parts that require oiling, but are ordinarily difficult to reach, are provided with self-lubricating bushings.

“The price of Model 27, the Brougham, is $1685 f.o.b. Toledo, Ohio, while Model 30, the Town Car, sells for $1995.”

Early Milburns only had a useful range of 60 to 75 miles, a situation they hoped to rectify by the addition of easily replaceable battery packs, 1918 literature advertising ‘the batteries are now on rollers that operate on tracks, simply roll out the discharged ones and roll in the freshly charged set.’

Also introduced for 1918, was the Milburn Sedan which offered a more conventional look, a top speed of 30 mph and a range of up to 100 miles. It also marked the final appearance of the slow-selling $985 Milburn Light Delivery Truck.

President Woodrow Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, was an early proponent of electric vehicles and helped influence his purchase of a 1918 Milburn Electric as his personal transportation in and around the White House grounds. Her influence also extended to the Secret Service who added a number of Milburns to their motor pool during his second term in office.

For 1919, Milburn’s model lineup was streamlined, and the Light Brougham became the firm’s standard model. However the firm’s automobile body business continued to bring in the majority of its profits, and a 40,000 sq. ft. addition was constructed midway through 1919, the August 15, 1919 issue of the Commercial Car Journal reporting:

“The Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, Ohio, has added 40,000 sq. ft. of floor space to its factory.”

In late 1919 a massive fire destroyed a large portion of the Milburn factory, with losses amounting to $900,000, which included 30 completed electrics and hundreds of automobile bodies in various stages of construction. Production was transferred to a building on Grand Avenue, owned by Toledo University, which had been recently used to train Motor Transport Corps recruits during the First World War.

The Model 33 Taxicab was added to the all-electric Milburn lineup in 1920 as was the model 27D ¼-ton light delivery truck. A handful of Milburn Taxicabs were sold to Chicago and St. Louis liveries, but for all intents and purposes the age of the electric car had passed.

George H. Woodfield, Milburn’s chief body engineer resigned midway through the years, the July 1920 issue of the SAE Journal reporting:

“George H. Woodfield has resigned his position as body engineer with the Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, and has taken a similar position with the Hale & Kilburn Corporation, Philadelphia.”

Woodfield began his automotive career in 1904 as an apprentice at Burr & Company, coach builders at 209 W. 48th Street, New York City. He graduated from the Mechanics' Institute in New York as a carriage draftsman, and soon became engineer and floor manager for Burr & Company. While there, he designed custom bodies on imported car chassis for such notables as Diamond Jim Brady and Isidor Straus, the Macy magnate. He subsequently took a position with the New Haven Carriage Co., and from there went to Milburn where he assisted in the adoption of mass-production techniques to the manufactured of production automobile bodies. His contribution to the firm included one of the first window-lifts and an adjustable driver's seat. Woodfield left the employ of Hale & Kilburn in 1923 to take a position as body-engineer with Buffalo, New York’s Brunn & Co.

To help finance the reconstruction of the firm’s main factory, Milburn increased its capitalization to $1 million in 1921. 600 of the firm’s 800-man workforce were employed in the manufactured of automobile bodies, the remaining 200 were tasked with constructing Milburn Electrics. The news was announced in the June 18, 1921 issue of Automobile Topics:

“Milburn Increases Olds Body Output

“For the purpose of absorbing accumulated surplus, the Milburn Wagon Co., Toledo, has increased its common stock capitalization from $625,000 to $1,000,000. It is expected the company will employ about 600 men this month to meet its schedule on bodies for the Olds Motor Works. About 220 are employed on the production of the Milburn electric, which is running a four-a-day schedule. Officers elected for the coming year are: President, Horace Suydam; vice-president, Otto Marx; secretary, Frank D. Suydam, Jr.; Treasurer, F.H. Dodge.”

Milburn hoped that a reintroduction of their electric ½ and 1-ton commercial vehicles might bring in more business, an article in the January 12, 1922 issue of The Automobile stating:

“Production Is Resumed on Milburn Electric Truck

“New York, Jan 9 – The Milburn Wagon Co. has resumed production of electric trucks which was suspended in 1917. It is producing the chassis for ½-ton and 1-ton models.

“A complete line of bodies will be provided and purchasers will be given their option on a complete line of batteries. Persons to whom trucks are sold will be supplied with the battery best fitted to their needs. In order to satisfy those questions and give expert advice to fleet owners and individual purchasers, the company has engaged the services of W.L. Lindsell of Detroit, a transportation engineer.

“Sales of the delivery wagons will be handled by Milburn passenger car dealers and others who will be added to the organization from time to time.”

Further details were included in the February 16, 1922 issue of the same publication (The Automobile):

“Milburn Electric Adds Two Commercial Models

“Toledo, Feb 14 – A 1-ton and a ½ -ton models have been added to the commercial electrics made by the Milburn Wagon Co. The line of passenger electrics remains as before, a brougham, coupe and roadster.

“The small model, ½-ton capacity, is known as the Model 43 and is priced at $1,585 in chassis without battery. The wheelbase is 115 in. and tires 32 x 4 ½ in. Pneumatics are used both front and rear.

“The 1-ton model, known as Model 40, sells for $1,985 in chassis without battery. It has a wheelbase of 128 in., 32 x 4 ½ tires in front and 33 x 5 tires in the rear.”

The firm’s new modern body plant soon drew the attention of Milburn’s largest customer, and early in 1923 Milburn’s directors accepted an offer to sell it to General Motors Corporation, the February 8, 1923 issue of Automotive Industries providing the details:

“General Motors Buys Milburn Body Plant.

“Pays $2,000,000 for Factory Which Is Now Building for Oldsmobile

“Toldeo, Feb. 6 – Announcement was made today by Horace Suydam, president of the Milburn Wagon Co., that the General Motors Corp. has purchased for $2,000,000 the entire body business and plant of the Milburn company on Monroe Street, between the Lake Shore and Michigan Central railroads. The purchase includes twenty acres of land, including the lumber yards of the company between Detroit Avenue and the Michigan Central.

“Under the terms of the deal the Milburn Wagon Co. will retain the electric car business which it has built up and, with the capital realized from the sale of its body business, it plans to go ahead on an extensive scale in the development of its business.

“The Milburn company is manufacturing its electric cars in a plant on Grand Avenue, which has been utilized since fire partially destroyed its original plant on Monroe Street. The Milburn company will continue to operate the body building plant for two months in order to clean up the work contracted for before the General Motors deal went through. The purchase was made because of General Motor's need for more bodies. It is said that the corporation intends making the Milburn plant one of the largest body building factories in the country.

“The Milburn Wagon Co. was incorporated May 9, 1873, and like many of the old body building concerns it shifted from carriages to automobile bodies when the motor car came along. Its capital stock is $1,000,000 common and $285,000 6 per cent cumulative preferred, of which $937,500 common and $275,000 preferred of $100 par is outstanding. There is no funded debt and the company has been paying 6 per cent annually on preferred. H. W. Suydam is president; Otto Marx, vice-president; F. H. Dodge, treasurer, and F. H. Suydam, Jr., secretary.

“Bought Under Fisher Arrangement

“DETROIT, Feb. 7— The following statement was made by General Motors in connection with the purchase of the Milburn Wagon Co. body plant.

"'The purchase of the Milburn Wagon Works by General Motors Corp. was made in connection with its working arrangement with the Fisher Body Corp. Future developments at Toledo do not contemplate the building of bodies unless the Fisher Body Co. should find it necessary to use these facilities for increasing its capacity.'

“The Milburn Wagon Works has been building the brougham bodies for Oldsmobile, and the purchase by General Motors is believed to be largely due to this fact and to the desire of the company to confine all of its body building operations to its Fisher subsidiary. With this purchase all of the body building for each car unit is placed either in the hands of the Fisher company or in body factories operated by the car units.

“The Olds contract with Milburn will expire in about two months, at which time the purchase will go into effect. Until that time Milburn will proceed with this contract and other smaller building work.”

Evidently, the extra capacity wasn't needed as GM offered the Milburn factory for sale just months after in August of 1923.

Meanwhile, Milburn's remaining Grand Avenue operations continued to produce small numbers of trucks and a few remaining Model 27L Broughams with parts on hand. A lack of orders for the firm’s obsolete electric vehicles caused the firm to withdraw from business at the end of 1923.

However, a Milburn subsidiary, called the Dura Mechanical Hardware Co. survives today as a subsidiary of Magna International. Formed in 1911 to create hardware for use by Milburn's automobile body building operations, they shared the same officers and address (3140 Monroe Ave.) as Milburn. Its early products consisted of window lifts, window regulators and their related hardware.

The firm's window lifts proved popular with other manufacturers and were soon adopted by Dodge, Ford, Hudson, Hupmobile, Jordan, Moon, Nash, Packard, Studebaker and Willys-Overland. It's product line mirrored that of the Ternstedt Mfg. Co., which was organized by General Motors in 1917 to supply its various divisions with  interior hardware.

In April of 1922, the Dura Mechanical Hardware Co. was reorganzied as the Dura Co. and the firm branched out into the manufacture of a wide range of automobile interior hardware and fixtures which included lamps, clocks, handles and door pulls, although window regulators continued to be their main product.

The firm also offered a line of home funishing accessories and industrial designer Helen Dryden worked as the firm's chief stylist, being replaced by future Ford stylist George Walker in 1929.

In 1936, Dura was purchased by the Detroit Harvestor Co. who reorgnaized it as the Detroit Dura Co. and during the next decade a satellite facility was built in Adrian, Michigan. The firm added convertible top mechanisms to its product line and the firm was reorganized as the Dura Corp. whose Dura Convertible Systems subsidiary manufactured convertible tops for Chrysler (Lebaron), Dodge (Viper), Ford (Mustang) and Chevrolet (Corvette).

Dura eventually relocated its manufacturing facilites to Aguascalientes, Mexico, and its plants in Toledo, Ohio and Adrian, Michigan were shut down. In 2007 , its main competitor, Magna International, purchased the Dura operation and merged it with its CTS (Car Top Systems) subsidiary. The firm continues to manufacture convertible tops for Notrh American Automakers in Mexico.

Milburn Wagon Co.’s plant at 3134 Monroe St., Toledo, Ohio was eventually raised and the property is now the home of Lucas County’s Dept. of Job and Family Services.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







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

Timothy Edward Howard - A History of St. Joseph County, Indiana, Volume 1, pub. 1907

Anthony Deahl - A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of Elkhart County, Indiana, pub. 1905

Corydon Eustathius Fuller - Reminiscences of James A. Garfield, pub 1887

Will T. Hale & Dixon L. Merritt - A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, Volume 8, pub. 1913

Harvey Scribner - Memoirs of Lucas County and the City of Toledo, Volume 1, pub. 1910

Antique Automobile March-April 1975

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