Millspaugh & Irish are remembered today as the Duesenberg Model A’s “in-house” production body builder. They started in business as an aftermarket Model T body supplier, eventually supplying production bodies to Anderson, Barley, Duesenberg, Hanson, Kelsey, Lexington, Maibohm, Monroe, Moon, Premier and Stutz. They also furnished taxicab bodies to Barley, Checker Cab, Dodge, Kelsey, Pennant and Premier and supplied limited edition aftermarket bodies for 1923-1927 Dodge chassis. One of the firm’s final projects was a 12-vehicle fleet of Dodge-based Planters advertising vehicles shaped to look like a giant peanut.
Harry Benjamin Millspaugh, was born in Connersville, Fayette county, Indiana, on July 17, 1890 to Byron Elmer and Luella (Smith) Millspaugh. After a public education in the Connersville schools he relocated to Indianapolis where he enrolled in the Indianapolis Manual Training (aka vocational) High School. He served his apprenticeship in the drafting studio of the Nordyke &. Marmon Company, where he worked alongside Clarence R. Irish (b.1890-d.1963), his future partner.
Millspaugh later took a position as a body designer and traveling salesman for the Indianapolis body builder, Irvin Robbins Co. which was followed by a short stay with the Racine Manufacturing Company, a large production auto body builder located in Racine, Wisconsin.
Clarence R. Irish was born in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana on January 25, 1890 to John R. and Mary E. (Whaley) Irish. After a public education he embarked upon a career as a body designer by enrolling in one of the popular correspondence courses available at the time, serving his apprenticeship with Indianapolis’ Nordyke & Marmon Co., where he met Harry B. Millspaugh.
In 1914 the two 24 year old friends took $450 in savings and organized Millspaugh & Irish, securing a 4,000 sq. ft. machine shop located at 537-539 East Washington Street, Indianapolis, for their manufactory. The firm’s initial products were aftermarket bodies and accessories for the Ford Model T s, some built in-house and other’s furnished by third parties.
Soon afterwards Millspaugh married Mildred Jelf on October 14, 1914 and the union was blessed with the birth of one son, Robert Dane, on July 16, 1915.
Early in its career the partners placed small classified ads in the Indianapolis Star, three of which follow:
A series of closed body advertisements in The Ford Owner supplied them with more business than was expected causing a 1916 move to larger quarters at 212-214 W. McCarty street, where closed body production commenced on a quantity basis.
Early on Millspaugh & Irish produced small numbers of professional car bodies for use on popularly-priced Ford and Overland chassis. One interesting 1916 offering was a six-in-one center-door combination coach that was advertised for use as a passenger car, pallbearer's limousine, casket wagon, hearse, or sedan ambulance. The casket rode alongside the driver which allowed for a much shorter and maneuverable professional car.
Further help-wanted advertisements followed in the Indianapolis Star:
In 1919, the ever-increasing demand for auto bodies prompted a move to a 76,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility located on a five acre parcel owned by the Premier Motor Car Co. located on South LaSalle St. near Clayton Ave.
The May 29, 1919 Indianapolis Star reported on the firm’s acquisition of the old factory of the Mais Motor Truck Co., a manufacturer of gasoline-powered 1½ to 5 ton delivery trucks that was acquired by Premier in 1916:
An article in the September and October 1919 issue of the Automotive Corporation announced the partners’ formation of the Indianapolis Body Corporation:
On November 20, 1919 both Indianapolis Body and Millspaugh & Irish ran classified ads in the Indianapolis Star as follows:
The following help-wanted classified appeared in the January 23, 1921 Indianapolis Star:
The June 1921 issue of the Metal Industry included a small item describing the plating needs of Indianapolis’ automobile plants:
Since the late teens Millspaugh & Irish had offered a line of custom-built commercial box and drawer conversions for the rear decks of Ford coupes and roadsters, which by the early twenties expanded to included similar products for Chevrolet and Dodge Bros. chassis.
Millspaugh & Irish built production bodies for the Kelsey "Friction Drive" Car of 1922 as well as its contemporary, the Maibohm which shared the same basic body. The new Kelsey was an assembled car built in Newark, New Jersey whose radiator resembled the stylish piece found on the high-priced New Jersey-built Mercer.
A Millspaugh & Irish-bodied taxicab was added to the Kelsey line in 1923, but unlike the car, the taxi included a standard selective drive clutch and transmission. Kelsey soon withdrew from regular automobile production but continued to build taxicabs through 1924.
Another help-wanted advertisement from the September 7, 1922 Indianapolis Star:
By 1922 the firm was doing $1,500,000 in business, with taxicab manufacturing accounting for ninety-five percent of the production at that time. Although things appear to have been going well for Millspaugh and Irish, the following display ad from the November 21, 1922 Indianapolis Star, reveals problems existed across town at Indianapolis Body Corp.:
In 1923 Millspaugh & Irish was recapitalized for $1,500,000 and incorporated under the same name with Harry B. Millspaugh, president; Clarence R. Irish, vice-president, general manager; and Allan S. Beckett, secretary-treasurer. Joining them on the board were Ed. V. Fitzpatrick, senior member of Fitzpatrick & Fitzpatrick, and Hays S. Buskirk. Becket was the former assistant secretary-treasurer of the Premier Motor Corp. and Buskirk was a wealthy Ford distributor from Bloomington. The new was included in the January 25, 1923 Indianapolis Star:
By that time Millspaugh & Irish were operating as Duesenberg’s in-house body builder. Although some early closed bodies were furnished in-the-white by Fleetwood and Rubay, Millspaugh & Irish furnished the rest of the bodies and eventually built all of the automaker’s factory coachwork.
Millspaugh & Irish also painted and trimmed bodies in-the-white received from third parties and mounted all of the Model A’s coachwork under contract to Duesenberg through 1926. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive long enough to furnish coachwork for the Model A’s replacement, which debuted just as Millspaugh & Irish were liquidated.
Many early Duesenberg Model A’s were bodied by the New York distributor who purchased bodies from northeast coachbuilders who included H.H. Babcock, Springfield and Woonsocket. The first production Model A, chassis no. 600, survives today bearing an attractive circa 1917 Bender and Robinson opera coupe body.
As the Model A debuted in 1921 it remains a mystery as to why an old body was used. Duesenberg historian Randy Ema reports that the vehicle’s serial number, 600, verifies that it is the very first production Duesenberg and states that after being used as a demonstrator it was sold in 1922 to Samuel Northrup Castle, a founder of the Castle and Cook Co., a Hawaiian sugar cooperative. The beauty of that car reveals how far ahead of the curve Bender, Robinson's designs were for that time.
In 1923 Millspaugh & Irish began a mutually beneficial relationship with the Dodge Bros. Co. via an attractive Brougham built specifically for the Dodge chassis. A small item in the Automotive Manufacturer described the handsome vehicle:
For many years the firm had supplied bodies to mid-west taxicab builders who included Barley (Pennant), Checker Cab and Premier. In 1924 a line of Dodge Bros.-Millspaugh & Irish taxicab bodies were announced to the trade:
The Pennant was the result of declining sales of the Kalamazoo, Michigan-built Barley automobile. Equipped with a Millspaugh & Irish taxicab body and a Buda 4-cylinder, the Pennant Taxicab was produced from 1923 into late 1924. To better distinguish the Pennant from its competition they left the factory with a maroon upper body and ivory lower body. Fleet operators in both New York City and Washington, D.C. were known purchasers of Pennant taxicabs.
Millspaugh & Irish also supplied taxicab bodies to Kalamazoo’s Checker Cab Mfg. Co., Although they were built to Checker’s specifications they looked almost identical to Millspaugh & Irish’s other taxicabs which during the early-to-mid twenties all followed the same general outline and configuration - only the livery distinguished one brand of taxi from another.
Millspaugh & Irish marketed their own taxicab bodies under the Shamrock moniker. The attractive taxicabs were available with a choice of a fixed or collapsible landaulet roof over the rear compartment and were also available without a right front passenger door which allowed for quicker loading and unloading of baggage.
Midway through 1924 Millspaugh & Irish became the Indiana distributors for the recently-introduced Duco lacquer system. Capitalized at $12,000, the Duco Corporation of Indiana, Inc. controlled the sale and distribution of DuPont, DeNemours’ Duco to Indiana’s numerous automobile refinishers and body shops. Officers were as follows: C. R. Irish, president; H. B. Millspaugh, vice-president; Allan S. Beckett, secretary and treasurer; and Edwin Theis, general manager. The June 1, 1924 Indianapolis Star reported:
Shortly after Dillon, Read purchased Dodge Bros. from the Dodge widows, Millspaugh & Irish established a satellite assembly plant at 8745 Conant Ave., Hamtramck, Michigan a ¼ mile northeast of Dodge’s Hamtramck assembly plant which was located at 7900 Joseph Campau St. The move helped reduce the cost of Millspaugh & Irish’s Dodge-chassised vehicles which could now be shipped directly from Dodge’s Hamtramck assembly plant.
The following notice appeared in various trades in early 1926:
Dodge Bros.’ 1924 Series 116 offerings included 3 Millspaugh & Irish-built vehicles; an open-drive taxi, a closed drive taxi and a landau sedan. Although Dodge had stopped offering its own taxicab in 1920, the market exploded soon afterwards and Dodge decided it could no longer ignore it.
A circa 1926 Millspaugh & Irish 8-page brochure advertised the firm's Shamrock taxicab bodies all prominently placed on Dodge Bros. chassis. Depicted in the brochure was a fleet of Shamrock taxicabs slated for delivery to Quebec, Canada. The firm also issued a four-page brochure for their Shamrock taxicab partition which allowed a standard Dodge Bros. sedan to be easily converted for taxicab use.
The same basic Millspaugh & Irish taxicab bodies remained available through authorized Dodge Bros. dealers through 1927. The cabs featured a bi-level belt treatment whose lower bead extended through the hood, providing a division line for two-tone body colors. The car also included a limousine-like partition, landau roof style and standard disc wheels.
The Millspaugh & Irish taxicab line expanded to six models in 1927 with the addition of the new Dodge six-cylinder 126 chassis – three 4 cylinder models and three 6 cylinder’s, all on Dodge Bros’ heavy duty 116” chassis.
The 1927 Dodge Fast Four was available as a cowl and chassis which included the following: fenders, hood, wood wheels and a cowl assembly with windshield and header, plus the Deluxe sedan instrument board. Budd disc or Kelsey wire wheels were optional.
For the new Fast Four chassis Millspaugh & Irish developed an All-Purpose Sedan conversion which featured removable rear seats and a curb-side opening rear door similar to those found on sedan deliveries and panel trucks. The Dodge catalog listed it as a $225 conversion, rather than a standard vehicle offering and it failed to qualify as a light delivery car as it weighed over 1,800 lbs.
Soon after the Cole automobile company went out of business in 1925, Millspaugh & Irish relocated their Indianapolis offices into the former Cole factory which was located at 730-738 East Washington St., Indianapolis.
The partner’s Indiana Duco operations, H.E. Doty manager, were moved to the Cole factory as was its finishing and trimming departments and by 1927 they were using 250,000 square feet of floor space. The former Cole automobile factory at 730-738 East Washington Street exists and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
In 1926 Millspaugh & Irish Co. leased the 250,000 square foot plant of the Midwest Engine Co. at 19th St and Martindale Ave. The firm and its predecessor, the Lyons Atlas Co. were descended from the Atlas Engine Works a manufacturer of steam stationary and traction engines. Stationary gas engines and wooden rail cars were manufactured at the facility until in closed down in 1924. The property was advantageous to Millspaugh & Irish as it included a railroad siding that allowed completed automobile bodies to be loaded directly onto railcars from inside the plant. (Martindale was subsequently renamed D. Andrew J. Brown Ave.)
Sometime during 1927 Millspaugh & Irish constructed a fleet of 12 identical Dodge-based Planters advertising vehicles shaped contoured and colored to resemble a giant peanut. A Mr. Peanut effigy rode atop the rear of the car, under which located a storage area for salesman’s samples and baggage. During the next half decade the Peanutmobiles were displayed by the firm’s salesmen at state and county fairs and festivals across the nation.
During 1927 Millspaugh & Irish ramped up their sales staff appointing J.M. Niehaus, a former advertising executive with the Indianapolis Star, as advertising manager. William G. Wood, 247 Park avenue, New York, New York, formerly with Fitz Gibbon & Crisp, Inc., was hired as the firm’s Manhattan representative.
Sometime during 1928 the firm withdrew from business. Indianapolis’ Robbins Corp. exited the body business at the same time, converting their factory over to the manufacture of wooden radio cabinets and it’s likely the same mitigating factors contributed to the demise of Millspaugh & Irish. As the manufacture of production bodies was transferred to the Detroit-based giants, Briggs, Budd and Murray, independent production body builders like Robbins and Millspaugh & Irish were awarded fewer and fewer contracts and decided to withdraw from business before they were forced into receivership.
The firm’s 730 East Washington St facility was taken over entirely by the partner’s Indiana Duco distributorship, which survived into the 1960s. The 19th and Martindale factory was abandoned and the firm’s Hamtramck assembly plant at 8745 Conant Ave., was leased to the Swedish Crucible Steel Co, a manufacturer of automotive castings.
Clarence R. Irish became an executive with the Hoosier Coffee company, which was owned by his brother Everett, and Millspaugh took a job as general manger of the Verville Aircraft Corp. a Detroit-based manufacturer of 4-place Wright-powered personal aircraft.
Verviele’s owners and management had deep ties with the auto body business, its largest stockholder was Briggs Manufacturing Co.’s Walter O. Briggs and Barney F. Everett of Everitt Bros. and E.M.F. fame served as the firm’s president and plant manager.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Fred Roe and Thomas A. McPherson