During the late 19th century Racine, Wisconsin was the home of the Racine
Wagon & Carriage Company, Belle City Novelty Carriage Works and Fish
Brothers Wagon Works, all of which closed their doors during the early
twentieth century. The only Racine firm to survive the transition to
automobiles was the Mitchell & Lewis Co., established in 1834. In 1903, its
progressive owners formed the Mitchell Motor Car Company which went on to
produce the popular Mitchell touring car. Both firms were combined in 1910
resulting in the Mitchell-Lewis Motor Co. which until its demise in 1923 was
one of Racine’s largest employers.
Another large transportation-related Racine business was the J.I. Case
T.M. Co., the well-known manufacturer of threshing machines and farm
equipment. A third firm, totally forgotten today, yet equally important to
Racine’s manufacturing history was the Racine Novelty Mfg. Co. / Racine Mfg.
Co., one of the nation’s largest production automobile body builders.
Between 1902 and 1925 Racine supplied bodies to Auburn, Buick, Case, Cole, Elgin, E.M.F.,
Kissel, Lozier, Mitchell, Mitchell-Lewis, Nash, Overland, Pierce-Racine,
Piggin, Premier, Rambler, ReVere, W.W. Shaw, Standard, Stearns-Knight,
Stephens, and Stutz. Racine also
produced a popular line of taxicab bodies for Chicago’s Walden W. Shaw
Livery Co, and its successor, the Yellow Cab Mfg Co.
The Racine Novelty Co. was founded by Frederick Franklin Blandin
(b.1862-d.1927), in a small barn located behind his 1612 Winslow St. home.
Blandin was born in Kansasville, Dover Township, Racine County,
Wisconsin on September 17, 1862 to Horace Franklin (b.1834-d.1902) and
Helena Taber (b.1840-d. 1911) Blandin. Kansasville, Wisconsin is a small
farming community located 19 miles west of Racine.
Blandin married his high school sweetheart Minnie May Bull
(b.1863-d.1938) in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois on May 15, 1884. Minnie
was born 2 miles east of Kansasville in Union Grove, Racine County,
Wisconsin, the daughter of Charles and Christine (Ormiston) Bull.
After working on the family farm Blandin moved to Racine where he took a
job as a US Postal Service letter carrier which allowed the young couple to
purchase a home located at 1612 Winslow St. In 1889 Frederick’s interest in
woodworking led to the part-time manufacture of wooden toys and household
goods from a makeshift woodshop located behind the family home. In 1890
Blandin applied for his first patent, a door check, or double swing hinge
that allowed a household screen door to swing in either direction.
Most of the Racine County Bulls were descended from DeGrove Bull, an
early Raymond Township settler who relocated there from his home in Scipio,
Cayuga County, New York in 1845. Frank Kellogg Bull and Minnie May (Bull)
Blandin were both grandchildren of DeGrove Bull and consequently first
Jerome Increase Case, the founder of J.I. Case, married DeGrove Bull’s
daughter, Lydia A. Bull, in 1849. Her brother Stephen, was one of the Case
company’s incorporators and following J.I. Case’s passing in 1891 became
president of the J.I Case T.M. Co. (a separate firm from the J.I. Case Plow
Co.) When Stephen Bull retired in 1901, his son Frank Kellogg Bull,
(b.1857-d.1927), the firm’s secretary-treasurer became president of the
Racine Mfg. Co.’s listing in the 1909 Motor Cyclopedia states the firm was
originally established in 1889:
"Racine Mfg. Co.—Factories at 6th & 5th Sts., Racine. Wis. Mfrs. coupe,
taxicab and limousine automobile bodies, tops, fenders, dashes, fronts. Est.
1889. F. F. Blandin. Pres.; M. M. Blandin, Vice-Pres.; Geo. W. Jagers,
Secy., Treas. and Gen. Mgr."
During the late 1890s Frederick F. Blandin resigned from the Post Office
and devoted all of his energies to the Racine Novelty company. The small
barn behind the Blandin home eventually became inadequate and Frederick went
looking for an outside investor.
George W. Jagers, a costing clerk for the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co.
and Racine native, became a partner in the firm on January 1, 1902. His
resignation was included in the November 26, 1901 edition of the Racine
“George Jagers, who has been manager of the cost department at the J. I.
Case T. M. Co., for the past twelve years, has resigned his position, to take
effect on January 1. It is said that his successor will be a Mr. Taylor, or that
the department may be consolidated with another department.”
Blandin, Jagers and their respective spouses incorporated the firm on
July 1, 1902 as reported by the Racine Journal:
“NEW CORPORATION FILES ARTICLES
“Articles of incorporation of the Racine Novelty company were tiled with
the register of deeds yesterday. The capital stock is $5,000 and the
incorporators are George Jaegers, F. F. Blandin, Nellie E. Jaegers and
Minnie M. Blandin. The objects of the corporation are to manufacture
woodwork and novelties. The plant has been increased to three times its
former capacity. The officers are: President— F.F. Blandin; Vice
President—Minnie Blandin, Secretary and Treasurer—George Jaegers.”
Disaster struck the fledgling firm on the evening of November 14, 1902 as
reported by the next day’s Racine Daily Journal:
“NOVELTY WORKS ARE DAMAGED
Fire Breaks Out in Racine Novelty Company Plant Last Evening
INTERIOR OF STRUCTURE CONSIDERABLY DAMAGED
Value of the Factory $8,000
“Between the hours of 7 and 8 o'clock last night Miss Mabel Piggins
discovered fire issuing from a three story building in the rear of No. 1812
Winslow street, occupied by the Racine Novelty company. Without delay she
hurried into the home of Mr. Fred Blandin, one of the largest owners of the
property and made known her discovery to Mrs. Blandin who quickly
investigated and saw fire raging on the interior of the factory.
Without delay she called her husband, who was visiting at a neighbor's
and notified him and at the same time the fire department was notified and responded.
The firemen found quite a serious conflagration going in the old part of the
factory and directly over the boiler. Three streams were soon playing on the
flames by fire companies 2, 3 and 3 and it was only a short time before the
fire was under perfect control and out. Fire Marshal Cape, Mr. Blandin and
others made a hasty view of the damage, finding that the interior of the
plant with stock and machinery, was greatly damaged, but an estimate could
not be planned upon the damage at that time. Mr. Blandin stated that the
company manufactured automobile bodies, ironing boards, piano stools, packing
boxes and other articles, and employ about twenty men. The value of the
property is placed at $8,000 and the damage will possibly amount to $4,000.
There is an insurance of $2,000. No doubt the building will be re-built and
business resumed as soon as possible. How the fire originated is not known,
but supposed to have caught from the boiler. The fire department did
excellent work and several thousand people were at the fire as is usually
the case when a conflagration occurs early in the evening.”
The news article revealed that at this early date, Racine Novelty was
already manufacturing automobile bodies, likely of wood as was required at
the time. The damage to the firm’s factory and the destruction of its
inventory required a re-evaluation of the firm’s business plan and Jagers
approached Frank Kellogg Bull, his friend and former employer, for
Bull’s financial assistance allowed the firm to relocate to new quarters
located at 600 West 6th St. adjacent to the 6th St. viaduct. The firm was
reorganized as the Racine Novelty Manufacturing Co. and production was
resumed on a much larger scale. Within the year the firm was placing
classified advertisements for additional carpenters and laborers in the
Automobile bodies became a specialty of the reorganized firm and during
1905 they began closing out less profitable lines. A classified ad in the
April 29, 1905 Racine Daily Journal follows:
“IRONING BOARDS FOR SALE. We are closing out our entire stock of ironing
boards. Call before they are gone. Racine Novelty Mfg 600 Sixth street
An addition to the firm’s Sixth St plant was built during September 25,
1905 and the following May advertisements were placed in the Racine papers
“WANTED — BODY MAKERS AND BODY helpers. Best of wages guaranteed to the right men. Apply Racine Novelty Mfg. Co.”
Racine’s 6th Street was subsequently renumbered with 600 W. 6th becoming
1200 6th St. and the portion of Mead St. adjacent to the plant was renamed
Marquette St. Most of the old factory remains standing on the southern side
of 6th street running between Marquette and Racine Sts. as well as Racine St
to the bank of the Root River, the present site of the 6th St. viaduct.
Racine’s City fathers became alarmed that the firm was utilizing space
under the eastern side of the bridge for their wood steaming department. The
March 26, 1907 edition of the Racine Daily Journal reported:
“There was some stir among city officials last evening when they learned
that the Racine, Novelty Manufacturing company was occupying a part of Sixth
street with their buildings, a portion of that street under the viaduct
being used as a site for a steam dry house. One city official looked at the
other and questions were soon being asked of one another as regards the issuing of a permit for the placing of the frame
structure on the city property. It was easily ascertained that no permit had
been granted the company by the board of public works or any other city body
or officials and that the building had been, erected there without a permit
of any kind.
“An investigation reveals the fact that there are really two buildings
encroaching on the street property. The dry house, is entirety on the
street, under the viaduct while, the south half of another frame building is
located on the street property also. Both of the buildings are low and do
not extend within ten feet of the floor of the viaduct. There is no fire
used in the buildings and the danger of a blaze is therefore very small.”
That July George W. Jaegers, Racine Novelty Mfg. Co’s
secretary-treasurer, petitioned the Racine City Council for a permit to
erect an elevator shaft and four story-brick building along Mead street.
As additional manufacturing space was needed immediately, a portion of
the Charles Alshuler Mfg. Co., located at the southeast corner of Fifteenth
& Clark sts., was leased. Alshuler was the well-known manufacturer of the ‘Racine Shirt’. Although
the firm planned the move as a temporary measure, the old Alshuler plant
remained in use for the next decade and was referred to as Racine
Novelty Mfg. Co., factory no. 2.
The 1907 state of Wisconsin Labor and Industrial Statistics inspection
report lists two separate locations. The first: Racine Novelty Mfg. Co.,
mfr. of wooden ware, 175 employees, powered by 1 80 h.p. boiler; the second:
Racine Novelty Co., mfr. of automobile bodies, 120 employees, powered by 2
boilers, 120 h.p. total.
The September 7, 1907 edition of the Racine Daily Journal theorized that
the firm had been sold to an “Eastern Trust”:
“HAS SOLD OUT TO TRUST?
“Racine Novelty Mfg. Co., Dispose of Holdings to Eastern Firm—Present
Officers to Remain for Five Years.
“It became known today that the Racine Novelty Manufacturing Co., which
has two large and, prosperous factories in this city, one at West Sixth
street viaduct and another at Fifteenth and Clark streets, had sold out to
eastern parties, said to be a trust, but this cannot be verified. However,
officers of the company admitted that the sale had been made and that the
bulk of the business passed into the hands of the eastern parties, What was
paid for the plant is not stated.
“The Racine Novelty Manufacturing Co. manufacture automobile bodies and
tops and also limousine tops and other goods, and when running full force,
employ 370 hands. It is the intention of the new owners to enlarge the plant
and increase the business. Now a new brick building 60x120 has been planned
and foundations are being put in, George Jagers and Fred Blandin, main
officers of the concern, and who have been instrumental in building it up,
remain with the new managers for a term of five years. Frank K. Bull, with
Messrs, Blandin and Jagers, were the largest stockholders of the
No further mention of the ‘trust’ or their ‘eastern investors’ could be
located although the firm’s existing officers were all gone by 1913 as
forecast. Blandin ‘retired’ in 1912 at which time the firm’s management was
replaced by new officers which included John Reid, Jr., president; C. F.
Barndt, vice president, and F. J. Kidd, secretary and George W. Jagers,
treasurer. Another news item dated August 1913 states that Frank Kellogg
Bull had ‘retired’ and the officers now included: Clinton A. Hamilton,
president; W. F. McCaughey, vice-president; Harold Smith, secretary and
George W. Jagers, Treasurer.
The January 16, 1908 Racine Daily Journal reported on the firm’s
“The Racine Novelty company on Sixth street is planning more
improvements. At present they are erecting a large three story brick
building and plans may be out for more room. Yesterday the company purchased
from Peter Matson his residence which is located immediately south of the
plant on Mead street.”
The following legal notice printed in the Racine Daily Journal on Feb 10,
1908 announced the reorganization and pending recapitalization of the firm:
“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: In Accordance with the terms and provisions of
section 1774 of the Revised Statutes of the state of Wisconsin for the year
1898, as amended, notice is hereby given that on the 30th day of January. A. D.
1908, at a regular meeting of the stockholders of the Racine Novelty Manufacturing company
held in the city of Racine, the corporate name of the said company was by resolution
duly passed, - changed - from Racine Novelty Manufacturing company to Racine
Manufacturing company; and that a certificate duly certifying to said change in the
corporate name has been filed with the secretary of state at Madison and with the
register of deeds of Racine county. Dated February 8th, A.D. 1908. George W. Jagers, Secretary
of the-Racine-Novelty Manufacturing Co.”
The 1909 Motor Cyclopedia lists both the old and reorganized corporations
"Racine Novelty Mfg. Co.—600 6th St., Racine, Wis. Mfrs. storm aprons and
curtains, wood and metallic bodies, battery boxes, spark coil boxes, tool
boxes, dashes, fenders and automobile tops.
"Racine Mfg. Co.—Factories at 6th & 5th Sts., Racine. Wis. Mfrs. coupe,
taxicab and limousine automobile bodies, tops, fenders, dashes, fronts. Est.
1889. F. F. Blandin. Pres.; M. M. Blandin, Vice-Pres.; Geo. W. Jagers,
Secy., Treas. and Gen. Mgr."
The July 28, 1909, Horseless Age announced a potential merger with
Piggins Brothers, a Racine manufacturer of stationary engines located at
1113 6th St. Piggins Bros. had previously announced the manufacture of their
own 6-cylinder automobile in the December 1908 issue of Motor Age.
“It is reported that the Racine Manufacturing Company and the Piggins
Brothers, of Racine, Wis., will be consolidated and engage in the
manufacture of motor cars on an extensive scale. Piggins Brothers
manufacture motors for the general trade, and have placed a number of cars
of their own make on the market. The Racine Manufacturing Company has just
arranged for the erection of a five story building. The new site adjoins the
holdings of both companies.”
The December 8, 1909, issue of the Horseless Age announced a further
expansion of the Racine works and the proposed merger with Piggins Brothers
is noticeably absent and presumed stillborn:
“The Racine Manufacturing Company, of Racine, Wis., are adding new
buildings to their plant for the manufacture of automobile bodies,
limousines, taxicabs, coupes, touring bodies, dashes, and battery and tool
containers. The force of employees will be increased to 1,650. The company
now owns nine buildings, covering eleven acres. Eight buildings are four
stories high and the ninth is six stories high.”
Whatever plans were afoot for expansion came to an abrupt halt on
December 12, 1909. The fire was significant enough to be covered by the New
“$650,000 FIRE AT RACINE.; Whole Plant of the Racine Manufacturing
Company Wiped Out.
“Racine, Wis., Dec 12, 1909 – The plant of the Racine Manufacturing
Company, manufacturers of automobile tops and piano stools; the Dania
Brotherhood Hall, the Mitchell Wagon Works, and several residences were
destroyed by fire early today, entailing $650,000 damage, of which all but
$50,000 is borne by the Racine Manufacturing Company. The latter concern
carries $250,000 insurance. The origin of the fire is not known. The fire
started in the mill room of the Racine Company’s plant, which comprised six
buildings and occupied a city block. The fire will put 1,200 men out of
The firm’s operations were consolidated in Plant No 2, Fifteenth & Clark
sts., while a financial plan was undertaken to reconstruct the 6th St
factory complex. A pending recapitalization was announced in the February
17, 1910 issue of The Automobile:
“It has been definitely settled upon that the Racine Manufacturing Co.,
of Racine, Wis., which suffered the loss of its plant by fire on December
12, will rebuild in Racine. The first move is the filing of an amendment to
the articles of incorporation increasing the capital stock to $400,000 from
$50,000. Racine and Milwaukee capital has been interested in the new issue.
Contracts have been awarded for the first new building, to be completed in
May. Ellis J. Gittings, formerly associated with the J. I. Case Threshing
Machine Co., of Racine, becomes treasurer of the company. F. F. Blandin
remains as president, and George Jagers as secretary and general manager.
The company is now in temporary quarters, employing 600 of the original
force of 1,200 men, and more than 4,000 bodies are now being finished. The
company will confine its efforts to the manufacture of automobile bodies,
the piano stool end having been taken over by Solomon Grollman, who has
incorporated the Racine Stool Manufacturing Co. Every style and type of body
will be produced.”
Grollman had been manager of Racine Mfg. Co.’s piano stool department,
and his new firm became one of the nation’s largest piano stool
The March 1910 issue of The Hub reported that the firm was in the process
of rebuilding the factory using the existing foundation, the results of
which can be seen to this day:
“FIRE WAS BLESSING IN DISGUISE.
“The fire in the plant of the Racine Manufacturing Comply seems to have
been a blessing in disguise. The Journal of Racine, in a recent issue, tells
about the new plans of the company comprehensively, and we quote from it in
“As soon as possible the wreckage of the old buildings will he cleaned up
and large four story structures erected on the standing foundation walls and
they are to be strictly fireproof, of brick and steel and equipped with the
latest sprinkling system. It is expected that the first of the buildings
will be completed by May. The capital stock will be increased to $400,000.
Ellis Gittings, for twenty-one years with the J. I. Case T. M. Co, will have
charge of the sales department.
“Since the fire the company has equipped the new building saved and put
in a fire sprinkling system. They now have 18 men employed and will soon
engage 200 more. They have started under way 3,000 to 4,000 automobile
bodies, and things are rushing.
It has not teen fully determined whether the office buildings will be
located on the same corner where the one destroyed stood or not, but it
probably will be. The company will continue as before to manufacture
runabout bodies; landaulets, limousines, coupes, tops, etc., and within a
year will again employ 1,200 men.
“F. F. Blandin will continue in the capacity of president and George
Jagers secretary and manager.”
The February 16, 1911 Racine Daily Journal reported on another
recapitalization of the firm, the second in the past 12 months:
“WILL REMAIN IN RACINE.
“Racine Manufacturing Company Increases Capital Stock Today.
“This Afternoon a meeting of the directors of the Racine Manufacturing
company is being held at the offices of the corporation for the purpose of
increasing the capital stock. At present it is $400,000 and it is the
intention to increase it to $800,000. An effort to sell the $400,000 stock
is meeting with good success and it appears to be the wish of all
classes of people that not a single manufacturing institution should
“That the Racine Manufacturing company, will remain in the city and at
the same time erect large new buildings and double its capacity, now seems
apparent. At this time a large number of men are employed, the best wage are
paid and this number of employees is expected to be doubled.”
The February 6, 1912 Racine Journal News announced that Jagers was
“JAGERS TO QUIT LOCAL FIRM
“Reported That Head of Manufacturing Concern Has Resigned - Gilson Gets
“It was reported today following a meeting of the stockholders of the
Racine Manufacturing company that James W. Gilson, formerly general sales
manager of the Mitchell-Lewis motor company would be appointed to a
responsible position with the Racine Manufacturing Company. It was also
reported that George W. Jagers, who has been secretary and manager of the
Racine Manufacturing company would resign. Mr. Jagers denied the report that
he would sever his connections with the company or that Mr. Gilson would
become associated with the company but certain stockholders who were, seen
admitted that Mr. Gilson would be with the company. “The Capital stock of
the Racine Manufacturing company was recently increased from $400,000 to
$800,000 and the number of directors from three to seven.”
Although Jagers did eventually resign, he remained with the firm for
another 18 months. However, it turned out that the paper was almost right as
Frederick F. Blandin retired within the month. The March 28, 1912 issue of
The Automobile announced Blandin’s retirement:
“Blandin Retires—F. F. Blandin, who has been president of the Racine
Manufacturing Company since its organization, retired from active business
in February on account of ill health brought about by overwork.”
Blandin recovered from ill health and within the year had formed a new
woodworking enterprise, the Racine Piano Bench Co.
The May 1912 issue of the Hub announced the construction of two new
structures at the 6th St. facility:
“BODY COMPANY TO BUILD ADDITIONS
“The Racine Manufacturing Company, Racine, Wis., manufacturing automobile
bodies and trimmings, has plans for two large additions to be built at once.
The company is now one of the largest producers of bodies in the country and
is capitalized at $800,000.”
Racine Mfg.’s chief body designer, Hugh M. Sergeant, moonlighted as an
instructor at the Racine YMCA, which offered night courses in motor vehicle
technology much like today’s BOCES programs. The December 5, 1912 issue of
the Racine Journal News reported:
“Sergeant Y. M. C. A. Instructor—Hugh M. Sergeant, chief draughtsman of
the Racine Manufacturing Company of Racine, Wis., has been selected as
instructor of automobile construction in the new motor school of the Racine
Y. M. C. A. Mr. Sergeant is a graduate of the N. Y. Technical Institute and
author of Practical Problems for Vehicle Machinists.”
In August 1913 Frank Kellogg Bull resigned and the officers of the Racine
Mfg Co. were reshuffled once again and now included: Clinton A. Hamilton,
president; W. F. McCaughey, vice-president; Harold Smith, secretary and
George W. Jagers, Treasurer. The announcement was recorded in the August 5, 1913
issue of the Racine Journal News:
“CHANGES AT FACTORY
“EXECUTIVE OFFICES OF RACINE MANUFACTURING CO. HAVE UNDERGONE CHANGES
“Changes have been made in the executive department of the Racine
Manufacturing company, manufacturers of automobile bodies. F. K. Bull,
president of the J.I. Case Threshing Machine company, has retired as
president of the Racine Manufacturing
company, in which he is a heavy stockholder, and is succeeded by C. A.
Hamilton, who was formerly connected with the Wisconsin Engine company,
having a factory at Corliss.
“W. F. McCoughey has been elected vice president of the company and
Harold Smith and George Jagers re-elected secretary and treasurer,
respectively. It is understood that the company will engage export men as
superintendent and foremen of the several departments and, when the
manufacturing season reopen, will have contracts for automobile bodies
sufficient to keep scores of skilled mechanics at work for a year, or until
the next season opens.”
William F. McCaughey, was an executive of Northwestern Mutual Life
Insurance Co, of Janesville, Wisconsin. Clinton A. Hamilton (b.1873-d.1917)
was a seasoned engineer and manufacturing executive who brought much-needed
changes to the Racine organization.
Hamilton’s obituary, published in Volume 39 of the Transactions of the
American Society of Mechanical Engineers, published in 1918 follows::
“Clinton A. Hamilton was born on October 5, 1873, at East Orange, N. J.
He was a graduate of the high school of East Orange. He served a
three-years' apprenticeship in the E. P. Allis Company's shops at Milwaukee,
and then went to Pittsburgh to take a position with the National
Tube Company. When he severed his connection with this firm he entered into
consulting engineering in New York City, under the firm name of McClave,
Hamilton and Remmer. Later he became general sales manager for the
International Steam Pump Company, with headquarters at Pittsburgh. In 1906
he accepted the position of vice-president and general manager of
the Wisconsin Engine Company, Corliss, Wis., and remained with
this company for about six years, resigning to accept the position of
vice-president and general manager of the Lavigne Steering
Gear Company, Racine, Wis. In 1913 he became president and general manager
of the Racine Manufacturing Company, and retained this position until 1916,
when he formed a partnership with Mr. James Cram and took over the sales
agency of the Allen Motor Car Company. He was connected with this company at
the time of his death. He became a member of the Society in 1908. He died on
March 12, 1917.”
As predicted one year earlier, George W. Jagers resigned in early 1914 to
form his own manufacturing company. He purchased Racine Mfg. Co.’s No. 2
plant located in Charles Alshuler’s Racine Shirt factory, renaming it the
George Jagers Mfg. Co. The March 20, 1914 Racine Journal News reported:
“The George Jagers Manufacturing Co., with headquarters at
the corner of Fifteenth street and Clarke street, today secured the contract
for erecting at their plant 10,000 automobile motors for the Argo Motor Co
of New York.”
In 1919 Jagers helped organized the Comet Automobile Company of Decatur, Illinois.
The next day (March 21, 1914) the Racine Journal News reported that the
Racine Mfg. Co. was constructing a new $50,000 factory to build closed
“WILL ERECT NEW FACTORY
“Racine Manufacturing Company compelled to enlarge factory capacity to
meet increase in business.
“C.A. Hamilton of the Racine Manufacturing Company gave out the statement
this afternoon that the company was making excavations for the erection of
another large and modern building in connection with the works to come from
$40,000 to $50,000. It will be a closed body shop for the manufacture of
limousine and coupe tops.
“The dimensions of the building are 281’ and 100’; four stories high of
brick and steel, fully equipped. An effort will be made to complete this
structure in seventy-five days and employment will be given to over two
hundred skilled mechanics.
“The Racine Manufacturing company is enjoying a rapid growth in its
business and the new building will take the place of the unsightly debris
which has stood since the factory was destroyed by fire a few years ago.”
The entire Racine Mfg Co. management team was reshuffled at the start of
1916. Clinton A. Hamilton, William F. McCaughey and Harold Smith were out and John
Reid, Jr., president; C. F. Barndt, vice president, and F. J. Kidd,
secretary were in. R. I. Schonitzer formerly body engineer and designer with
the Allen Motor Co. of Fostoria, Ohio, was also hired as Racine’s chief body
The following description of the firm’s facility appeared in Fanny S.
Stone’s 1916 history of Racine entitled Racine, Belle City of the Lakes, and
Racine County, Wisconsin: a History, Volume 1:
“The plant, located at Sixth and Mead streets, (now Marquette st.) is
devoted to the manufacture of automobile bodies, which are sold all over the
United States. The factory contains five hundred thousand square feet of
working space and there are three four-story buildings, all modern in
construction, supplied with sprinkler system and thoroughly equipped for the
conduct of the business. The latest improved machinery has been installed
and the work has been so organized and systematized that there is no waste
of time, labor or material. Co-operation is maintained between the various
departments and the completion and assembling of the parts is accomplished
in the shortest possible time. Something of the magnitude of the
establishment is indicated in the fact that they have nine hundred employes
upon the payroll and most of these are skilled laborers. The greater part of
the output consists of automobile bodies for high grade cars and these are
used by a score or more of the leading automobile manufacturers of the
country. The plant is usually operated to its full capacity and within its
walls the hum, of industry is constantly heard, the undertaking being one of
the important factors in the commercial activity and upbuilding of Racine.”
Solomon Grollman, president of the Racine Stool Manufacturing Co. passed
away on March 4, 1916. The firm was subsequently reorganized by Frederick F.
Blandin, his former employer. The news was announced in the March 9, 1916
Racine Journal News:
“NEW COMPANY SOON TO TAKE OVER STOOL PLANT
“It is believed that articles of incorporation for the new company which
has purchased and will operate the Racine Stool Manufacturing company's
plant, will be filed in a short time. The capital stock of this company may
be $100,000. In business circles it is reported that Fred Blandin, who for
many years was interested in the Racine Manufacturing company, at which
time piano stools and seats were made,
will be the general manager of the new concern. There is no angle of the
manufacturing business that Mr. Blandin does not understand, and if he
becomes manager, his name and ability will lend strength to the company.”
A small strike by union woodworkers during the middle of May, 1916 was
quickly settled after a few days without incident. However, a much larger
walkout that occurred midway through September, 1916 was not so
insignificant. The September 18, 1916 Racine Journal News reported on the
“METAL WORKERS LEAVE THEIR BENCHES UNTIL OVERSEERS ARE FIRED.
INSPECTOR AT RACINE MFG. COMPANY'S PLANT AROUSES IRE OF THE MEN.
“Claim Their Action Is No Strike, But That They Refuse to Work Under Man
Against Whom Grievance Is Charged.
“Refusing to work under a certain inspector and a foreman, workmen in the
metal room of the Racine Manufacturing company’s plant this morning carried
their objections to the company officials, and left the plant pending the
decision of management.
“According to the men the number who left their benches approximated 200,
while at the factory it was said only about 35 or 40 had left the shop. The
demand was for the discharge of the offenders, the grievance apparently,
being chiefly lodged with the inspector. The men claim he put more work on
them after the price had been set. They said their action is no strike.
“A factory official said that the work had been going on in an
unsatisfactory condition of late, and the inspectors had been put on to
insure an improvement.
“‘There is a bunch of these fellows who are looking for trouble,’ said
the official, ‘and they are going to get it now.’ The men say the inspector
against whom their action was taken was forced out of the Seaman plant in
Milwaukee for the same tactics against which they now complain.
“The metal workers marched down to Union Hall this morning and held a
brief mass meeting. Another meeting is to be held this evening.”
At that meeting the remaining union members voted to join the strike,
which during the next few days grew to included most of the firm’s 600
Most of the strikers were subsequently fired and replaced with outside
workers (aka scabs) culled from Milwaukee, Corliss, and the surrounding
region. Numerous violent incidents between the ‘scabs’ and picketing
strikers forced the Mfg. Co. to hire ‘private detectives’ to ensure that
their non-striking employees got to work safely.
As the strike wore on, the firm downplayed its significance in the local
media as evidenced by a October 30, 1916 Racine Journal News article quoting
C.F. Brandt, Racine Mfg. Co.’s vice-president and factory manager:
“‘So far as the factory work was concerned, one would not know there is a
strike on.’ He said that there are 600 men available and that at the time
the strike was called there were 647 men employed. There are now 511 at work
in the plant, which is said to be all for which there is available
employment at this time.”
No further mention of the strike was can be found after November 17, 1916
and the December 30 1916 issue of the Racine News Journal noted the strike
had simply “died out”. It’s more than likely the strike was never settled
and that union workers simply returned to work when their savings ran out. A
history of the Auto Workers Union reveals that although many strikes were
initiated at the time, very few actually settled.
Adolph Dahlem, a plant foreman, and the only person seriously injured
during the associated violence, passed away on June 26, 1917. Although his
injuries were thought to have contributed to his death, the matter was never
resolved and only one of his attackers prosecuted.
The March 1917 issue of the Hub reveals the plant was not only up and
running, but that a second shift had been instituted:
“Racine Mfg. Co., Racine, Wis., has been obliged to place its factory on
a regular night shift to handle the large volume of orders for taxicab and
other special bodies now being booked. The output has been increased to 80
touring car bodies and 15 closed bodies daily. The concern is now working on
a renewal order for 75 taxicab bodies for the Walden W. Shaw Delivery Co.,
Chicago and New York. The company is also licensed to manufacture
Springfield closed bodies. It has been found necessary to eliminate all
custom work in order to accommodate the demands of the regular contracting
Just as automobile body contracts were cut back due to the European
conflict, the firm successfully bid on a contract to produce 500 life boats
for the US Government. The July 29, 1918 Racine Journal News reported:
“LOCAL FACTORY WILL BUILD LIFEBOATS FOR UNCLE SAM'S VESSELS
“Racine Manufacturing Co. Has Been Given Contract to Make 500 Metallic
Boats to Be Placed on Transports and Other Ships.
“CRAFT TO BE BUILT HERE WILL BE OF BEST TYPE IN USE
“Racine is to provide life boats for transports and commercial ships in
addition to manufacturing hundreds of automobile trucks for use in the army
and as the war progresses Racine factories may be called upon to turn out
other necessities. Racine is also making thousands of pairs of shoes for the
soldiers and many of the smaller shops are turning out small gun and
airplane parts as well as cots and tents for the boys. Before
long other Racine factories will be called upon to do their share in
turning out supplies and the owners are standing ready to co-operate with
the government in every way possible.
“The latest plant to become engaged in the manufacture of supplies for
the war department is the Racine Manufacturing company, Sixth and Mead
streets, that company has been given a contract to build 500 metallic life
boats, fully equipped so they can be placed aboard the transports and the
new commercial ships which are being, turned out by the hundreds and in many
of which are being placed boilers manufactured by the Freeman company.
“The first of the life boats will be assembled this week and shipments
will start about Sept. 1. About one-fourth of the large plant and force will
be utilized in manufacturing the craft.
“Of Heavy Construction
“The boats to be constructed here are of the standard set by the
government and of a design now being turned out by one other company; which
is located in Illinois. They will be made out of sheets of heavy steel,
there being about 10 sheets to the finished boat, all of them, riveted
together so they will have the greatest strength and be able to withstand
the heavy strain to which they will be subjected by the conditions which
usually are present when a ship has been torpedoed or shelled by an enemy
submarine and the passengers and crew are making a hurried effort to save
“They will be 24 feet in length and broad of beam and have seats running
lengthwise as well as athwartships. They will be as near unsinkable as
science is able to plan them, having air compartments, under side seats
which are provided for the passengers or the soldiers who are saved from an
“The seats running crosswise of the boats will be for the sailors who are
to man them. Oars and a sail will be supplied so that they can be operated
in calm weather as well as when the breeze is stiff and headway can be
attained by the use of the sail. Accommodations for 40 persons are provided.
The mast will be furnished by the Racine company as well and the sail will
be in place and ready to raise as soon as the mast is put into position.
Everything will be in shipshape at all times aboard the tiny craft so that
there will be no loss of time when the occasion for their use arises.
“All Supplies Aboard.
“The Racine company has contracted to put every sort of supplies aboard.
There will be lockers or compartments for the storage, of oil to be used in
the boat's lights or to be poured on the water for the purpose of stilling high seas in a storm. The
oil will be supplied before the boats are placed aboard flat cars, as will
also the other supplies of that kind. Lockers to hold the food and the
medical supplies will also be supplied and the boats made usable at any
“While the first order is only for 500 of the boats, it is expected that
subsequent orders will come in when the first has been filled. The boats on
account of the heavy material used will be expensive and the contracts will
run into a small fortune.
“Even the ribs in the boat will be thus making them much stronger than
the old wooden boats which have been made use of for years. The Racine
company has been working its sheet iron as its large plant has been utilized in the manufacture of
steel automobile bodies and is especially adapted for work of this kind. But
for many weeks Racine people will have the pleasure of seeing Racine-made
life boats aboard freight cars bound for the east to play their part in the
The November 13, 1919 edition of the Racine Journal News announced the
acquisition of the firm by the McCord Corporation a Chicago-based auto parts
manufacturer established in 1909 by Alvin Carr McCord, the former president
of Western Steel Car & Foundry, a firm long associated with Pittsburgh’s
Steel Car Co.:
“BIG AUTO PARTS FACTORY IS SOLD
“Racine Manufacturing Company Becomes Property of McCord Corporation
Now Controlling Seven Plants In This Region
“LOCAL WORKS TO BE ENLARGED AND TRADE EXTENDED
“Announcement has just been made that the McCord Manufacturing company
has acquired the Racine Manufacturing company of this city. The latter
company is one of the largest manufacturers of automobile bodies, fenders
and other body attachments, and operates a large plant adjoining the J.I. Case and Mitchell company. The
McCord company, through its recent purchases, now operates seven plants in
the Detroit and Chicago district and in Canada. In some of its lines it is
the largest manufacturer in the country. The consideration is not stated.
The plant will be enlarged and the facilities extended. It is understood
that C.F. Barndt and the management, which has brought the business up to
its present successful point, will remain in charge of operations.”
At that time the McCord Corp. was the largest independent manufacturer of
automobile radiators in the country. It subsidiaries supplied rail passenger
car hardware, truck axles, and gaskets and lubricators for all sizes of
steam and gas engines. The associated McCord & Co. foundry was a leading
producer of automotive cylinder castings, and steel and gray iron castings
for automotive, truck, tractor and railway use. The firm’s principal
automotive customers included many former and current Racine Mfg. Co.
Allen, Auburn, Case, Chalmers, Cole, Dodge, Elgin, Haynes, Hupp, Kissel,
Marmon, Mercer, Premier, W.W. Shaw, Stearns Knight, Studebaker, Velie and Yellow
McCord furnished castings to Continental Motors as well as the following
motor truck and tractor manufacturers:
Carrier, Cleveland, Columbia, Corbitt, Denby, Dorris, Federal, General Motors, Gray,
International Harvester, Independent, Iowa, J. T. Tractor, Kissel, Nordyke & Marmon Co.,
Pioneer, Riker Electric Trucks (Locomobile), Sanford, Service, Signal, Sterling, Troy Wagon
Works, and Vim.
The January 1920 SAE Journal reported:
“O.L. Curtis has resigned as engineer and sales manager of
the Racine Mfg. Co., Racine, Wis., to accept a position with the Ligonier
Auto Body Co., Ligonier, Ind.”
In 1918 Frederick F. Blandin abandoned the piano bench business and
started producing wooden phonograph cabinets for the recently established
Racine Phonograph Co. The October 13, 1921 issue of the Racine Journal News
announced his takeover of that firm and its reorganization into the Blandin
“PHONOGRAPH PLANTS ARE MERGED HERE
“The old Racine Phonograph company has been merged into what will
hereafter be known as the Blandin Phonograph company. The capital stock is
$400,000. The plant will remain in the Sattley bulling, but is to be
enlarged and more employes are to be engaged. Demand has been greater than
the production in the past. Fred Blandin is the president and manager of the
new company; S. W. Blandin, vice president and sales manager; M. W. Youngs,
secretary and treasurer, and the directors are Milton Jones, E. W. Rappe, H.
M. Applegate and L. J. Kirsch. Models are being enlarged and range from $100
In 1923 Martin Draeger, the owner of the Racine Boat Co., and designer of
Horace E. Dodge’s 1923 Water Car, selected the Racine Manufacturing Co. for
series production of the Water Car’s 22’ hulls. After Draeger’s prototype
hull was approved by Horace E. Dodge, mass production of the contracted 110
mahogany hulls commenced on June 1, 1923 at Racine Mfg. Co.’s Sixth St.
factory under the direct supervision of Draeger.
By August 15th the initial run of 110 22’ Dodge Water Cars was completed.
Powered by the same 35 h.p. Dodge four-cylinder engine found in Dodge
passenger cars, the $2,250 Sport Runabout was an overnight success when they
went on sale a participating Dodge Automobile dealers that winter. By that
time the Dodge Boat Works new Atwater St. factory had been completed and
subsequent production of the Water Car was undertaken in Detroit.
In 1924 Racine Mfg Co.’s vice-president and general manager, Charles F.
Brandt, resigned to take a position with the F.B. Stearns Co, of Cleveland,
Ohio. His departure marked the beginning of the end for the Racine
automobile body manufacturer. As the automotive manufacturing center of the
country became centered upon Detroit, the remaining eastern and mid-western
automotive manufacturing companies went out of business one by one.
Racine’s Mfg.’s outdated facility couldn’t handle the massive sheet metal
stamping machines dictated by modern closed body construction and at the
beginning of 1925 the McCord Corp. made the decision to shut down their 6th
A longtime (1905-1925) Racine Mfg. Co. employee named Thor Thompson was
put in charge of the liquidation, and during 1925 the remaining machinery
was auctioned off and the vacant building leased out to a number of local
businesses. Thompson liked the area and in 1927 he established a small gas
station appropriately named Thompson's Gasoline Alley in the alley adjacent
to his old employer.
In 1931 Thompson and a partner, J.E. Lockwood, formed the Thompson Realty
Co. and purchased the property, selling off the buildings located on the
southeast corner of Marquette and 6th St. to the Young Radiator Co. Thompson
went on to become Racine’s largest independent gas station operator.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com