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Rex Buggy Co., Rex Shield & Mfg. Co., Rex Mfg. Co.
Rex Wheel Works; Rex Buggy Co., 1898-1916; Rex Shield and Mfg. Co., 1906-1916; Rex Manufacturing Co., 1916-1947; Rex Manufacturing Co. div of Philco, 1947-1997; Visteon Automotive Systems 1997-2007; Connersville, Ind. 1500 Western Avenue, Connersville (1898–1954); 4747 Western Avenue (1954–2007).
Associated Builders
Central Mfg. Co., Fayette Painting & Trimming Co.

While the Rex Buggy Co., its associates (Rex Wheel Works, Rex Shield & Mfg. Co.), and successors (Rex. Mfg. Co.) were well-known manufacturers of convertible and all-weather tops for early automobiles, very few realize they also manufactured aftermarket bodies for the Ford Model T during the mid-Twenties.

It comes as no surprise as executives of the firm were also officers and directors of the Central Manufacturing Co. (and Lexington Motor Co.), a well-known automobile body manufacturer which was also located in Connersville, Indiana’s McFarlan Industrial Park.

McFarlan's industrial park was built on 82 acres of farmland irreverently referred to as 'John McFarlan's Corn Patch' by the locals. He intended to attract manufacturers and suppliers of carriage and buggy equipment to the park and thereby lower his own costs while providing a steady market for other manufacturers.

McFarlan's was the first carriage-related firm erected, a massive 275 by 60 foot four-story structure fronted on Mount Street opposite Columbia. The main building was connected to wings that were situated at right angles to the ends of the main structure and parallel to each other, the first 60 x 150 feet, the second 60 x 190. A newer brick building, 60 x 110 feet, four stories high, was added at a later date and connected with the main structure, the entire plant covering approximately 5 acres.

Initially the site of the park had two advantages which made it attractive to manufacturers, and McFarlan added a third. The Whitewater Canal, begun during the nationwide canal building boom of the l830s, reached Connersville in 1845. The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (later the Central Indiana Railroad), which reached Connersville in 1850, formed the northern boundary of the park. Both provided inexpensive transportation of bulky items, and the railroad tied Connersville to the national market. McFarland himself provided the park's third incentive – inexpensive fuel. He founded the Connersville Natural Gas Company in 1889, providing the park with a pipeline that ran northwards towards recently discovered gas fields in and around Carthage, Indiana.

Originally established in Connersville in 1857, McFarlan’s own firm, the McFarlan Carriage Company, moved to the park in 1887. While his own factory was being completed, McFarlan began approaching regional firms engaged in the manufacture of carriage parts and accessories and asked them to join him.

The Munk and Roberts Furniture Company factory, (later the Rex Wheel Works, aka Connersville Wheel Works, Rex Buggy Co. and Rex Mfg. Co.), erected a four-story structure in 1878 and a five-story brick factory in 1883 near the intersection of Western Avenue on the east side of the canal and 15th Street.

The Rex Buggy Company purchased the former Munk & Roberts building in 1898, formally organizing on November 11, 1898. The firm manufactured the well-known Rex and little-known Yale line of buggies and light carriages.

The similarly-named Rex Wheel Works (aka Connersville Wheel Works) was organized by Edward Willard Ansted in 1900 in order to supply wheels for Connersville burgeoning carriage and buggy-building business. In 1891 he relocated the Ansted-Higgins Spring Company to McFarlan’s Industrial Park from Racine, Wisconsin. Ansted, who later organized five plants for the manufacture of automobile parts, built his spring plant along Columbia Avenue just north of Mount Street. The original structure was 180' x 230'. In 1895 his spring company was merged with an axle works, and the name was changed to the Ansted Spring and Axle Works.

Ansted was also interested in the Central Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1898 in order to manufacture vehicle woodwork for carriage builders located in and around the industrial park. In 1903 it began the manufacture of automobile bodies, which would remain its main line of work into the mid-1930s.

The Rex Buggy Mfg.Co., our subject, was organized in 1898 with an authorized capital stock of $65,000 by Charles C. Hull and a group of Connersville and Indianapolis businessmen who included William H. Harris, Herman Munk, Col. James E. Roberts, and Frank G. Volz. They purchased the former Munk & Roberts Furniture Company factory and began crafting horse-drawn buggies and light carriages that were marketed under the Rex and Yale trade names.

The Munk & Roberts Furniture Co. was originally founded by William Newkirk, a pioneer Connersville furniture manufacturer. In 1868 he took in Cincinnati, Ohio native Herman Munk as a partner and in 1874 Newkirk sold his share in the firm to Col. James E. Roberts, in the style of Munk & Roberts. In 1884 the firm was incorporated as the Munk & Roberts Furniture Co., their specialty being bedroom suites, bureaus and wash stands which were manufactured in two factory buildings located within McFarlan’s Industrial Park. The first, erected in 1878, was a four-story brick structure 60 x 100 feet in size, the second was a five-story structure, 50 x 140 feet built in 1883. During its time in business the firm employed 150 hands with Herman Munk as President and Col. James E. Roberts serving as Secretary and Treasurer.

In November 1898 Munk & Roberts discontinued their furniture operation and became involved with the Rex Buggy Company, exchanging their interest in the plant for stock in the new enterprise. Charles C. Hull, William H. Harris and Frank G. Volz were part of the management and financial team that helped make the Parry Mfg Co. one of the best-known buggy manufacturers in the country.

Rex Buggy’s President, Charles Clement Hull, was born on a pioneer farm in Alquina, Jennings township, Fayette County, Indiana on January 17, 1866, to John Wellington and Marie Frances (Burke) Hull, both of whom were also natives of Fayette County.

Charles received his early schooling in the Jennings Township district school after which he entered the Central Normal School in Danville, Indiana in preparation for a career as a school teacher. After receiving his preliminary education at local public schools, Charles C. Hull attended the Central Normal College, Danville, Ind., completing his formal education in 1885. He then taught school in Fayette County, Ind., for two years and was employed as a clerk in the hardware store of the O.P. Griffith Co., in Connersville until 1889, in that year he and a cousin, William Hanson, bought that business and operated it until 1891 under the name Hull & Hanson. At that time he sold his share in the firm to his partner and took a position as assistant superintendent of the Parry Manufacturing Co., an Indianapolis-based buggy manufacturer.

In 1898 he joined four other Connersville natives in organizing and incorporating the Rex Buggy Co., of which he served as president until 1940, at which time he became chairman of the board of directors. In its early years the buggy company developed rapidly, reaching a production of 19,000 vehicles in 1909 its peak year.

Hull became connected with the Central Manufacturing Company in 1902, and for over a decade served as president of the Connersville Wheel Company, a Central Mfg. subsidiary. He was on the board of directors of the Lexington-Howard Motor Co., manufacturers of the Lexington Automobile, and the board of the Hoosier Castings Company. Hull was along-time member of the National Carriage Builders Association and in 1913 was elected its president. By that time the Rex Buggy Co. employed 300, and shipped it products to all parts of the United States.

On December 5, 1888, Charles C. Hull was united in marriage to Rozzie F. Lair, born Jul. 8, 1865 to Mathias and Discretion (Ferguson) Lair, her father being a former sheriff of Fayette County. To the blessed union was born four children: Ruth M. (Mrs. Frederic I. Barrows), M. Lair (later assistant superintendent of Central Mfg. Co.), Rachel (b.1904) and Charles Hollis (b. 1907) Hull.

The March 1899 issue of the Indianian included the following description of the Rex factory:

“A representative of The Indianian visited this institution on the 16th of February, and went from office to garret, and from garret to the boiler and engine room, and found a well-stocked buggy factory, and one hundred and fifty busy workmen. Skilled mechanics only are employed here, who are competent of turning out the best work and giving the finest possible finish to their vehicles. In the office are eleven persons, including four stenographers and typewriters. On the road there is a small company of traveling salesmen to look after their interest to the trade. The plans and methods of this company are of the most advanced and aggressive type. An additional building for the accommodation of their business is already in contemplation of being erected. Connersville may well boast of this splendid industry, which will no doubt prove a profitable accession.

vThis company was incorporated on the 11th day of November, 1898, with a capital stock of $65,000. The incorporators are: James E. Roberts, W. J. Harris and Frank G. Volz, of Indianapolis, and H. Munk and C. C. Hull, of Connersville. Until recently Messrs. Volz, Hull and Harris have been prominently connected with the Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis; Mr. Volz having charge of the claim and credit department for seven years, Mr. Hull having been in the company's employ as assistant superintendent for nine years, and Mr. Harris having been at the head of the office department as cashier and accountant for six years. These men will endeavor to manufacture nothing but fine grade vehicles.

“Their capacity is fifty jobs a day, and their products are shipped to the central, west and southwest States. There are two five story buildings, one of which is 60x140 feet and the other 60x132 feet in dimensions. This company issues a handsome catalogue, beautifully illustrated with views of the most artistic design and finish. They offer their goods for sale only under the National Carriage Makers' warranty.”

June 1901 issue of American Printer:

“From the Rex Buggy Company of Connersville, Ind., there comes an catalogue of the kind conventional in the light vehicle trade, - a cataloguey catalogue, big, vivid and pictorial to the limit. The Republican Publishing Company of Hamilton, Ohio have their imprint on the book and it is a book that speaks well for their plant's facilities. It is mentioned here, however, to preface the opinion that less money and different handling, with photos instead of drawings, would get out a catalogue more apt to sell goods. It is easily possible in some trades to over-elaborate advertising. This catalogue comes close to doing so.”

July 1901 issue of Inland Printer:

“From the Republican Publishing Company, Hamilton, Ohio, we have received a catalogue printed for the Rex Buggy Company which is an excellent sample of engraving, composition and presswork. From two to four colors were used on each page and the register is all that could be desired. The catalogue consists of fifty six pages, 8 by 10 inches, oblong printed on heavy enameled stock, enclosed in red cover printed in blue and gold and embossed. The catalogue is interleaved with tissue on which the trade mark of the company and the words ‘Are You With Us’ are embossed. The work is of first class quality throughout.”

Orders for the firm's buggies often included accessories, which up until 1906 were producred from numerous third parties. However that changed with the organization of the associated Rex Shield & Mfg. Co., which was organized on May 21, 1906 with an authorized capital of $25,000. It stated purpose was the manufacture of buggy storm shields and related accessories.

The firm's product line was highlighted in the November 1906 issue of National Harness Review:

“O.A. Charles, general manager and Thomas A. West, sales manager for the Rex Shield & Manufacturing Company, Connersville, Ind., called on the 7th inst. Messrs. Charles and West are capable young business men and have achieved a signal success in their respective fields of endeavor.

“Thomas A. West, Sales Manager for the Rex Shield & Mfg. Co.

“Thos. A. West is one of the youngest sales managers in the country. Mr. West is just twenty-two years old and has charge of the selling force of ten salesmen, which he is building up rapidly, and expects to have at least that many more within another year. Although quite a young man, Mr. West has had a vast experience as a salesman. He has traveled all over the United States and sold his line, which consists of all kinds of waterproof goods for carriages, horses and man. He has been unusually successful in handling the large jobbing accounts all over his territory. Mr. West is a member of Columbus Council No. 1, United Commercial Travelers of America, and is also a member of the B. P. O. E., No. 339, of Connersville. Ind. He has a pleasing personality and is quite a ‘mixer.” He is known among his acquaintances in the trade as the man with the ten thousand dollar smile.

“The Rex Shield & Manufacturing Company, with which he is affiliated, is a young concern that has sprung up within the present year, as it was incorporated May 21, 1906. This company is doing a flourishing business now, manufacturing a complete line of Storm Shields, Storm Fronts, Carriage Aprons, Horse Clothing, Rubber and Waterproof Clothing for man; also a complete line of Automobile Goods and Novelties. and their success is largely due to the efforts of Mr. West and his selling force, which consists of practically all young men. The management of the company is also composed of young men and we think that this crowd of young hustlers will bear watching, as they are bound to make a showing in the business world. You will notice their advertisement on another page of the NATIONAL Harness REVIEW.”

By April of 1907 an item in the Carriage Monthly reveals 20% of the firm's output was being sold to owners of automobiles, which at that time were also in need of storm shields and wet weather attire:

“Rex Shield and Mfg. Co., Connersville, Ind., manufacture storm and water proof goods and supply about 20 per cent of their output to the automobile trade. They have enlarged their capacity some 50 per cent and business prospects are bright.”

Rex Shield's general manager, Owen A. Charles and Rex Buggy Co.'s engineering director Matthew R. Hull, were responsible for the first few patents awarded to the two related firms, which are included with the photos seen to the right.

The June 28, 1956 issue of the National Road Traveler (Cambridge City, Ind.) included a short biography of Matthew R. Hull (b. 1870-d.1956) which states he worked with his brother at the Parry Mfg. Co.:

“Mr. Hull was born September 17, 1870, near Alquina, the fourth of ten children of John W. and Mariah F. (Burk) Hull. After his marriage January 33, 1896 to Virginia F Turner of Mount Pleasant, Mich., he lived in Indianapolis three years, associated with the Parry Buggy Company. In 1899 he moved to Connersville to become manager and vice-president of the newly formed Rex Buggy Company.

The 1910 Annual report of the Indiana. Dept. of Inspection reveals that the Buggy company was the larger of the two firms, employing 175 male and 12 female employees who all worked a standard 60-hour work week - the Shield & Mfg. company only employing 14 males and 7 females.

Sometime during its first decade in business the Rex Buggy Co. offered a second line of buggies which were sold under the Yale brand name, the May 1912 issue of Carriage Monthly announcedin the arrival of the firm latest catalog:

“The 1912 catalog of the Rex Buggy Co., Connersville, Ind., is being mailed to the trade. It illustrates and describes the full line of Rex and Yale vehicles covering a wide range of styles in buggies, phaetons, surreys, light spring wagons and vehicle parts.”

The American Distributing Co. of Detroit, marketed the firm's products to Detroit's automakers, which by mid-1915 included convertible all-weather tops as evidenced by the following itme in the August 15, 1915 issue of the Horseless Age:

“Rex Sedan Tops - The American Distributing Co., Detroit, Mich., is marketing a line of sedan tops made by the Rex Buggy Co. of Connersville, Ind. which are very attractive in appearance and constructed with a frame of hardwood, mitred and mortised and so substantially ironed and braced to make the top rigid, that there is no likelihood of rattle or squeak. The exterior of the top is covered with high grade waterproof top materials and the is trimmed in head lining strength plain plate or beveled plate glass is furnished in the windows and doors both of which may be easily put in removed. An dome light with frosted cut glass rosette is attached to the top and is equipped with an Ediswan socket so that the bulb cannot work loose.”

The King Motor Car Company were one of the first firms to offer Rex tops on their popular line of 8-cylinder truing cars, the August 19, 1915 issue of The Autombile reporting:

“Rex Convertible Top Sedan or Open Car

“THE large number of convertible bodies which have been introduced during the past 12 months shows that there is a strong tendency to replace the ordinary top by something which gives a better combination of the advantages of closed or open bodywork. One of the latest attempts to solve the problem is the Rex sedan top made by the Rex Buggy Co., Connersville, Ind., and this has been taken up by the King Motor Car Co., Detroit, Mich.

“To accommodate this top the body is made to an ordinary open design, and top irons are attached at the usual places, but instead of using the ordinary iron a socket is fixed securely to the main body frame, showing a threaded hole starting flush with the face of the panel when the body is completed. There are four of these sockets and the irons for carrying the ordinary folding top simply screw into the sockets.

“To fix the Rex top the ordinary irons are unscrewed and four others put in their place; these providing four vertical studs on which the Rex top is set and held down by nuts. This gives a rigid attachment for the rear part, and the front end is secured to the upper extremities of the windshield irons.

“The main frame of the Rex is hard wood, well strengthened at the joints and comprises the leather and Pantasote roof with the back piece and a post located just aft of the tonneau doors on each side. In this condition the body is just as much an open one as with an ordinary top and no side curtains.

“The rearmost windows are held in frames which can easily be put in place and fixed by screws, this protecting the tonneau seat from side drafts. To attach the door windows a few screws are run vertically into sockets on the top edges of the doors and into the body side piece between the doors, the parts to which the windows hinge being also attached to the roof frame. An ingenious idea is the use of thin pressed metal troughs which connect the bottom edge of each window piece with the top edge of each door. As the windows and doors swing on different hinges a gap opens between the two as the door is opened and there is risk of pinching a finger between the two when closing the door again. The metal trough closes this crack and removes the danger while also assisting to keep out driving rain.

“All around the top is a narrow leather flap which covers the junction and closes any crack, while the weight rests on felt pads which prevent injury to the paint. Inside the finish is in cloth or Bedford cord so the appearance is handsome. To give ventilation the tonneau windows are divided and the top half can be lowered instantly. There is no part which is flimsy or rattlesome.

“The King company has arranged with the makers of the top to supply King dealers at a special price, and it is understood that the top is attachable to any model D touring car. The weight is stated to be about 175 lb., or about 100 lb. more than a folding top.”

Matthew R. Hull, Charles C. Hull’s younger brother, was a talented engineer who headed Rex' engineering dept. During his tenure the firm was awarded 37+ patents relating to convertible tops, windshields, doors, latches, storm-fronts, trailers and automobile bodies:

US Pat. 756021 - Filed Oct 19, 1903 - Issued Mar 29, 1904
US Pat. 816013 - Filed Sep 8, 1905 - Issued Mar 27, 1906
US Pat. 864952 - Filed Feb 5, 1907 - Issued Sep. 3, 1907
US Pat. 875999 - Filed Apr 16, 1907 - Issued Jan 7, 1908
US Pat. 1154399 - Filed Jun 21, 1915 - Issued Sep 21, 1915
US Pat. 1174155 - Filed Apr 6, 1915 - Issued Mar 7, 1916
US Pat. 1181528 - Filed Jun 21, 1915 - Issued May 2, 1916
US Pat. 1181528 reissued as US Pat. RE14519 - on Sep 10, 1918
US Pat. 1284349 - Filed Apr 6, 1915 - Issued Nov 12, 1918
US Pat. 1346203 - Filed Mar 29, 1917 - Issued Jul 13, 1920
US Pat. 1363510 - Filed Jun 3, 1919 - Issued Dec 28, 1920
US Pat. 1425014 - Filed Mar 29, 1917 - Issued Aug 8, 1922
US Pat. 1483305 - Filed Apr 1, 1921 - Issued Feb 12, 1924
US Pat. 1483809 - Filed Dec 30, 1921 - Issued Feb 12, 1924
US Pat. 1483809 reissued as US Pat. RE16500 - on Dec 7, 1926
US Pat. 1483810 - Filed Jun 9, 1922 - Issued Feb 12, 1924
US Pat. 1483811 - Filed Dec 9, 1922 - Issued Feb 12, 1924
US Pat. 1503419 - Filed Jun 27, 1923 - Issued Jul 29, 1924
US Pat. 1541960 - Filed Mar 29, 1924 - Issued Jun 16, 1925
US Pat. 1560788 - Filed Mar 29, 1924 - Issued Nov 10, 1925
US Pat. 1564573 - Filed Jul 15, 1924 - Issued Dec 8, 1925
US Pat. 1566480 - Filed Mar 29, 1924 - Issued Dec 22, 1925
US Pat. 1569807 - Filed Mar 29, 1924 - Issued Jan 12, 1926
US Pat. 1572290 - Filed Jan 2, 1920 - Issued Feb 9, 1926
US Pat. 1577256 - Filed Feb 3, 1925 - Issued Mar 16, 1926
US Pat. 1578125 - Filed Oct 9, 1922 - Issued Mar 23, 1926
US Pat. 1603010 - Filed Mar 29, 1924 - Issued Oct 12, 1926
US Pat. 1624170 - Filed Oct 21, 1925 - Issued Apr 12, 1927
US Pat. 1637112 - Filed Mar 22, 1920 - Issued Jul 26, 1927
US Pat. 1644018 - Filed Jul 15, 1924 - Issued Oct 4, 1927
US Pat. 1650276 - Filed Oct 21, 1925 - Issued Nov 22, 1927
US Pat. 1658123 - Filed Jun 27, 1923 - Issued Feb 7, 1928
US Pat. 1658124 - Filed Jul 15, 1924 - Issued Feb 7, 1928
US Pat. 1681479 - Filed Dec 9, 1925 - Issued Aug 21, 1928
US Pat. 1720790 - Filed Aug 31, 1926 - Issued Jul 16, 1929
US Pat. 1731495 - Filed Nov 7, 1925 - Issued Oct 15, 1929
US Pat. 2170717 - Filed Nov 21, 1935 - Issued Aug 22, 1939
US Pat. 2216553 - Filed May 27, 1937 - Issued Oct 1, 1940
US Pat. 2317613 - Filed Nov 22, 1940 - Issued Apr 27, 1943.

The June 15, 1916 issue of Motor Age states the firm was engaged in the trimming and painting of automobile bodies, although the customer is not mentioned:


“Connersville, Ind., June 9—The Rex Buggy Co., of this city, which for many years has been actively engaged in the buggy business, has now practically ceased all activities in connection with the horsedrawn vehicle and has turned over the entire plant to the manufacture of car tops, and the trimming and painting of bodies.

“A neat convertible top is being marketed under the trade name of the Rex-o-dan, and, as the name suggests, it is a sedan type that can be readily converted into a sedan type of car, or used with the plain open sides in the same way as a touring car with the top up. The side curtains can be used with the permanent top and in this way all the advantages of the touring top are maintained.

“The side curtains are carried in an envelope formed directly in the front of the top, over the driver's head. They are out of the way and out of sight until they are required, when they can be reached by simply unbuttoning the flap which holds the envelope closed.

“A hardwood frame is used in the construction of the sedan top. It is mitered, mortised, glued and screwed together and very substantially ironed to make the top rigid and to eliminate squeak and rattle. The body of the top is constructed of light laths of poplar, covered with wadding and then by a layer of cheese cloth. Over this is placed the weather and waterproof covering. The rear quarters are made with upright bows, which are covered with sheet steel. The steel is also covered with the wadding, cheese cloth and waterproof material. Inside the entire structure is covered with a substantial lining.

“An electric dome light with a frosted cut glass rosette is fitted within the top. This is equipped with an Ediswan socket so that the bulb cannot work loose, and the wiring for this is arranged to be readily attached to the lighting equipment of the car.”

An article on wood klins in the October 25, 1916 issue of Lumber World Review indicates the firm was about to enter the automobile body business:

“The Rex Buggy Co., Connersville, Ind., who are going to make automobile bodies had to have two 20 x 76 verticals (drying kilns) and the Connersville Wheel Co. just because the Rex Buggy Co. had two also had to have three 19 x 76.”

It's likely the firm's body manufacturing operations were limited to work for firms in the immediate area, which includes providing coachwork and body finishing for the Empire automobile, which was assembled at the plant during the early and mid-teens. Engineered by Harry C. Stutz, the Empire was constructed under contract for a group of Indianapolis investors which included Speedway owners Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison and Arthur C. Newby between 1912 and 1919.

As the firm's name was no longer related to their product line, Hull combined the assets of the Rex Buggy and Rex Shield and Mfg. Co., and reorganized in late 1916, forming the Rex Manufacturing Company, the December 1916 issue of The Hub reporting:

“New Name Chosen - The Rex Buggy Co., Connersville, Ind., has filed articles showing that the name of the company has been changed to the Rex Manufacturing Co.”

The firm's convertible automobile tops quickly evolved into the permanent glass-sided tops that were popularly known as ‘California Tops’ in their day. The March 21, 1918 issue of Automotive Industries reporting:

“Rex All-Season Tops

“SEVERAL styles of convertible or all-season tops have been developed by the Rex Mfg. Co. of Connersville, Ind. They include sedan, coupé and roadster types. When it is desired to prepare the car for summer use the side sections are removed bodily and thus the dead weight carried is materially reduced.

“The door windows have upper glass panes held by nonrattle screw fasteners, and slide in velvet-covered channels. Rubber bumpers are provided on which both top and bottom glasses rest. With all windows removed the sides are wholly unobstructed.

“The top is specially designed to harmonize with the body lines of the make of car with which it is used, though its mechanical features and general appointments are standard. The door and outer sections are held in position by attaching irons. When these are removed the holes are covered by leaving the plates in position, where they are firmly held by the cap screws.

“The Rex top is built of hard wood, mitred and mortised and iron-braced. The back and the rear sections of the roof are reinforced with sheet steel. The water-proof fabric cover overlies a layer of wadding and the whole is finished for allweather service in any specified color. The interior finish is made to match the upholstery of the car.

“A special patented latch, used with the exterior coach handles, enables opening doors from both inside and outside.

“Appearance of Rex all-season convertible tops: Above—left, top open; right, closed. Bottom—left, partly inclosed; right, coupé top open”

In 1917 Dodge offered 2 Rex topped vehicles, a 4-door Rex ‘convertible’ 5-pass touring/sedan and a Rex ‘convertible’ 2-pass roadster/coupe. In April of 1919 the latter was replaced with a conventional five window 3-passenger coupe and by the end of 1920 Dodge had deleted all Rex-equipped vehicles from their catalog offerings.

Connersvillle's Rex Manufacturing Company was unrelated to the Rex Motor Car Manufacturing Company of Shrewsbury & New Orleans, Louisiana, whose Rex 6 automobiles were introduced to the trade in the September 18, 1919 issue of Automotive Industries:


“NEW ORLEANS, LA., Sept. 13 — The Rex Motor Car Manufacturing Co. has been organized to manufacture the Rex car, and its plant is already being erected here. Robert Booth, the English inventor of the Booth sectional export body and car designer, is president and general manager. Other officers are: E. C. Upton, H. C. Maynard, A. C. Sinclair, president of the Sinclair Motor Co. and designer of the Sinclair engine, and John Studebaker Lucas, corporation lawyer.

“The company's present plans call for a car built of standard parts with the exception of the Rex-Sinclair 6-cylinder engine to be manufactured by the Sinclair Motor Co. here, and which has had the approval of the professors of engineering of Tulane University. The company expects to be in production by February.”

A display ad in the March 1920 issue of Cosmopolitan presented the advantages to owning the Rex All-Seasons Top:

“A Source of Daily Comfort

“The Rex All-Seasons Top is nothing less than a permanent improvement, affording, as it does, protection against the cold and snow of winter, the chill and rain of spring and fall, and the heat and dust of summer.

“The very fact that the Rex All-Seasons Top is specially designed and built to meet the varying body styles and body dimensions of the cars on which it is applied, lifts the Rex out of the makeshift class.

“Your dealer thinks so well of the Rex that he is showing touring cars and roadsters, fresh from the factory, converted into handsome sedans and coupes by the use of this perfect fitting top.

“And he has a Rex All-Seasons Top in stock which, when applied to the car you already have, will increase both the utility and the value of that automobile.

“The Rex All-Seasons Top is sturdily constructed, readily convertible and moderately priced—the most satisfactory and inexpensive way to motor in complete comfort the year 'round.

“REX MANUFACTURING CO., Connersville, Indiana Manufactured under license in Canada by Carriage Factories, Ltd., Orillia, Ontario, Canada

“There is a Rex All-Seasons Top that is specially designed and built for each of the following makes of touring cars and roadsters:

“Dodge Brothers, Buick, Paige, Studebaker, Reo, Nash, Essex, Hudson, Elgin, Lexington and others.”

Business remained brisk and the company provided convertible tops and accessories for the Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Elgin, Empire, Essex, Hudson, Lexington, Nash, Paige, and Studebaker. During the early twenties the firm purchased the Anchor Top and Body Company of Cincinnati, Ohio to increase its manufacturing facilities, ensuring the firm's dominance in the OEM and aftermaket top market. Like Rex, Anchor was a former buggy manufacturer that had survived by branching out into the manufacture of convertible tops and replacement bodies for Ford, and Chevrolet automobiles.

The Rex Sun and Rain Visor was introduced to the trade in early 1920, the June 18, 1920 issue of Automobile Topics including a full-page advertisement whose text is transcribed below:

“THE Rex Sun and Rain Visor keeps the glare of sun or other lights from the driver's eyes, keeps the windshield clear of rain or mist, sleet or snow. Thus the Rex Sun and Rain Visor does everything that a three piece windshield can do and also serves as a sunshade. Driver and passengers are made more comfortable by this device and the chance of accident is minimized. The Rex Sun and Rain Visor consists of a curtain of waterproof material attached to one edge of a revolving glass shield. As the shield is turned, the curtain unwinds from a spring roller to any adjustment required for various conditions of light or weather. Rex Sun and Rain Visors are specially designed and built to add to the appearance and utility of the cars for which they are sold. In ordering, be sure to specify the car model.

“Dealers lf you handle any of the cars listed below write today for information. Our proposition is exclusively for such dealers. REX MANUFACTURING COMPANY, 1495 Western Avenue, Connersville, Ind.

“Rex Sun and Rain Visors for touring cars and roadster with summer tops are attached by means of adjustable clamps to the windshield standards and are available for cars indicated in the following list:

“Allen sedan; Auburn sedan; Briscoe sedan; Buick models 44, 45, 49, of the E, H, K 21 and 22 series, ‘cape top’ and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Case sedan; Dodge Brothers roadster and touring car, ‘cape top’ sedan, coupe and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Essex roadster, touring, ‘cape top’ sedan coupe and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Ford coupe and sedan; Grant sedan; Hudson ‘M’ and ‘O’ model speedsters and seven-passenger phaetons, ‘cape top’ sedan and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Hupp coupe; Lexington Lex sedan and sedanette; Monitor sedan; Nash sedan and coupe, 2-4- 5- and 7- passenger cars, ‘cape top’ and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Oakland sedan; Overland sedan; Paige 6-42 sedan and coupe and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Peerless sedan and coupe; Pilot sedan; Reo T-6 touring car, ‘cape top’ and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Stearns-Knight sedan and coupe; Studebaker Special 6 and Big 6, 20 and 21 series, ‘cape top’ and 20 and 21 series sedan, Light 6 sedan, Light 6 landau and all models equipped with Rex Tops; Willys-Knight sedan and coupe.”

The firm was involved in Frank B Ansted's United States Automotive Corporation, a short-lived automobile holding company originally organized on July 14, 1919 as a Delaware Corporation. Little was heard of the firm's actual business, other than occasional notices concerning the firm's stock. Typical is the following announcement found in the December 1920 issue of the Automotive Manufacturer:

“Frank B. Ansted, president of the Lexington Motor Company of Connersville, lnc., and his associates, United States Automotive Corporation, with an authorized capital of $10,000,000 of preferred stock, and 300,000 shares of no-par-value common stock, of which 100,000 shares are Class A and 200,000 shares class B, has been organized.

“The new alliance includes in addition to the Lexington Motor Company, the Ansted Engineering Company, the Connersville Foundry Corporation and the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation. Frank B. Ansted Is the president of the United States Automotive Corporation. George W. Ansted, also president of Ansted & Burk Milling Company at Springfield, O., is a vice president; Fred I. Barrows, also president of the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation at Hagerstown, Ind., is a vice president; and Emery Huston, also vice president of Lexington Motor Company, is a vice president. LeRoy A. Hanson, also secretary and treasurer of the Lexington Motor Company, is secretary and assistant treasurer. James M. Heron, also secretary and treasurer of the Rex Mfg. Company, is the treasurer. Directors of the company also Include; William B. Ansted, president of the Central Manufacturing Company; John C. Moore, chief engineer of the Lexington; Charles C. Hull, president of the Rex Manufacturing Company; Arthur A. Ansted, president of the Indiana Lamp Company; Elmer J. Hess. former president of the Western Spring & Axle Company and a capitalist of Cincinnati, O., and O. A. Eberhart, former governor of Minnesota and general counsel of H. W. Dubiske & Company, Chicago.”

The United States Automotive Corp. received some bad publicity related to a lawsuit by Alanson P. Brush in 1921, which resulted in the collapse of th efirm's stock and the subsequent failure of the Lexington Automobile Co. However the firm's ancillary businesses, Rex Mfg. Co. included, appeared to weather the storm relatively unscathed.

During it's short time in business, Rex sold one of its plants to a U.S.A.C. subsidiary, the Fayette Painting & Trimming Company, whose formation was announced in the Michigan Manufacturer and Record:

“AUTO SUBSIDIARY FORMED - A subsidiary to be known as the Fayette Painting & Trimming Company, capitalized with $500,000 shares of common stock, has been added to United States Automotive Corporation, Connersville, Ind. It will make fifty bodies a day for Lexington cars. The officers are Frank B. Ansted, president; Frank M. Crawford, vice president; R.E.E. Hanson, secretary treasurer; and Fred L. Barrows, member of board of directors. A brick plant has purchased from the Rex Manufacturing Company, Connersville.”

As the prodcution of closed automobiles increased, sales of Rex Tops, which were now being reffered to as 'Enclosures' suffered a precipitous delcine in sales. Hoping to stem the tide the firm began offering their own line of accessories and replacement bodies for the Ford Model T, an article in a late 1926 issue of Merchandising Week stating:

"The Rex Manufacturing Company of Connersville, Ind., is now manufacturing a line of all-metal cabinets for ice-less or eletrical refrigeration. The company started in business in 1898 manufacturing buggies. Since then it has gradually thrown its manufacturing facilities to the production of auto bodies, taxicab bodies, and rumble seats for coupes and roadsters."

Two distinct models were offered, the Collegian, which appeared in 1925, and the better-appointed Convertible Coupe, which appeared soon after. A circa 1926 catalog offered the benefits of ‘The Rex Convertible Coupe Body for Ford Chassis’:

“How to Obtain the Rex Convertible Coupe Body.

“Go to your Ford dealer and tell him that you want a Rex Convertible Coupe Body. He will furnish the Chassis, new or used, providing you do not have one of your own. And in either case he will supply the Convertible Coupe Body, mounting it for you, if you wish.

“If your dealer has no body to show you, write direct to us for information.

“Color Combinations

“The inside upholstery is a beautiful Spanish leather cloth. The outside covering is a durable leather fabric offered in four color combinations as follows:

1-Blue and Grey; 2-Black and Gold; 3-Red and Maroon; 4-Gun Metal and Grey

“The darker color is placed above the streamline bead while the lighter shade appears below. Specify your choice of combinations when ordering the Convertible Coupe Body.

“The Body

“The body is equipped complete with the following items; (a) Collapsible top with ventilating and removable glass windows, (b) Pocket container for the windows, (c) Hood lacquered to match the body colors, (d) One-piece ventilating windshield, (e) Instrument board, (f) Floor mat, (g) Gas tank brackets, cap and tubing, (h) Steering column bracket, and (i) Mounting blocks and bolts.

“Complete instructions for mounting are included with the body. A top boot, to enclose the top when folded down, may be had at slight extra cost. It is tailored from high grade khaki cloth with cord welt to match the body color.

“The Chassis

“The Rex Convertible Coupe Body will fit either new or used Ford Chassis, 1921 to 1926. New type (1926) Ford Roadster fenders are used on both combinations, thus giving an entirely new appearance. The gas tank is mounted in the rear compartment of the body with the filling cap outside.

“Rex Manufacturing Company, Connersville, Indiana, USA.”

An attached price list supplied by the Motor Power Equipment Co. of Fargo, North Dakota, and dated May 25,1926 reads as follows:


“We are pleased to announce a new all-season Rex Sport Body, which we believe will prove even more popular that the Rex Collegian Sport Roadster Body.

“We are attaching hereto a circular illustrating the new Rex Convertible Coupe Body for Ford chassis. These bodies will appeal especially to the class of prospects who are interested in a distinctly sport model. It should enable you to increase your sale of Ford chassis as it opens a new field, which could not be reached with a standard stock body.

“These bodies are being carried in stock at Fargo and Saint Paul, and prompt shipment can be made out of either point. We are also enclosing herewith a list of Ford parts which are necessary to add when installing this body on a 1926 and older chassis.

“Rex Collegian Sport Bodies proved to be good seller to the dealers who had them for moving used chassis, and interesting customers who could not be interested in the stock car.

“This new Convertible Coupe Body will have a still larger sale. We believe it will be to your interest to order one of these bodies and mount it on a chassis.

“The list price in the Rex Convertible Coupe Body is $235.00 f.o.b. Saint Paul and $240.00 Fargo. Your cost is $178.75 f.o.b. Saint Paul and $183.75 f.o.b. Fargo. The suggested installation price to be added to these list prices is $15.00.

Yours very truly, MOTOR POWER EQUIPMENT CO., P.J. Enger, Manager, Fargo Branch."

In 1928 the company discontinued the manufacture of automobile tops and bodies and concentrated on its electric refrigerator and freezer business, which was still in its infancy. By the mid-1930s the company had completed the transition and was busily making freezers and refrigerators.

Contracts with Sears, Westinghouse, and five other companies occupied almost the entire activity of the firm during the depression, allowing it to remain a profitable enterprise during America’s worst economic calamity.

For a short time at the end of the 1930s the company also produced 'Rex Trailers,' which were used for general hauling and livestock transport, even producing one that could open up into a camper that could fit four comfortably. The trailer-making portion of the business was subsequently sold to an Indianapolis company.

In 1937, Rex tried to renew a large loan with the Reconstruction Finance Corp., but the agency balked, fearing that the company would soon go under. Three violent strikes by the firm’s A.F. of L. and UAWA union member’s plagued the plant’s management during March of 1937, March of 1938, and July-August 1946, putting the firm in the national headlines for the resultant violence.

1941 - The Rex Manufacturing Co. producing refrigerator cabinets and commercial trailers dismissed 800 workers in Connersville; and the Stant Manufacturing Co. (auto parts) laid off 115. Of the former Rex Co. workers, 350 obtained work in Richmond while 450 are receiving unemployment-compensation benefits.

During World War II all civilian production ceased at the company, and the company began packaging parachute flares and bombs, as well as other products, for the army and the navy. The War Department used the company as an experimental plant. Rex Manufacturing would work out the problems with the assembling of material before mass production began nationally. The company completed eighty-one military contracts and received the “E” for Excellence award from the army and navy four different times.

After World War II the company converted its facilities back to the production of refrigerators, freezers, and household appliances. Within two years, with the demand for luxury items and even basic necessities at high mark, the company had produced more than 500,000 refrigerators in twelve different models.

1947 issue of Electrical World:

“Philco Corp Announces Freezer Unit Expansion In a further expansion of its refrigerator and freezer division, Philco Corp is acquiring the production facilities and all other assets of the Rex Manufacturing Co, Inc, of Connersville, Ind., John Ballantyne, president of Philco, has announced. For the past several years, Philco has purchased the entire refrigerator output of the Rex plants and has had an investment of $973,000 in the preferred stock of that company. In acquiring the Rex company, Philco will issue a net total 51,993 shares of its $3 par value common stock which has been authorized but not issued. Operations of the Rex Manufacturing Co will continue without any change under the direction of the present executive management, and no changes in policies or personnel are comtemplated.”

In 1947 the company became a subsidiary of Philco Corporation of Philadelphia, and within a year 1,800 men and women worked at the plant. In the mid-1950s room air conditioners were added to the manufacturing list, and a new 674,000-square-foot building was erected on State Road 1 North, designated Plant Number 59.

Ranges and laundry appliances were added to the list of Philco products. The Ford Motor Company purchased Philco in 1963. A year after the acquisition the Connersville plant again began making car parts, specifically air conditioner coils that employed a tube fin evaporator mechanism, not phased out until 1988. In 1966 the name of the company was officially changed to Philco-Ford. A $30 million expansion of Plant Number 59 occurred in 1967, increasing plant space at the site to more than 1.5 million square feet. By the late 1960s the company found that it could not be competitive in the range and laundry appliance markets. Since these items accounted for less than 3 percent of total company sales, the plant discontinued their manufacture.

By the mid-1970s the company realized that it was no longer competitive in the home air conditioner market and discontinued air conditioner production at the plant in 1974.

The block-long structure known as Philco-Ford Plant 51, was destroyed by fire on Wednesday (either Jan. 31 or Feb. 7) 1973. Originally built in 1868 in had served as a furniture factory, buggy plant, auto top factory, commercial trailer factory and refrigerator factory. Philco-Ford sold the plant in 1972 and at the time of the fire the property was owned by the Amick & Mobe Development Co.

During the 1970s Ford gradually expanded climate control mechanism production for cars at the Connersville plant, and the company stopped producing the Philco Cold Guard home refrigerator in 1977 in order to concentrate on automotive climate control production. After the company stopped making the home refrigerator, employment dropped from an estimated 5,000 to 2,400.

Within two years the company was making copper-brass radiators and vacuum actuators. The Connersville plant became part of Ford’s Climate Control Division, later merging with Ford’s Aerospace and Communications Corporation.

During the 1980s efficiency became the goal of the plant’s managers while its parent company invested heavily in the plant’s future. With smaller engines and electronically controlled cars hitting the market, the radiators and compressors that helped cool and power them became more sophisticated. The Connersville plant began producing vacuum-brazed radiators and Ford’s new FS-6 compressor early in the decade. Later in the period the plant manufactured the FX-15 compressor.

Throughout the decade the plant received more than $200 million in investment by its parent company, including a 115,000-square-foot expansion of Plant Number 59. The company was placed into a new division with a Ford restructuring plan in 1982. After 1982 the Connersville plant became part of the Ford Electronics and Refrigeration Corporation.

In 1997 the company’s name was changed to Visteon Automotive Systems. In a move to make its component parts group semi-independent the Ford Motor group restructured almost all of its parts producers and assigned them to the Visteon label. The products that leave the Connersville facility were used in all Ford and Lincoln Mercury vehicles made in North America and most of the Ford cars produced in Europe.

In 1998 the Connersville plant employed 3,400 and was anticipating the production of a six-millimeter automotive compressor slated for inclusion in Ford cars after 1999. Unfortunately the collapse of the US economy in 2007 produced hundreds of automobile-related business fatalites, the Connersville Visteon plant among them. Its closure was announced in the February 1, 2007 Indianapolis Business Journal:

“Connersville's Visteon plant will close Sept. 1, affecting all 890 employees.

“Visteon Corp. officials informed employees in their Connersville plant today that the facility will close Sept. 1.

“All 890 employees at the Connersville plant about 60 miles southeast of Indianapolis will be affected, said Kimberley Goode, spokeswoman for Michigan-based Visteon.

“Goode said it is not clear if those employees will be terminated, given severance packages or opportunities for re-assignment within the company.

“’The employees are just being notified this afternoon, and the details are being worked out,’ Goode said.

“‘After a thorough review, we do not believe there is a viable business case to continue operating the plant," Joy Greenway, vice president of Visteon's climate group, said in a statement. ‘Visteon is committed to taking necessary action as part of our ongoing effort to restructure our business and improve our operations. We are proud of our workforce and recognize the impact of such a decision on our employees, unions and the local community, with whom we have a positive relationship.’

“The plant makes components for auto air-conditioning and fuel injectors. The Ford supplier plans to phase out operations as products reach the end of their production cycles.

“The closing will be a massive blow to Connersville and nearby communities. The cuts approach nearly one-third of the manufacturing work force in Fayette County, according to government statistics.”

© 2012 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to George Albright and Tom Overbaugh


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

Frederic Irving Barrows - History of Fayette Counties, Indiana, pub. 1917

John Donald Barnhart, Donald Francis Carmony - Indiana from frontier to industrial commonwealth: Volume 3, pub. 1954

Indiana Trustees' Association - The Indianian, Volumes 3-4, pub. 1898

Rex Allen - Celebrating 100 years, 1898-1998: Rex Buggy Company - Visteon Automotive Systems, pub.1998

Rev. Julius F. Schwarz - Pen and camera of the pretty and progressive city of Connersville, Indiana, pub. 1906

J.T. White - National cyclopedia of American biography, pub. 1952

Henry Blommel - Connersville: The Little Detroit of Indiana – Antique Automobile March-April 1969

Henry Blommel – Cord-Connersville: Where the Action Was – Antique Automobile May-June 1969

Henry Blommel - Lexington: The Might Minuteman – Antique Automobile, November-December 1969

Henry Blommel - The Way It Was - Connersville Spirit (1992)

Henry Blommel - Indiana's Little Detroit: Connersville -1886-1964 (1964)

History of Fayette Counties, Indiana - B. F. Bowen & Co. Indianapolis, IN 1917

Alexander and Roland Leich - Cars of Indiana, Pt. I - Motor Trend, vol. 17 no. 9 September, 1965 issue

Alexander and Roland Leich - Cars of Indiana, Pt. II - Motor Trend vol. 17 no. 10 October 1965 issue

Gordon M. Buehrig, Rolling Sculpture: A Designer & His Work

Richard A. Stanley - The Lexington Automobile: A Complete History

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