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Robbins & Gerrard; Irvin Robbins & Co.; Robbins Body Corp.
Shaw Carriage Co., 1873-1879; Robbins & Gerrard, 1879-1885; Irvin Robbins & Co., 1885-1919; Robbins Body Corp., 1919-1928; Indianapolis, Indiana
Associated Builders
Shaw Wagon Works 1863-1866, Greensburg, Indiana; Shaw & Lippincott Carriage Mfg. Co., 1866-1870; Shaw, Lippincott & Conner Carriage Mfg. Co., 1870-1873, Indianapolis, Indiana

Robbins Body Corp. specialized in closed bodies and was best known as a production body builder for Stutz and Marmon, their Indianapolis neighbors. In fact, Nordyke and Marmon was located only one block to the west of the Robbins Body plant which was located on Morris St (now West Morris St) at the corner of Division St. (1148 Division St.)

The firm’s predecessor, Irvin Robbins & Company (1885-1919), was a carriage maker who specialized in high-grade carriages and hearses. Located in downtown Indianapolis’ Industrial Building at 10th and Canals Sts., Robbins entered the automobile body business in the early 1900s and by 1919 employed 200 hands.

Irvin Robbins & Co. can trace its ancestry to February 1848 when 16-yo Benjamin C. Shaw was apprenticed to a wagon maker in Greensburg, Decatur County, Indiana.

Benjamin C. Shaw was born February 3, 1831 at Oxford, Ohio to Joseph and Sarah (Serring) Shaw. His father, a veteran of the War of 1812, was a contractor, making significant contributions to the Buckeye State’s Miami Canal and Codrein Pike. Benjamin was reared upon the family farm, attending the public schools of the district, until February, 1848, when went to Greensburg, Decatur County, Indiana. There he learned the wagon-making trade, which he followed until the outbreak of the Civil War, joining Company F, Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry on April 18, 1861. During the first part of the War he served as a Provost Marshal, being appointed a Lieutenant in July of 1861. At the expiration of his term he re-enlisted as Captain of Company G, Seventh Indiana, and was promoted to the rank of Major after the battle of Greenbrier in November, 1861. During the first Battle of Winchester, March 3, 1862, he was thrown from a horse and severely injured. He returned to the War as a Lieutenant Colonel in June, 1862 in the newly organized Sixty-eight Indiana Volunteer Infantry, but was forced to resign on June 1, 1863 due to the injuries he received at the Battle of Winchester two years previous.

In the fall of 1863 Colonel Shaw returned to Greensburg and resumed work at his trade, but remained in business there only a short time, in 1866 removing to Indianapolis, where he joined Samuel R. Lippincott (b. April 18, 1816-d.19XX) in establishing a carriage and wagon manufactory near the Belt Railroad at 26-34 E. Georgia St., Indianapolis.

Samuel Risdon Lippincott was a well-known Richmond, Indiana, manufacturer who commenced carriage building in 1837 (1840) at the corner of Main and Franklin streets, Richmond, later relocating to a facility opposite the Post Office on Marion St., between Main and Walnut.

Shaw, Lippincott & Conner were the proprietors of what was popularly known as the Indianapolis Coach Works, its officers included: Benjamin C. Shaw, president; Samuel R. Lippincott, secretary-treasurer; Jas. H. F. Tompkins, asst. and Thomas C. Redding, superintendent.

The July 13, 1870 issue of the Connersville Times (IN) included the following paid article/advertisement:

“Indiana — Her Growing Trade. The Indianapolis Coach Works.

“The large and deservedly popular Carriage Manufactory, so favorably known throughout the west for its great variety of elegant Carriages and Fancy Business Wagons, is justly one of the institutions of Indiana, and one of which the city of Indianapolis may feel proud. Its enterprising proprietors, Messrs, Shaw, Lippincott, & Conner, are classed among our leading manufacturers, as practical, upright business men, and as Carriage Builders, they are known as among the very ablest in the west, and have been so long and so favorably known and identified with the business, that any comment from us would be entirely superfluous.

“Their goods are of the very highest order of merit, and strictly first-class. The evidence of this fact is found in the great number of Carriages they are shipping to different points, as well as their large and increasing local trade. Their works are very large and most complete. Their buildings are entirely of brick, the main one of which has a handsome front of 80 feet, four stories high, by 200 feet deep, and has been elegantly lithographed by Bradon of Indianapolis. Their goods are raised by an elevator, of Rudy's improved pattern, and each story is supplied with speaking tubes, and cistern water for the convenience of the operatives, as well as many other modern conveniences.

“They have careful foremen in each department, anti all bears evidence of the most systematic and skillful oversight—the carriages they turn out are models of symmetry, taste and elegance. In this connection it may be proper to say that the great perfection to which this branch of art has reached at the present day, over that of twenty-five years ago, is mainly due to scientific principles, and the opening up of our present grand railroad system.

“The great advance in the improvement of the different metals, such as steel and iron, and the opening up to market of the choice voting second growth hickory limber of our country from various localities, hitherto inaccessible, until the development of the present railway system, together with improved styles and systematic skilled labor, is to be attributed mainly the high state of perfection to which vehicles of every kind are being brought.

“The old fashioned cumbrous wheel has given place to the light, tasty and far more durable Sarvens wheel. The heavy common iron spindle is supplanted by the light Bessamer or homogenious steel axle, and thus through all the departments, not only in wood and iron, but in the painting, upholstering and more decorative departments also the same revolution has been accomplished.

“The city of Indianapolis, from its central position, is more favorably located for the manufacture of carriages, perhaps, than almost any other city in the Union, especially in her railway and shipping facilities, her easy access to unsurpassed timber for their construction, the immense wheel establishment at her hand, and the great saving freight in the transportation of her iron, coal, timber, amp;c. and the comparatively cheap living of her operators the opening of her coal and iron ore mines in her vicinity, all of which combined is attracting the attention of large numbers of practical business men, placing her in the very lead of all our inland cities, and justifying the wise remark that railroads, not rivers, now make our cities.

“The Messrs. Shaw, Lippincott & Conner, appreciating the situation of things have associated themselves together for the manufacture of everything in their line, and selected Indianapolis as the base of their operations, and cordially invite all their old friends and customers to give them a call, and they will show them a vehicle, equal in every respect, to the best in the land.”

Shaw & Lippincott exhibited at the 1872 Indiana State Fair, the Indianapolis paper reporting in its October 1, 1872 issue:

“The second day of the Twentieth Indiana State Fair was a great improvement over the opening day


“The space is filled here largely by the Shaw & Lippincott Manufacturing Company, whose work, for its style and elegance, is fast winning for them a national reputation. They have twenty-one pieces of work on the floor, comprising all grades of work, from a plain open buggy to a large and elegantly finished family carriage.”

Unfortunately the firm was unable to weather the Panic of 1873 and it failed. Lippincott returned to Richmond and opened up a funeral home, selling his carriage business to Philip Schneider, a German-born carriage painter who had come to Richmond in 1861. Lippincott relocated his undertaking business to California in the late 1880s, establishing Lippincott & Son at 12 W. Colorado St., Pasadena with his son S. Risdon.

Shaw reorganized in December, 1873 incorporating the Shaw Carriage Company which was housed in the same 26-34 E. Georgia St. factory as its predecessor, his partners in the enterprise being Thomas C. Redding, formerly superintendent of the Indianapolis Coach Works; Redding’s brother, William B. Redding; and attorney Irvin R. Robbins, who had befriended Shaw while serving in the Seventh Indiana Volunteers during the War.

Irvin R. Robbins was born March 30, 1839 in Rush, Decatur County, Indiana to Dr. Richard and Sarah Ann (Wood) Robbins. Richard, his father, was born on Dec. 22, 1811 in Madison, Jefferson County, Indiana to Daniel & Nancy Robbins. His public education was accompanied by jobs at a farm and saw mill after which he taught school in order to finance his further education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After two terms at Miami he attended medical college in Cincinnati, from which he received his medical degree in 1832 after which he practiced medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana and West Union, Indiana.

In 1836 Dr. Robbins settled in Moscow, Rush County, Indiana where he was united in marriage to Sarah Ann Wood on May 20, 1838. He practiced medicine there for the next decade and a half, supplementing his income with the sale of merchandise. In 1853 he relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio to pursue his sales career, only to return to Indiana a year later, settling in Greensburg. He returned to college to study law, and after being admitted to the bar became interested in politics, and in 1856 he helped found the Republican Party serving as a Delegate to its 1st Convention in Philadelphia. In 1860 he was elected to the Indiana State Senate, serving in that capacity until death took him on March 14, 1861.

Irvin, his only child, followed in his father’s footsteps, attending Northwestern Christian University (now Butler) where he received both a B.A. and M.A. in law. Following his appointment as a journal clerk in the Indiana State Senate, he enlisted in the 7th regiment of the Indiana Volunteers, rising through the ranks of various Indiana regiments (104th, 76th, 123rd), serving as a Captain, Adjutant, Major and finally as Inspector General of the US Army’s 23rd Corps. Following the war he became Indiana’s Adjutant General (1893-1897) and remained active in the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) up until his death in 1911 at the age of 72.

Soon after the establishment of the Shaw Carriage Co., Col. Shaw became involved in politics in a big way and in 1876 was elected treasurer of the state of Indiana, being re-elected in 1878. While Shaw was serving Indiana his carriage business was managed by Irvin R. Robbins who in addition to serving as the firm’s attorney was now vice-president and treasurer. 

During Shaw’s term as State Treasurer he had taken $127,000 in State funds which he had used, or appropriated to his own use, in his own business, contrary to law. By mortgaging the E. Georgia St. factory and its inventory to a pair of Indianapolis Banks (First National Bank of Indianapolis & Indiana Banking Co. ) he managed to accumulate about half of the money owed the State, and promised to pay the rest back when business permitted.

The well-connected Shaw managed to avert a scandal for a number of years until some of the banks’ directors and unpaid carriage company creditors filed for receivership. In the course of an ensuing court case (Lippincott & others vs. Shaw Carriage Co., Circuit Court D., Indiana; Nov. 21, 1885 – The Federal Reporter, Vol. 25, pub. 1886 (pp. 577–593) it was revealed that the motive of the new loans to the Carriage Co., on the part of the banks as well as Shaw, was not to raise funds to assist the company in carrying on its business, but to provide a way by which Shaw might escape the disgrace and punishment which might result from the public exposure of his manner of dealing with the public funds.

The lawsuit had little effect on the Shaw Carriage Co. as it had been dissolved on May 13, 1879. In fact Shaw’s succeeding firm, Shaw, Backus & Co., formed in late 1879, had already been reorganized as the Backus Cart Co. and Shaw had relocated to Toledo.

Shaw, Backus & Co., was organized with a long-time Shaw Carriage Co. employee, Victor M. Backus, who bought Shaw’s interest in 1883 reorganizing as the Backus Cart Company. Backus sold that firm a few years later, and entered into partnership with a Mr. Reagan in a Circle St. factory as Backus & Reagan. Backus eventually bought out Reagan and ran the business alone until 1891, when he sold out to H. C. Fisk & Son in order to take the office of Treasurer of Marion County and of the City of Indianapolis, to which office he had been elected in 1890.

In the meantime Shaw moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1882 where he was engaged as superintendent of the Milburn wagon works, one of Indiana’s best-known vehicle manufacturers. Later he took a position at Racine, Wisconsin, as manager of the plant at that place and became superintendent of the great Studebaker plant at South Bend. Upon leaving South Bend he returned to Indianapolis and shortly afterward was appointed chief of the registry department of the post office there, a position he held for eight years, or until his death, which occurred on April 10, 1901, (Apr. 10, 1899?) at his home in Indianapolis.

Although he was closely associated with the deception, Irvin Robbins remained undaunted and within a couple of months had formed a new carriage business, Robbins & Garrard, in partnership with Henry H. Gerrard and Sarah A. Robbins (his mother) in the former Shaw Carriage Co. factory at 26-34 E. Georgia St.

Robbins & Gerrard and Shaw, Backus & Co., exhibited at the 1881 Indiana State Fair, the Dept of Agriculture Annual Report stating:

“The display of carriages, buggies and farm wagons was remarkably good.

“Shaw, Backus & Co., of Indianapolis, exhibited a very large collection of carriages, buggies and wagons of various kinds, the most notable of which was their solid-top delivery wagon, with platform springs and circle track, a paragon of perfection for beauty of finish and elegance of design; it certainly has no equal. The circle-track farm wagons exhibited by this firm are the most convenient, and apparently the most perfect wagons ever made or exhibited here.

“Robbins & Gerrard, Indianapolis, showed a fine collection of carriages and buggies. Their leading exhibit consists of a three-quarter top box buggy, hung on four half springs shackled to two side-bars and crossing each other, supporting the body at two points, enabling the body to be hung very low.”

In 1885 Robbins bought out his partner and Gerrard moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he established Gerrard & Bartlett, 1239-1241 Euclid Ave. in partnership with Sidney F. Bartlett.

The following review of Irvin Robbins & Co. was published in Consolidated Illustrating Co.’s 'Indianapolis of To-Day', published in 1896:

“IRVIN ROBBINS & CO Manufacturers of Carriages Etc., No. 32 East Georgia Street.

“For the last quarter of a century there has been conducted at No. 32 East Georgia Street a manufactory of fine carriages. This was originally The Shaw Carriage Company of which Major Irvin Robbins was vice president and treasurer. In 1879 this company ceased to exist and the present firm of Irvin Robbins & Co. was established, since which time they have continued to manufacture strictly first class carriages of modern design and of the very best quality of workman ship and material. Their line of work includes landaus, broughams, coupes, four and six passenger rockaways, cabriolets, phaetons and buggies and for the last sixteen years they have been engaged in the manufacture of funeral cars. Their work has been used in many counties of the state and in some of the adjacent states and has given perfect satisfaction on account of its strength durability style and finish. They have not catered to the trade that desires flashy and flimsy work built by large factories in great quantities and made only to sell, not to use constantly. Their premises occupy the large building 65x80 feet and four stories high with a wing 20x75 feet three stories high.

“In addition to the reputation of this firm for the manufacture of fine vehicles, Major Robbins has been known in military and political circles of the state for many years. Entering the service as a private in the 7th Indiana he was retired with the rank of Major of 123d, Indiana, and during the last four years has served as Adjutant General to Governor Matthews during which time, with his usual energy, he has developed the Indiana National Guard into an organization that has made it the pride of the state. He is also known as a prominent Scottish Rite Mason of the thirty-second degree and is one of the directors of the Government Building & Loan Institution. He is assisted in the management of the carriage business by his son E.G. Robbins who has grown up in the factory and is conversant with the wants and tastes of the trade.”

Robbins married Cassandra Cobb (b. March 10, 1843 in Decatur Co., Ind., the daughter of Reuben Rice and Amazette Morgan Cobb) on April 10, 1862 in Greensburg, Indiana and to the blessed union were born 5 children: Norman (b. Aug. 17, 1863-d. Aug. 10, 1865); Walter Scott (b. Dec. 25, 1870); Earle Guy (b. Jan. 15, 1873); Ida May (b. May 19, 1875) and Albert Wood (b. May 19, 1875) Robbins. The three older children were born in Greensburg, Ind., and the twins in Indianapolis, Ind.

September 1, 1906 Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal:

“Robbins Bodies

“We illustrate herewith a new Landaulette body recently completed by Irvin Robbins & Co., 32 E. Georgia St., Indianapolis, to set on Model L chassis built by Premier Motor Mfg. Co. of same city for a Chicago customer. These bodies however can be constructed to fit any size motor car that has long enough wheel base which in this instance is in inches This body is painted a dark red striped with gold with brass-mounted joints, handles, storm front, fixtures, etc. The trimming outside is green morocco and green goatskins inside with caleche leather top. The doors are 21 inches in the clear and there is ample leg room with a child's seat inside.”

Soon afterwards Robbins moved to a modern plant located adjacent to the Pathfinder Automobile Co., at the corner of Division and Morris Sts., Indianapolis.

Robbins passing was reported in the February 18, 1911 issue of Automobile Topics:

“Irvin Robbins Dead

“Irvin Robbins, president of Irvin Robbins & Company, one of the oldest and best-known manufacturers in Indianapolis, Ind., died at his home in that city on February 9. For 35 years he had been at the head of the company, which first manufactured carriages and later turned its attention to the manufacture of limousine, coupe and other automobile bodies. He was 71 years old, and was formerly chief of police of Indianapolis. He served with Indiana regiments during the civil war, attaining the rank of major.”

Earle G. Robbins became president upon his father’s death.

Irvin's wife Cassandra, survived him, and their house at 12 West North St. was eventually demolished to make way for Indianapolis’ Scottish Rite Cathedral which was completed in 1929.

Robbin’s skill was in administration and organization and when an Indianapolis carriage builder became available in 1873, he purchased the operation renaming it Irvin Robbins & Co. In addition to his work in manufacturing and Indiana’s Veteran’s affairs, in 1883 he served a term as Indianapolis’ Superintendent of Police.

One famous customer of Irvin Robbins & Co was Indianapolis resident US Senator Benjamin Harrison, who wrote out a check to the firm for $18.90 on July 21, 1888, just prior to his controversial election as the 23rd President of the United States that fall. At that time, $18.90 could purchase a nice buggy and while the President’s vehicle is long gone, the check still exists and is pictured below.

Irvin Robbins & Co. continued to market their fine carriages and light commercial vehicles to their regional Indiana and Illinois customers into the early 20th Century. Soon after the horseless carriage made its first appearance on the streets of Indianapolis, the city became home to a number of motorcar manufacturers and soon afterwards, Robbins began supplying them with automobile bodies.

A 1910 display ad in the Indianapolis Star advertises Robbins’ line of Limousine, Landaulet and Coupe bodies, auto tops and windshields and painting and trimming services, and doesn’t even mention the word carriage.

The firm’s entry into the automotive field was spearheaded by James A. Daugherty, a former Nordyke & Marmon and Atlas Engine Works sales executive, who took over as sales manager in 1907 and following Irvin Robbins’ death in 1911, was made manager of the firm.

Robbins passing was reported in the February 18, 1911 issue of Automobile Topics:

“Irvin Robbins Dead

“Irvin Robbins, president of Irvin Robbins & Company, one of the oldest and best-known manufacturers in Indianapolis, Ind., died at his home in that city on February 9. For 35 years he had been at the head of the company, which first manufactured carriages and later turned its attention to the manufacture of limousine, coupe and other automobile bodies. He was 71 years old, and was formerly chief of police of Indianapolis. He served with Indiana regiments during the civil war, attaining the rank of major.”

Irvin's wife Cassandra, survived him, and their house at 12 West North St. was eventually demolished to make way for Indianapolis’ Scottish Rite Cathedral which was completed in 1929.

James A. Daugherty was born in Shelby County, Indiana in 1872. After graduating from a Noblesville high school he took a position with Nordyke & Marmon in Indianapolis where he held various positions in the accounting, purchasing, and sales departments eventually becoming head of the firm’s foreign sales and mill supply departments. After 12 years he joined another large Indianapolis manufacturer, the Atlas Engine Works, as assistant general manager of sales. At one time Atlas had been the largest manufacturer of stationary steam engines and boilers in North America. Daugherty was appointed manager of Atlas’ Chicago sales office in 1904, but following the firm’s 1907 receivership, he returned to Indianapolis and was hired by Irvin Robbins as sales manager. Within a few years Daugherty had become well-known in the body-building industry and even served a term as President of the Automobile Body Builder’s Association.

As the Ford Model T became popular, Robbins took advantage of Ford’s failure to offer closed bodies and began production of their own line of Robbins-built Model T coupe, sedan and limousine bodies. Sales were primarily regional and they exhibited at regional Auto shows and at the Indiana State Fair. Period advertisements state that a ROBBINSFord body could be installed in an hour’s time.

One typical display ad appeared in the November 29th, 1914 Indianapolis Star:

“When Stormy Days Come –

"Are you going to store your Ford Roadster or Touring Car, get no use out of it and tramp around  afoot – or will you let us transform it into a car of beauty, comfort and year’round service?

“If you have the slightest desire to get full value out of your Ford, come in and let us show you a ROBBINSFord Coupe

“So far as style, practicablity and service are concerned, you cannot make a better investment at this time than having one of these handsome closed bodies put on your car NOW before bad weather sets in.

“ROBBINSFord Bodies are all of standardized dimensions, and can be fitted to any Ford chassis in an hour’s time. In quality, appearance and fittings, they are the equal of closed-type cars costing three or four times more, and if you want to get full value out of your car, we urge you to examine our stock.

"Call or send for descriptive literature today.


"Industrial Building

Along with C.R. Wilson (Detroit, MI) and the Monroe Body Co. (Pontiac, MI), Robbins built production bodies for the Carter Car 1913-14. May 1915 ads listed them at 10th & Canal but by February of 1916, they had moved to new facilities at 1148 Division St. at the corner of Morris Sts.

Although many commercial body builders prospered during the First World War fulfilling government contracts for ambulances and wagons, automobile body-building firms such as Robbins saw a notable decrease in business. However once the Armistice was signed, and the economy recovered, the popularity of closed bodies increased exponentially and by early 1919 it became necessary to expand the business. The May 5, 1919 issue of the Indianapolis Star included the following article/advertisement:

“Irvin Robbins & Co. Book Orders for $800,000 Closed Auto Bodies.

“Revival of the automotive industry since the singing of the Armistice had made unusual progress and is reflecting this activity on allied industry, according to James A Daugherty, president and general manager of Irvin Robbins & Company, builders of closed automobile bodes. The home office and factory of the company are situated at Morris and Division Streets. The factory occupies two modern buildings of brick and steel sash construction and is completely equipped for efficiency production of its product.

“Shortly after the signing of the Armistice, operations in this line of industry were at a very low ebb, but beginning late in January, according to Mr. Daugherty, things began to hum. The order books of the company tell more plainly than words the rate of increase in the production of automobile closed bodies. Mr Daugherty, who has just returned from Detroit and Cleveland, reports that in the last sixty days he has contracted for more than $800,000 worth of sedan and coupe bodies.

“'The plant now is operating at near capacity and within the next month the production will reach its maximum and sufficient orders already have been booked at that rate until next February.'

"Closed Bodies Popular

“'All of these contracts,' Mr. Daugherty said, 'were received from old customers, who report the demand for closed bodies this year to be far in excess of any previous year. These contracts come from some of the largest and most successful builders of automobiles in the country, and some of them predict that within a very short time they will be putting closed bodies on at least 60 per cent of their output. It is, therefore, going to be a very difficult matter for the Irvin Roberts Company to take care of their old customers, and it will be impossible for them to take on even one new customer this year.'

“'Irvin Robbins & Co. have made a specialty of closed bodies, and have their factory and equipment laid out especially for that purpose. Their organization has also been built of men thoroughly trained along that line and they have without doubt one of the best plants and organizations of this kind in the country. This is proved by the fact that every single one of their old customers depended entirely this year on them for closed bodies, not one of them going elsewhere.'

“'To any one mechanically inclined or interested in automobiles it is an interesting sight, to go through our factory and see how bodies are produced. Starting with the engineering department, where the various designs are worked out and a full size draft is made giving every detail of construction. This department also produces forms, jigs, etc., from which the other various departments get their detailed information for producing bodies.'

“'Once can then start in at the lumber yards which is stacked full of the very best grade of ash, poplar, maple and oak. We have our own dry kilns for drying every foot of lumber that goes into the construction of the bodies. From there one goes into the mill room where the special machines cut up the lumber and make the various cuts and operations in the frame work.' 

“'Quantity production has brought about many ways to do work by machinery that formerly was done by hand, thereby reducing the cost. These parts are then taken to the woodworking room where the bench men assemble them and frame up the bodies. There you will find a great deal of fine workmanship and ingenuity displayed in putting the framework together.'

"Factory is equipped.

“'One will then go to the sheet metal department, where the metal panels, which are made either of sheet steel or aluminum, rolled especially for automobile work, are put on to the framework. Five large power hammers are used in hammering this metal into various shapes for fitting over the frame work of the bodies. To an experienced person it is wonderful to see this metal formed into various shapes and come out with such smooth surface and finish when it is completed. The acetylene welding, electric welding and soldering of joints are then brought into play and when the metal work is finished there is no outside appearance of seams or joints. The entire outside framework is covered in metal, no wood being exposed to the weather. Aluminum moldings are put on in such a way that neither the brads nor screws can be seen when completed.' 

“'From here the bodies come through various operations in the painting and upholstering, all of which are very interesting since the different color schemes of the painting and upholstering material must be in harmony, and there is a great opening for anyone with individual taste to work out various designs and color schemes. Various grades of hardware, upholstering material and workmanship must of course be decided upon for the different price bodies furnished.' 

“Mr. Daugherty believes their success is due mostly to their ability to get up original designs, build good bodies and by selecting different price materials and workmanship entering into them, and produce bodies that can be successfully marketed on the various price chassis. These are matters that must be handled with extreme care, since it would be foolish to put a high price body on a low price chassis, or a cheap body on a high price chassis. 

“Irvin Robbins & Company are expanding rapidly, and with the prestige they now have in the closed body business, indications are that in time they will be one of the largest manufacturing concerns of this city. They extend a cordial invitation to anyone who is interest in closed bodies to through factory.”

A refinancing plan was proposed whereby Uz McMurtrie, a Marion, Indiana industrialist and current treasurer of the state of Indiana, would spearhead a $1.25 million stock offering.

The November 12, 1919 Indianapolis Star reported on the birth of the Robbins Body Corporation:

“…from other data in our possession we summarize the following:

“This stock issue is for the purpose of greatly extending the operations formerly under the name Robbins Co by immediately more than doubling the capacity of the present modern factory adjoining that of Nordyke Marmon Company Indianapolis. This company specializes in building sedan and other enclosed bodies for automobile manufacturers and has now on the books approximately $2 million in orders from Detroit Companies.”

After the firm’s 1919 reorganization, McMurtrie became the firm’s new president and Daugherty its vice-president and general manager. Although McMurtrie was in charge of the firm on paper, Daugherty actually ran the business and longtime Robbins’ employee H.R.(Jack) Perryman was soon appointed general manager. 

It’s common knowledge that Robbins built production bodies for their Indianapolis neighbors Marmon and Stutz, but they also produced bodies for a few other regional medium-priced car and taxi-cab manufacturers including Dort, Gardner, Graham Paige, Grant, Liberty, Paige and Willys-Knight. 

Robbins built their reputation on closed bodies but they were also adept at building limited-production roadsters and cabriolets. One good customer was Willys for whom they built the 1926 Willys-Knight Model 66 cabriolet.  Robbins also built the elegant 5-passenger coupe body found on the 1927 Series 66A and are thought to have produced the 1927-29 Series 66A Roadsters and Coupe Cabriolets.

With the introduction of the Stutz Eight in 1925, Stutz’s production bodies were sourced from Hale & Kilburn (American Auto Body), a firm that Charles Schwab had acquired in Philadelphia and moved to Indianapolis to be near the Stutz factory. Demand soon exceeded their capacity and when LeBaron redesigned the Stutz line in 1927, Robbins was called upon once again to provide production bodies for their Indianapolis neighbor.

For a number of years Stutz had ordered custom bodies from LeBaron who built them in their Bridgeport, Connecticut factory. After Briggs purchased LeBaron in 1928, Stutz started ordering both their series custom and some production bodies from the LeBaron-Detroit factory in Detroit. Production bodies sourced from both Robbins and LeBaron-Detroit were delivered "in the white" and painted and trimmed at Hale & Kilburn’s Indianapolis plant, then transferred to the Stutz plant.

Stutz promoted a new type of finish called Robbin-Chrome at the 1925 New York and Chicago auto shows. Two of the five Stutzes displayed – a phaeton and a sedan (1925 Series 695 Sportbrohm) were finished in the novel Robbins-sourced treatment. The Jan 8th and 23rd, 1925 issues of Motor Age described the Robbin-Chrome as “unusual and distinctive in that a mottled design of no uniform pattern was created on a smooth dark undercoat. An exceptionally high luster obtained with a special varnish gave the bodies a polished marble appearance.”

In 1927 Stutz offered a Robbins-built Series AA Black Hawk runabout (aka Back Hawk speedster) employing dual-side-mounts, a boat-tail rear section, bicycle-type fenders and aluminum steps in lieu of running boards. A four-passenger version of the car was also available and both vehicles were shown in the 1928 model-year Stutz catalog. Although Robbins created special finishes for Stutz and others, most of their bodies were shipped to their customers in-the-white for finishing at each respective manufacturer’s paint shop. The custom-built Stutz Series AA Black Hawk boat-tail runabout/speedster should not be confused with the budget priced Blackhawk automobile produced by Stutz in 1929 and 1930 for whom Robbins did produce some production bodies as the car shared bodies with the Senior Stutz line.

Robbins-bodied Stutzes and Blackhawks included the 1925 Series 694 Coupe, 1925 Series 695 Sportbrohm, 1928 Series BB 2-passenger Speedster ($3595), 1928 Series BB 4-passenger Speedster ($3595 list), 1928 Series BB 7-passenger Speedster ($3895 list) 1928 Series BB 7-passenger Sedan ($3895 list), 1928 Series BB 7-passenger Limousine ($3995 list). Between 1927-1930 Milspaugh & Irish, Hale-Kilburn/American Motor Body (Indianapolis plant), Phillips and Robbins supplied Stutz with production bodies.

During the same period Robbins supplied Graham-Paige with production bodies for their 1928 Model 629 Coupe & Cabriolet, 1928 Model 835 Coupe & Cabriolet, 1929 Model 621 Coupe, Cabriolet & Roadster, 1929 Model 629 Coupe & Cabriolet, 1929 Model 827 Coupe, Cabriolet & Roadster, 1930 Model 127 Coupe, Cabriolet & Roadster, 1930 Model 137 Coupe & Cabriolet, 1931 Model 127 Coupe, Cabriolet & Roadster and 1931 Model 137 Coupe & Cabriolet. Robbins had previously supplied Graham-Paige’s antecedent, Paige, with production bodies during 1926 and 1927. 

After Briggs bought LeBaron, the building of Stutz production bodies was transferred to the LeBaron-Detroit Co. leaving Robbins to fend for themselves. Their remaining customers, Graham-Paige and Gardner didn’t provide enough work to keep the plant busy so they turned to making radio cabinets for another one of Uz McMurtrie’s business interests, the United States Radio and Television Corp.

A 1928 issue of Autobody announced:

“The Robbins Body Corporation, of Indianapolis, is devoting practically all of its facilities to the manufacture of radio cabinets. Most of the officers are interested in the radio business and the opportunity of securing large orders for this class of work without special solicitation is the reason why the company has already reached a capacity of 1,500 radio cabinets per day. It was expected that the last of the automobile bodies would be completed by the end of June, but as the corporation has had an excellent line of customers for whom it has built bodies continuously for 18 years, it is possible that the building of high-grade automobile bodies may resume in the future.”

US Radio & Television was based in Marion, Indiana and built radios under the Apex, Case, Gloritone, Radiotrope and US Apex brands. The Indianapolis plant produced cabinets between 1928 and 1930.

Although Robbins was no longer building automobile bodies in 1929, Graham-Paige used leftover Robbins-built bodies well into 1931 as did St Louis’ Gardner Motor Company. Robbins continued to be listed as a Stutz production body supplier for several years even though LeBaron-Detroit had supplied Stutz with all of their closed bodies "in the white" since 1928. According to coachbuilding historian Hugo Pfau, when Stutz closed their doors in 1935, a few unused Robbins-built Speedster bodies were eagerly acquired by existing Stutz owners to replace slightly more conservative coachwork.

Uz McMurtrie’s business empire crumbled following the stock market crash and by 1930 both US Radio & Television and Robbins Body Corp were in the hands of receivers. Robbins largest creditor was the Fletcher American National Bank of Indianapolis which held approximately $150,000 in Robbins Body Corporation notes.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Elizabeth Ann Robbins Schechter (Irvin R. Robbins great-granddaughter)







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Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Michael E. Keller - The Graham-Paige Legacy: Graham-Paige to 1932

Mark Meincke - the Complete Guide to Stationary Gas Engines

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

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