William Schelm Company - 1910s-1920s - East Peoria, Illinois

    In many smaller communities, the funeral director served many functions in addition to his primary undertaking duties. It is well known that many funeral homes also served as temporary hospitals, places used to stabilize accident victims before they could be transported to a nearby hospital. Additionally they commonly had purpose-built combination hearses which also could be used as an ambulance with minor alterations.

A little-known fact is that in small towns funeral home owners typically owned the local furniture store as well. In very small communities some funeral parlors did double-duty, operating as a furniture store Monday through Friday and as a funeral home when the need arose.

The William Schelm Company of East Peoria, Illinois was one early firm which catered to the funeral home/ furniture store marketplace. Starting in 1914 they offered a combination motorized funeral coach, furniture delivery car using a stretched Model T chassis. This utilitarian vehicle would prove popular in the early years of motorized coaches and numerous manufactures soon offered similar models.  These early multi-purpose vehicles look much like the flower cars that would become popular starting in the late 1930s and some big-city funeral directors used them for transporting floral tributes in large corteges. The unusual Schelm casket-cars were made through the early 1920s.

Some directors used them to transport chairs, altars, and supplies to the cemetery grounds while others used them as a first call car, the vehicle which was sent to the home of the deceased.  In the 19th and early 20th century, some families kept the body in the house and the funeral director did the embalming on site. A number of manufacturers offered embalming or first call cars, which typically contained a casket and all supplies needed for  embalming.


    For more information please read:

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional Car Society)

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Gunter-Michael Koch - Bestattungswagen im Wandel der Zeit

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Thomas A. McPherson - Eureka: The Eureka Company: a complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Superior: The complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Flxible: The Complete History

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Automobile Manufacturers Worldwide Registry

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

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

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999


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