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Schukraft & Hessler, Wm. Schukraft & Sons; Schukraft & Co.
Schukraft & Bro., 1866-1873; Schukraft & Hessler 1873-1884; Wm. Schukraft, 1884-1890; Wm. Schukraft & Sons; 1890-1930s; Schukraft & Co., 1930s-1970s; Chicago, Illinois
Associated Builders
Schukraft Tire Distributors, Chicago Tire Co.

Schukraft was a highly-regarded Chicago wagon and truck body builder that was virtually unknown outside of the area. The firm was unique in that three generations of the Schukraft family - Wm. Schukraft (I) (b.1841); Wm. Schukraft (II) (b.1873); Wm. Schukraft (III) (b.1908) - controlled it from beginning to end. A related family-owned firm, Schukraft Tire Supply, served as Chicagoland’s largest Goodrich Tire distributor during the thirties and forties, and into the 1950s as the Chicago Tire Company.

Although the Schukrafts withdrew from business in the 1970s, they left a magnificent 3-story factory - constructed in 1925 - that most recently served as the home of of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

William Schukraft (I), the firm’s founder, was born in Germany during November of 1841. He emigrated to the United States after the Civil War, marrying Hellan R. ???? another German immigrant in 1870.

His first Chicago listing is from the 1873 Chicago Business Directory under Carriages:

“Schukraft & Bro., 40 N. Green”

The name of his brother is unknown, and within the year he had taken on Ernest C. Hessler (b. May. 14, 1859-d.Nov. 21, 1891) as a partner, their listings in the 1874 Chicago Directory follows:

“Schukraft & Hessler (William Schukraft & Ernest Hessler), mfrs. carriages and wagons 40 N. Green.”

“William Schukraft (Schukraft & Hessler), r. rear 49 N. Green.”

“Ernest Hessler (Schukraft & Hessler), bds. 526 Milwaukee Ave.”

Ernst Charles Hessler was born in Mittelburg Germany on May 14, 1859 (one source lists March 6, 1858) to Gottlieb Christian and Marie Sophie (Fritz) Hessler. The family emigrated to the United States and Ernest took a position with the Schukrafts as an apprentice and in 1874 as a partner.

During that time William and Hellan Schukraft’s marriage was blessed by the birth of two children, Hellan in 1871 and William (II) in 1873. Four more children joined the family during the ensuing years, their listing in the 1900 US Census follows:

“William Schukraft (I) (b. Nov. 1841 in Germany) Wagon Mfr.; Hellan R. (b. Oct. 1844 in Germany) Married in 1870; Children: Hellan (b. Aug. 1871) occ. Milliner; William (II) (b. Mar. 1873) occ. Wagon Mkr.; George (b. Mar. 1874-d.May 2, 1904) occ. Wagon Mkr.; Sophie (b. Nov. 1877) occ. school teacher; Elizabeth (b. Dec. 27 1880-d.Jan 5, 1967 – m. Pearson) occ. school teacher; Fred (b. Apr. 2, 1885-d. Feb. 14, 1966) occ. Wagon Mkr. Schukraft.”

1874 Chicago Directory:

“Schukraft & Hessler (William Schukraft & Ernest Hessler), mfrs. carriages and wagons 40 N. Green.”

“William Schukraft (Schukraft & Hessler), r. rear 49 N. Green.”

“Ernest Hessler (Schukraft & Hessler), bds. 526 Milwaukee Ave.”

1876 Chicago Directory:

“Schukraft & Hessler (William Schukraft & Ernst Hessler), wagons 40 N. Green.”

“William Schukraft (Schukraft & Hessler), r. 64 N. Sangamon.”

1878 Chicago Directory:

“Schukraft & Hessler (William Schukraft & Ernst Hessler), wagons 108 W. Lake.”

“William Schukraft (Schukraft & Hessler), r. 58 N. Desplaines.”

Schukraft bought out Hessler’s interest in 1884, and by the end of the decade brought his two eldest sons into the business which conducted business in the style of Wm. Schukraft & Sons.

1887 Chicago Directory:

“William Schukraft, carriages, 108 W. Lake; h. 241 Fulton.”

1888-89 Chicago Directory:

“William Schukraft, blacksmith, 108 W. Lake; h. 241 Fulton.”

1891 American Carriage Directory under Carriage and Wagon Makers:

“Schukraft, Wm. (repairer), 108 West Lake”

Business increased during the 1890s and the firm relocated its operations to Schukraft’s residence, its listing in the 1903 American Carriage Directory under Chicago, Illinois; Carriage and Wagon Makers:

“Schukraft William & Sons (wagon), 237-239-241 Fulton Street”

William Schukraft’s (I) listing in the 1910 US Census follows:

“William Schukraft (b. Nov. 1841 in Germany) Wagon Mfr.; Hellan R. (b. Oct. 1844 in Germany) Married in 1870; Children living at home: Sophie (b. Nov. 1877) school teacher; Fred (b. Apr. 2 1885-d.Feb. 14. 1966) wagon mfr. Schukraft.”

1913 Vehicle Yearbook:

"Schukraft & Sons, Wm., 933-943 Fulton St (W) Wm. Schukraft, Jr., president, treasurer, general manager and purchasing agent; Fred. Schukraft, secretary."

August 14, 1915 issue of the Economist:

“Froman & Jebsen have completed plans for a four-story wagon factory, 100x100 feet, to be erected for William Schukraft & Sons, corner of Fulton and Sangamon Sts. It will cost about $65,000.”

Cook County Death records reveal that the family patriarch William Schukraft (I) died on February 27, 1916, at the age of 75 and was buried in Waldheim Cemetery.

His eldest son’s - William Schukraft (II) - listing in the 1920 US Census follows:

“Wm. Schukraft 46 yo. b. 1874 in Chicago, Ill. Builder of Motor Bodies, spouse Margaret L. Smeaton Jaffrey, the daughter of Dr. David Smeaton Jaffrey, Chicago’s pioneer veterinarian. 42yo; Married June 16, 1903; Children: Jane 15 yo (b.1904); William 12 yo.(b.1908) Schukraft.”

A body constructed on a 1 ½ ton Kissel truck chassis was mentioned in a 1917 issue of the Commercial Car Journal:

For the body equipment a contract was made with William Schukraft & Sons for a specially designed body with an ornately decorated exterior combined with an interior of modern and sanitary type. The salesmen's ideas and suggestions were...

1919 Chilton Directory under Bodies, Wood (Commercial):

“Schukraft. Wm. & Sons, 933-43 Fulton St., Chicago, Ill.”

1925 issue of Iron Age:

“William Schukraft, 943 Fulton Street. Chicago, manufacturer of automobile truck bodies, has plans for a three-story factory on West Washington Street, 140 x 225 ft., to cost approximately $275,000 with equipment. E.H. Freeman, 64 W. Randolph St. is the architect.”

1925 issue of Manufacturers News:

“Shop: $340,401, 3 sty, 140 x 208, Brk., re. conc., stone trim. S.W. corner Washington & *Ann. Archt. E.H. Freeman, 64 W. Randolph St. Owner Wm. Schukraft & Sons, 943 Fulton st. Archt. will take bids soon. Finishing plans.”

*Ann St. was later renamed N. Racine Ave.

June 26, 1926 Oak Park Leaves:

“Most Beautiful Van in America

“That's the verdict of everyone that has seen this van and are in a position to know. In fact, they pronounce it both beautiful and practical and the last word in furniture moving equipment.

“The covered wagons which started all this moving business back in the days when our great-grandfathers crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and wended their way westward, looking for the ideal home site, has at last developed into the motor van which, with its greater speed, improved riding qualities, and better appearance, makes long moves in days that once took months, delivering the furniture unmarred, and all the time maintaining a beauty that is pleasing to the eye.

“The van shown above was designed by Mr. A.R. Campbell, Treasurer of The Jackson Storage & Van Company, and built on a Mack Motor Bus Chassis by the Wm. Schukraft & Sons, body builders.

“Mr. C.A. Willard, manager of the Jackson Storage & Van Company, says: ‘Mr. Campbell, who spent months in designing this van, believes that it goes far to remove all the objections from moving great distances by motor van. In other words, it is Mr. Campbell's contention that, while it was his object to improve the lines on this van and make it good to look at, his major object was to gain better riding qualities and better care of the household goods moved, thus making it possible to move safely over greater distances.’

“‘This object,’ Mr. Taylor says, ‘has been accomplished by the use of pneumatic tires, special springs set on rubber, Westinghouse Shock Absorbers, and by hanging the body lower over the chassis, and, as a favorite old carriage maker once said, we say to you, Truly, sir, it rides like a cradle.’

“Aside from the lines the beauty of it is accentuated by the nickel-plated windshield, radiator, lamps, door hinges, etc., and by the finish, the ground work of which is in two-tone green, contrasted by the Company's red spear and the name in gold. The cab is finished in mahogany and the seats are upholstered in grey Spanish leather, and two berths are provided for the men, thus making it unnecessary for them to leave their load either night or day.

“This van being entirely designed by the Jackson Company, there is nothing like it anywhere in this country, and warehousemen everywhere are very much interested in its appearance and performance.

“In the meantime the Jackson Company are very proud of their new van and it goes well with the beautiful storage houses they have built and the high standards in general that are maintained throughout their business.”

1929 Power Wagon:

“In the middle west and the Chicago district there are a growing number of aluminum alloy bodies being installed, particularly of duralumin construction. Wm. Schukraft & Sons Co., Chicago body builders, have constructed and placed in service several interesting installations. One of these is a moving van body mounted on a 2-ton Reo for W.C. Reebie & Bros. has been highly satisfactory in service. It weighs complete with cab 1780 lbs., and has ample carrying capacity for the average load of household goods.”

In 1951 Schukraft constructed an attractive patrol body on a 1951 Ford F7 chassis for the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol - Chicago Patrol No. 5. The unit still exists and is owned by Chicago Fire Patrol historian Keith Seafield.

According to the following obituary, which appeared in the Memorials column of the October 20, 1982 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, the firm remained in the truck body business into the late 1970s:

“William Jaffray Schukraft ‘28

“Bill passed away on June 20, 1982 in Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago. He had lived in Chicago and its suburbs all of his life, except for his college years and his four years in the Air Force in WW II.

“He came to us from Oak Park Ill. High School, where he specialized in debating and dramatics. At colleges where he was a member of Campus Club, he took the BS degree. He devoted his whole career to Schukraft & Co., manufacturers of truck bodies, and retired as executive vice president a few years before his death.

“He was a member of the University Club in Chicago, and had only one remaining relative, a sister, Jane. He made a career of travelling, and went to most of Europe and Central America.

“Bill retired from the Air Corps as a lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French and the Bronze Star by the US. A cup was given to his air depot group for being the best organized unit. His citation speaks of sheer determination, organizational ability, untiring effort, and so on. The places grounded for want of supply parts were reduced by more than 50%.

“We extend our sympathy to his sister, and assure her that he will be missed at our future class events.

“The class of 1928.”

The building the Schukrafts constructed in 1925 is still standing and currently houses a Goodwill store (30 N. Racine/1201 W. Washington Blvd.) on the first floo and high-end office space on the second and third floors. A 2012 advertisement placed by Pepprcorn Capital, the building’s current owners revels it was previously used by Oprah Winfrey’s production company:

“Current tenant, Harpo Productions, departing in May, 2011. Completely renovated mechanical systems, biggest freight elevator in the West Loop; double truck docks, tons of light on three sides, multiple kitchens, fabulous bathrooms, underground parking, close to restaurants and transportation. Owned and managed by Peppercorn Capital LLC.”

© 2013 Mark Theobald for with special thanks to Keith Seafield







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

William J. Schukraft (III) - Coaching, Carriages and Automobilia from the Collection of the Late William Schukraft, Jr., pub. 1956

Henry G. Abbott - Historical Sketch of the Confectionery Trade of Chicago, pub. 1905

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