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Schurmeier-Whitney Co.
Schurmeier Wagon Co., 1850-1867; J.H. Schurmeier Wagon and Carriage Co., 1867-1903; Schurmeier Wagon Co. 1903-1919; Schurmeier Motor Car Co 1910-1911 ; Schurmeier-Whitney Company, 1919-1939; St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota
Associated Builders

The Schurmeier-Whitney Co. can trace its history to the Schurmeier Wagon & Carriage Company, a St Paul firm founded by two German brothers, Casper H. Schurmeier & John H. Schurmeier, in the early 1850s.

The Schurmeier brothers produced wagons, sleighs and carriages in their Wall St. factory, which, according to a period account, was “a very large blacksmith and carriage shop, men at work; four lines various kinds of wagons, buggies and sleighs in all conditions.”

John married Caroline Wenzel around 1855 and their union produced three sons, Edward J. Schurmeier (b.1857-d.1935), Charles H. Schurmeier (d.1890) & John H. Schurmeier Jr.

Their cousin, G.T. Schurmeier, founded another early St. Paul business, Mathes, Good and Schurmeier, during the Civil War. It quickly became St. Paul’s largest merchant tailoring firm and G.T.’s son, Theodore L. Schurmeier, took over the firm in the 1880s. Soon afterwards Albert H. Lindekes and Reuben Warner purchased the interests of Mathes & Good, and the firm became known as Lindekes, Warner & Schurmeier.

Lindekes, Warner & Schurmeier was one of the northwest’s largest manufacturers and distributors of wholesale and retail dry goods and soon became known for their fine furs. Following the retirement of Theodore L. Schurmeier, the remaining partners reorganized as Lindekes & Warner, who remained one of the Midwest’s largest wholesale furriers into the 1920s.

Casper H. Schurmeier was active in St Paul politics and served as a St Paul alderman for a number of years. He passed away unexpectedly on March 13, 1873, and his brother John assumed complete control of the firm, which was renamed the J.H. Schurmeier Wagon and Carriage Co.

Edward J. Schurmeier, who was born in St. Paul in 1857, attended private and public schools, then attended Berea College, of Berea Kentucky, the most celebrated German-American college in the country, graduating in 1879. For the next year he served as a clerk to Judge Galusha Aaron Grow, and then entered the Columbia law school, in New York City.

He completed his studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but following graduation he put his law career on hold, electing to become general manager of the J.H. Schurmeier Wagon and Carriage Co.

J.H. Schurmeier was a stockholder in the Great Northern Rail Road and even had a station named after him. Built in 1881 in Falconer Township, North Dakota, between Grand Forks and Manvel, Schurmeier Station was used into the 1930s when the route was abandoned.

Tragedy struck the Schurmeier family during the summer of 1890.

A tornado stuck their Lake Gervais, Minnesota, summer residence at 5:30 pm on July 13, 1890. At the time they were entertaining out of town guests and a total of 9 people were staying at the house. The storm sprung up quietly and although their neighbors had time to seek refuge in the basements of their various homes, for reasons unknown, the Schurmeier household did not.

The family’s two cottages, located 5 miles north of St. Paul, were totally destroyed, and all of their inhabitants either killed or severely injured.

Amongst the deceased were Charles Schurmeier (son of J.H. Schurmeier Sr.), Mrs. J.H. Schurmeier (wife of J.H. Schurmeier Sr.). The injured included J.H. Shurmeier Jr. (son of J.H. Schurmeier Sr.), who suffered 2 broken ribs and severe cuts about the head and chest.

The family patriarch, J.H. Schurmeier Sr., had preceded his wife and son in death by a number of years. Edward J. Schurmeier, was the only family member not present at the lake that day and he managed to keep the Schurmeier factory running during the dark days immediately following the tragedy.

Although he was severely injured, J.H. Schurmeier Jr. survived the catastrophe and after a long convalescence returned to business, establishing the J.H. Schurmeier Realty Co. of which his brother Edward was secretary and treasurer.

The Schurmeier family had an indirect connection with the James-Younger gang, a group of outlaws that terrorized Missouri and its surrounding states between the end of the Civil War and the early 1880s.

The three Younger Brothers, Cole, Bob and James were apprehended after the famous 1876 bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota and sent to prison. The James Bros., their partners in crime, eluded capture and eventually escaped to their home down south.

Bob Younger died in prison of tuberculosis at age 36 in 1889. For reasons that escape us today, starting in the late 1890s there was a popular movement in the state of Minnesota to pardon the two remaining Younger brothers and release them on parole.

At the time E.J. Schurmeier Jr., one of the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of St. Paul, and he spoke strongly in favor of the pardon. The governor also favored their release and in July of 1901, James and Cole Younger were paroled and released.

Soon afterwards, 54-year-old Jim Younger met E.J. Schumeier’s 27-year-old niece, Alix J. Muller in the course of her work as a journalist. Alix was a talented author and accomplished newspaperwoman who worked for St. Paul’s Pioneer Press.

The two fell in love and wished to marry, however the terms of his parole forbade it and on Oct 19, 1902 Jim Younger committed suicide in a St. Paul hotel room. The event was well-publicized at the time and unfortunately Miss Muller died two years later of Tuberculosis. Cole Younger lived until 1916, when he died at the age 72.

In 1902 the Schurmeier family sold their wagon-building operations to Frank Irving Whitney, and Edward J. Schurmeier resigned as manager of the Schurmeier Wagon & Carriage Co.

Schurmeier then established Edward J. Schurmeier & Co., a real estate investment and brokerage house headquartered in St. Paul’s Endicott building and his son, Gordon B. Schurmeier (1885-1957), became associated with the firm.

Frank Irving Whitney (b. 1850 - d. 1919) had started with the Great Northern Railway Co. in 1888 as a ticket agent and was eventually placed in charge of its general passenger and ticket agent operations. In 1894 he authored a promotional book for the railway called “Valley, Plain and Peak: Scenes on the Line of the Great Northern Railway”.

At that time Schurmeier was producing large numbers of horse-drawn station wagons which were used to transport railroad passengers to and from railroad depots and interurban stations.

J.H. Schurmeier had earlier been involved with the Great Northern Railway and it’s likely that Whitney represented railroad interests, who at the time were looking for ways to get into the ground transportation business.

In addition to their station wagons, Schurmeier also manufactured horse-drawn delivery vans, ice wagons, invalid coaches, hearses and other specialty vehicles. They discovered that bodies intended to be pulled by horses could be easily adapted for other means of propulsion and started building commercial bodies for motor trucks and automobiles soon after Whitney was put in charge of the firm.

In May of 1909 the Schurmeier Wagon Co. of 29-31 Western Avenue, Minneapolis, "decided to engage in the manufacture of a buggy-type auto." The firm hired Bertram Bailey, an engineer from Springfield, Massachusetts, who was formerly associated with the Four Traction Auto Co. of Mankato, Minnesota to develop the vehicle.

By September a prototype delivery truck had been completed, and plans were being drawn for a heavy truck. Firm president Frank I. Whitney then organized the Schurmeier Motor Car Company and in April of 1910 Whitney and Herbert H. Bigelow, president of Brown and Bigelow, organized the Schurmeier Motor Car Company with a capital stock of $200,000.

All of the firm’s motor trucks were of a forward-control design and utilized chains drive. Two distinct lines were developed; the first being a 1-ton delivery truck with a two-cylinder, two-cycle, in-line engine; the second being a 2- and 3-ton truck powered by the firm’s unusual rotary sleeve-valved 3-cylinder two-cycle engine. Unlike most of it competition, the entire truck - engine, frame and all - was built entirely by hand in the Schurmeier factory.

The brilliant aircraft and automobile designer, William Bushnell Stout (1880-1956), worked at the firm soon after production of the truck was announced in 1909. Stout’s biography “So Away I Went!” contains a small chapter on his experience working at the firm:

“While I was promoting the Bicar project, one of my high ­school confreres introduced me to a Mr. Whitney, owner of the new Schurmeier Motor Truck Company. This small concern had been, started by the Whitney family, who saw in the oncoming motor-vehicle field a real business future. The Whitneys were known for wagon and buggy manufacture and were to Minneapolis and St. Paul what the Studebakers were to South Bend.

“They had hired from somewhere a “chief engineer” with a foreign accent (which of course meant he had ability), a conversational personality and a nebulous idea.

“They had erected a new building about two hundred feet long, and equipped it with shop tools, lathes and machinery for him to build trucks for the market.

“In this shop, with thirty men, the company built a complete truck, including a two-cycle engine, designed by the “Chief engineer” and his staff. Everything except the rear axle and wheels was made in this, shop, with scant tooling  and mostly hand equipment. The wonder was that they ever finished any trucks.

“There was, for example, a $30,000 piston-grinding machine, to take care of the production of twenty-five two-cylinder trucks for that year!

“At the time I saw Mr. Whitney and showed him my Bicar motorcycle, they were up against it in the drafting room. After I talked to him, he made me a proposition: If I would help bring up to date their tracings of the design changes being made, he would build my next motorcycle for me, after the trucks were finished. I was to receive, meanwhile, a very nominal salary.

“And so I became a tracer in the drafting room of the Schur­meier Motor Truck Company.

“The first motor built was fed by a rotary valve to let the air into the crankcase at the proper time.

“This valve refused to do its job at the proper time, and its cost was too great. I redesigned it with a new manufacturing method, and it was put into the engine - which started off like a dancing dervish.

“Evidently no one had balanced the engine. When the chief engineer came to me about it, I mentioned counterbalancing the weight of the connecting rod. That was the first time he had ever heard of such a thing.

“In a two-cycle engine, if there is much empty space in the crankcase you have to fill it or you won't get proper compression. This particular motor had the crankcase filled with cast-iron “flywheels” as crank spacers to fill up the crankcase.

“In order to counterbalance the engine, I redesigned those spacers, cast of aluminum around cast-iron balancers getting the right weight and the center of balance at the proper place.

“When these were put in, the engine ran with a pencil standing balanced on the end of the cylinder block - which was called extremely smooth - and the truck was on its way.

“Remember, there were no crankshaft balancers in those days. In fact, little instrumentation was available for any part of engine design and development. I did not know much about it, but neither did anyone else.

“The rest of the parts worked fairly well, by the standards of 1910. We finally got the engine to idle and to accelerate so as to push the truck up to a speed of thirty miles an hour - a real speed!

“By that time the chief engineer had gone, and I was in charge of all design. Within a short time the money had all gone too, and the firm closed its doors, as any business analyst could have foretold long before.

“It was my first experience as a “chief engineer” and the Bicar motorcycle was not yet in production.

“The experience at the Schumeier Motor Truck Company was, however, a lesson of things not to do, one of which was against two-cycle engines.

“It was fairly obvious, that no small company with small capital was going to break into the automobile business and make all the parts. That field was to be reserved for Detroit.”

Somewhere between 25 and 100 vehicles were produced during 1910 and 1911. By December of 1911, the Schurmeier Motor Car Company had gone bankrupt, and its assets were purchased by H.H. Bigelow, who may have produced a handful of vehicles during 1912.

As the Motor Car Co. was a separate entity, its failure did not affect operations at the wagon company, which by that time had started building truck and bus bodies in its plant at 419 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis.

Frank I. Whitney’s son, Alfred Carpenter Whitney (born in 1881) joined the firm soon after his graduation from college in 1903. Alf, as he preferred to be called, received a Bachelors of Science in Engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1903, and remained an active member of the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity during his lifetime.

He was also an accomplished historian and in 1909 published a dramatic account of the Ottawa Indian’s unsuccessful 1763 siege of Fort Detroit called “Pontiac: A Drama of Old Detroit, 1763.”

In 1915 Whitney took a leave and enlisted in the US Army achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the end of hostilities. Following his discharge Alf was named president the Schurmeier Wagon Co.

When his father, Frank I. Whitney, passed away in 1919, Alfred Carpenter Whitney (b. 1881), took over, reorganizing it as the Schurmeier-Whitney Company. Under Alf C. Whitney, the firm prospered, and in 1921 announced that they were establishing a second factory.

Whitney continued the firm’s long association with the Great Northern Railway and along with the Ecklund Brothers Co., another Minneapolis truck body builder, built a large number of combination truck and bus bodies for use by the railway at its numerous station houses located throughout the Northwest.

During the 1920s the firm specialized in bodies for buses and delivery trucks which were sold primarily to municipalities and businesses located in and around the Twin Cities and points west, remaining in business until the start of the Second World War.

As of this writing at least one Schurmeier-Whitney Co.-bodied vehicle is known to exist. It’s an open-sided depot wagon owned by Stillwater, Minnesota resident Rex Perry and was built on a 1928 Ford Model A chassis. It’s in rough shape, but Perry plans on rebuilding it.

At various times the Schurmeier Wagon Co., Schurmeier Wagon & Carriage Co. and the Schurmeier-Whitney Co. used the following factories:

29-31 Western Ave., Minneapolis - Schurmeier Wagon Co.

419 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis - Schurmeier Wagon Co. & Schurmeier-Whitney Co.

6th Street E. & Wall St., St Paul - Schurmeier Wagon Co. original plant

320-330 9th Street E., St. Paul – Wagon Co. & Schurmeier-Whitney Co.

The original Schurmeier Wagon factory on Wall St. in St Paul was demolished in 1959-1960, and replaced by the Lowertown Business Center Annex. The Schurmeier Wagon Co's 29-31 Western Ave., Minneapolis factory, old picture at the left is no longer standing.

The Schurmeier-Whitney factory at 328-330 9th Street E, St. Paul, (modern picture to the left) which dates from the late 1880s, still stands and was recently renovated into 22 high-end condominiums. The Schurmeier Lofts feature exposed brick walls and are priced from 114K to 485K.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






William Bushnell Stout - So Away I Went!

Horseless Age, March 2, 1910

Walter N. Trenerry - Murder in Minnesota: A Collection of True Cases

Alfred Carpenter Whitney - Pontiac: A Drama of Old Detroit, 1763

Theodore Christian Blegen - Minnesota History (pub 1925)

A Catalog of Minnesota-Made Cars and Trucks - Minnesota History Quarterly, Vol. 43 No. 3

R.L. Polk - Little Sketches of Big Folks, Minnesota 1907

J. Fletcher Williams - History of the City of St Paul and of the County of Ramsey, Minnesota (pub 1876)

Frank I. Whitney - Valley, Plain and Peak: Scenes on the Line of the Great Northern Railway, pub 1894

Ed Strauss & Karen Strauss - The Bus World Encyclopedia of Buses

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

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles


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