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Springfield Metal Body Co.; Springfield Body Corp.
Springfield Cornice Works, 1890s-1903; Springfield Metal Body Co., 1902-1914; Springfield, Massachusetts; Springfield Body Corp., 1914-1917;  Detroit, Michigan & Springfield, Massachusetts;  Smith-Springfield  Body Corp., 1918-1923; West Springfield, Massachusetts
Associated Builders
Springfield Body Corp (#2), 1923-1927; West Springfield, Massachusetts; Springfield Body Co., 1927-1930; Springfield, Massachusetts

The Springfield Body Co. is best known as the originator of the convertible, or more precisely the convertible hardtop body in the middle teens. The firm’s “Springfield Body” or “Springfield Top” was the first commercially available automobile body that could be converted from an enclosed vehicle to an open, pillar-less touring car. A second incarnation of the firm specialized in commercial bodies and manufactured a line of suburban wooden station wagon bodies for Chevrolet and Ford chassis in the late 20s. 

The manufacturers of the Springfield top started life as the Springfield Cornice Works, a light structural steel fabricator located in Springfield, Massachusetts owned by Arthur P. Smith and managed by his younger brother Hinsdale Smith.

The younger Smith had taken an early interest in the horseless carriage, and between 1896 and 1899 he designed and patented a number of automobile transmissions (#616267, # 626444) and gasoline engines (#624555, #632763). 

Hinsdale built his own experimental horseless carriage in 1896 that was fitted with a wooden body built by the New Haven Carriage Co. The vehicle was powered by an American gasoline engine that delivered power to the rear wheels via Smith’s own transmission via chain drive. Additional prototypes were built in the next few years that were fitted with Smith’s novel spring-plate gasoline engine which was sometimes referred to as the Smith Spring Motor. 

The legendary engineer Charles H Martin moved to Springfield in 1898 to help the Smiths further develop their creations and by 1900, their first vehicle, the Meteor, was ready for production. (Among his numerous inventions, Martin’s claim to fame is the “rocking fifth wheel”. Introduced on his Knox-Martin tractor-trucks of 1910-1920, the device continues to be the only secure means of connecting a semi-trailer to a truck.) 

Martin and Hinsdale Smith formed the Automotor Co. to build the vehicle which was powered by a Dion engine that delivered power to the rear wheels via Smith’s transmission and a single chain. 16 examples of the $850 runabout were built between 1900 and 1901. 

Automotor was a subsidiary of the Springfield Cornice Works and when Martin left the firm in 1902 to go to work for the Knox Automobile Co. (also in Springfield) the name of the vehicle became the Automotor. The car was available with a planetary or sliding gear transmission which now drove the rear wheels via shaft drive. Various models were available using a combination of 16- and 20-hp powerplants. A powerful 6-cylinder touring was even offered in 1905 for a whopping $3500. 

Sales of the vehicle were dismal, however the aluminum bodywork created at the firm’s parent Cornice Works was innovative and highly regarded. The brothers decided to concentrate on that aspect of the business and reorganized the firm as the Springfield Metal Body Co. in 1903 to better reflect their new line of work. 

The firm manufactured aluminum bodies and folding tops for the regions many early automobile manufacturers who included Locomobile, Moyea, Orson, Pope-Hartford, Sampson, Stanley and Stevens-Duryea. In fact, Hinsdale Smith was a friend of Frank Duryea and helped develop the firm’s first six-cylinder chassis. As the firm’s chief designer Hinsdale Smith patented a series of improvements to both the carriage top (787798, 837138, 1066230) automobile body (D47252, D47630, 781565, 781850, 813460, 869025, 879205, 1170568, 1170570, 1170571, 1181689, 1251433, 1409962) and automobile steering knuckle (876104).

The July 1st, 1907 issue of the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal included pictures and a detailed description of the firm’s Springfield factory:

“The Springfield Metal Body Company's Factory

“In 1895 Mr. Hinsdale Smith, then a young man of 24, was much interested in motor cars, and two years later made an entry for the Cosmopolitan, New York, Ardsley Casino event, the second American public motor car competition. Mr. Smith did not complete his car in time to appear in this Ardsley run but did show the car, a 700 pound runabout driven by a single vertical cylinder De Dion motor under the hood in front, wheel steering, and about 72 inches wheel base, a very advanced design of motor car for that early day at the first New York Automobile Club of America exhibition.

“This first Smith car had a sheet-steel body with wooden sills and floor and the construction of this first Smith runabout body was generically the same as the Smith-Springfield Body Co. Sheet-Aluminum and Sheet-Steel car bodies produced to-day in the Smith Auto Body Springfield Factory, which has 500 names on the pay-roll and is probably much the largest producer of metal motor car bodies in the world.

“At this first New York Show Mr. Smith obtained orders for two of his runabouts at $750 each, and filled these two orders in June of the Show year, at a cost of something like $5000 to himself. This was not so very profitable, but the next step was yet more discouraging, as it included the building of ten of the new runabouts, ready for the motors, and then finding it impossible to obtain De Dion motors at any price, owing to the failure of the American agents for the sale of De Dion engines.

“But at this time Mr. Hinsdale Smith, who had become associated with his brother, Mr. Arthur Parks Smith, had learned how to make a sheet metal car body, and had some orders for bodies on the books, and Smith Brothers turned to, tooth and nail, hammer and tongs, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, working about ten men besides themselves, and actually making something out of the sheet metal car bodies from the very first, and constantly enlarging the business which was incorporated in 1903, the Smith Brothers holding a large majority of the stock.

“The Smith Company gross sales of motorcar bodies totaled about $54,000 in 1904 $125,000 in 1905 $385,000 in 1906 and contracts now on the books call for a production valued at $1,000,000 for 1907.

“In wooden bodies the natural grain of wood makes it strong in some directions and weak in others, so that any curved and many-angled shape produced in wood must be made of a great many separate pieces, which must be first carefully fitted together, and then fixt to each other with glue, screws and bolts, and must also be strengthened in various directions with metal braces at many points to produce a carriage body that will stay together on the road, even when driven at the very moderate speeds obtainable by horse-traction, and which are unable to long endure the severe strains inseparable from motor-car pace on rough roads.

“Besides the many joints of wood carbodies, some of which are likely to open if the carriage is driven rapidly for any length of time, wood does not take and retain paint so well as metal does, so that it is more difficult to finish a coach body of wood than one of metal, where the finest appearance obtainable is demanded.

“Sheet metal has no grain, is as strong in one direction as in another, and can be bent, folded and formed into all manner of shapes rapidly and easily, without a loss of strength, so that metal car-bodies can be given any desired form without menace to durability.

“These inherent advantages make metal by far the superior material for motor-car bodies, and fully account for the preference for metal bodies, and for the extremely rapid growth of the Springfield Metal Body Company's business, which has merely kept pace with the geometric ratio advance in the volume of motor car production.

“Before the advent of the automobile some attempt has been made to substitute metal for wood in horse-drawn vehicle bodies, but none of these efforts had scored anything approaching a permanent success, and even now there are many wooden motor-car bodies made, in the cheaper as well as in the more costly forms, but the metal body is now used principally for the middle class of automobiles in sheet metal, while cast aluminum alloy bodies are fitted to some of the highest priced American cars.

“The Springfield Metal Body Company makes all its work of either sheet-steel or sheet-aluminum formed by hand or by general operations in bending, hammering and swaging, joined by riveting and bolting and stiffened by wooden sills and seat and door frames, and by beading, wiring and the application of steel angle pieces and braces, very few special tools being used, as almost all the machine operations are general and applicable to varying forms and sizes of metal body productions.

“The very cheapest forms of car bodies can be made for least money of wood, so long as not very many of any one pattern are wanted, but whenever it becomes certain that a low-priced body form is required in large numbers continuously, then special machinery can be installed which will produce them of metal at less cost than is possible in wood, so that the final motor-car-bodies will probably be made of metal exclusively, sheet-steel for the smallest and lowest priced cars, sheet-steel and sheet-aluminum bodies for the middle class work and the highest priced cars. Some wooden bodies will be fitted to individual owner's designs, always, probably, and the percentage of wooden motor-car-bodies used will probably constantly decrease.

“The Springfield Metal Body Company is now making single sheet-steel or sheet-aluminum bodies to special designs of individual customers, thus invading the high-class territory hitherto occupied almost exclusively by the high-priced wooden car-body makers, and it seems very clear that the metal motor car body is to come into more universal use.

“The Springfield Metal Body Co.’s factory building is 3 stories and basement, brick, with a front of 174 feet, and two buildings running back from the front one, making an E-shaped plan; one of these rear structures is 153x61, and the other 151x61 feet, with a boiler and power house in the rear.

“The multi-floored factory building is less fully adapted to carriage body making than to almost any other manufacture, as this work requires abundant storage room for parts of work in progress, so that the floors, which are 41 and 61 feet wide, give ample side lights for vise benches and hand workers generally and the less well lighted middle floor space is used for piling bulky material and partly finished product. The pictures given show this large factory as well lighted and full of work, its more than two acres of floor space being filled to the utmost capacity.

“As to materials, pretty nearly everything goes into a carriage body, the products of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms being liberally represented in the forms of various woods, almost all the industrial metals, and animal hides and hair, while the workers are of both sexes and almost every mechanical trade, from rows of women operating sewing machines thru the whole list, commencing with blacksmiths and ending with painters and decorators.

“The metals used include sheet aluminum, sheet steel, sheet brass, sheet copper, steel bars, brass, steel and aluminum alloy castings, steel and brass wire, screws of different metals, wire, rivets, bolts and hardware fittings of many different kinds.

“The workmen are of all nationalities and a great many of them are very highly skilled specialists and include carriage and cabinet makers, wood carvers and upholsterers among the regular tradesmen, as well as painters who are real artists, and plate formers who produce curved and swelled shapes of car-bodies by hand work with hammers and mallets, or by machine forging with very small power hammers of the well-known ‘Justice’ type.

“But machinery does not cut much of a figure in metal body making. Ordinary wood working machinery, sawing and shaping machines are used as far as they will go, and the band saw cuts out many shapes in both wood and sheet aluminum, but body making is mostly hand work, with machines as mere adjuncts.

“The Smith Brothers were pioneers in metal body building for motor cars, and invented and patented a great number of their construction methods and details as they grew in size and experience, and a large part of their effort was expended in training laborers of aptitude into highly skilled artisans for carrying out new methods of shaping and joining and strengthening their peculiar product, which were not before known in any of the mechanic arts.

“The most difficult operation in the whole routine of sheet metal car-body production is the uniform shaping of the large pieces of thin metal which form what carriage body builders designate as ‘pannels,’ the tonneau backs and sides and the front seat backs, so as to bring the finished body to fit the curved templates smoothly and perfectly. These large plates are cut out with saws and shears, hammered with rapid blows of the small power hammers, pounded with wooden mallets, beaded with tinner's hand-turned rolls, and swaged, shaped and staked and hand-hammered in hundreds of different ways from the time the pannels are taken up as flat sheets until they are assembled with their wood-work frames into complete bodies, which appear perfect to the mere onlooker, but yet have hosts of faults and imperfections when scrutinized by the trained eye of the expert. All of these defects must be removed by hand-work with mallets, little hand-hammers, files and abrasive papers.

“In the first shaping, a large component like a seat back and sides, it is bent and hammered to shape as indicated by wooden templates, then fitted to a large wooden form, sometimes its own frame, to which it is to be finally fixed, and sometimes to a shop forming block. It is clamped with hand screws and is then tested with wooden templates for its curves in detail, marked with pencil where it must be brought out or carried in, removed from the form and taken back to the power or hand-hammers. Here, as may be required, it is shaped afresh and again and again tried on the form and with the templates, until its difficult curvatures are finally not only obtained so as to look right to the eye, but in such close repetitions as to almost exactly fit the template curves. Thus precise uniformity of shape in bodies of the same pattern is obtained. After this, the plates or pannels are fastened to their frames and then follows another long series of tentative operations in applying the metal beads and outside pieces in the forms of door castings and so on, all of which must be carefully fitted by hand to the irregular metal plate contours, and must then be shaped on the outside to templates.

“The metal fittings are then applied, such as the hanging of the doors, and the attachment of the wooden pieces to which the upholsterer fastens his fabrics supplied either by the textile mill or the tannery. After the body is wholly assembled and completed so far as wood and metal parts go, every part of the outside surface must be worked over with the hand-hammer, the file and abrasive paper until the curves are perfect from all points of observation, and the templates show no variation from standard shapes and the surface is everywhere perfectly smooth and prepared to take paint. The body is now ready for the upholsterers, whose work demands the best of materials and the most highly skilled handicraft, as well as large and elaborate special machines. The completely assembled and upholstered body then goes to the painters, who give it the final finish of colors and varnish, again demanding both materials and skill of the highest quality.

“This mere sketch of the operations of sheet metal car body manufacture, in connection with the illustrations made from photographs taken expressly for this story, will give the reader a faint idea of what it takes to produce that composite assemblage of metals, woods and animal products which very few think of as a most difficult mechanical achievement, requiring as much constructive talent in designing and skill in production as the motor car chassis itself.

The Springfield Metal Body Company's work now seems to have reached a stage of perfection, but the Smith Brothers, both yet young men, say that there is as much room to-day for body making improvement as there ever was, and are busy now with new designs and details as they have been, constantly, ever since they made their first little car body in a tin shop, and undoubtedly will be until they turn their metal body business over to their successors.

“What the proportions of the Springfield Metal Body Factory will be when these two Smith Brothers who founded it are ready to abdicate, is something not easy to forecast. From $56,000.00 in 1903, to a round million value of product in 1907, is a rapid growth for a new industry, but as yet there are only a few motor cars and a great many horse-drawn vehicles in evidence. What will the motor car body business be when the horse as a tractive agent is looked upon as the most obvious reminder of former barbarism in modern civilization?”

The bodies for a Springfield-badged automobile were built in small numbers by Springfield Metal Body in 1907 and 1908. Designed by two local engineers, H.C. Medcraft and G.B. Bowersox, the car was sometimes known as the Med-Bow and manufactured by a syndicate headed by G.F. Hillman of Northampton, Massachusetts and included investors from both Springfield, Massachusetts and Springfield, Illinois. 

Springfield Metal Body Company built the body for piano virtuoso Josef Hofmann’s self-built 1909 Hofmann automobile. The body was a long demi-limousine that could be converted into an open tourer. 

Skilled coachbuilders were hard to find and the firm recruited a number of European craftsmen to fill the void. Their most famous recruit was Maurice Schwartz (1884-1961), who would go on to form the legendary Californian firm of Bohman & Schwartz. 

Schwartz was born in Austria in 1884 and learned the art of body building at the Armbruster Kaiser Koneg Hofwagen Fabrick, the Vienna firm that built carriages for the Kaiser. In 1904 Armbruster added automobile bodies to their product catalog and Schwartz had six years experience in building them when he was recruited in 1910. He stayed at Springfield for a couple of years then left to work for Willoughby in Utica, New York and Fisher Brothers in Detroit. In 1918 he moved to Los Angeles, California to work for the Earl Auto Works which was eventually purchased by the Los Angeles Cadillac dealer Don Lee. 

In March of 1913, the Smith’s acquired the factory and assets of the Brightwood Mfg. Co., the producer of the 1910-1911 Orson automobile (aka the “Banker's Car” or “Millionaire’s Car”) and was reorganized as the Springfield Body Co. Within a year, Hinsdale Smith’s revolutionary convertible sedan would guarantee the firm a lasting place in automotive history. 

The Springfield all-year body featured removable door pillars and side windows that either slid down into the door cavity or were removed and stowed inside the car. The body debuted on the 1914 Chalmers Sedan and from 1915 through 1918, “Springfield-type” bodies were offered by at least two dozen automobile manufacturers including Auburn, Cadillac, Chalmers, Chandler, Chevrolet, Cole, Dodge, Ford, Haynes, Hudson, Locomobile, Maxwell, Mitchell, Oakland, Overland, Paige, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Pope, Pope-Hartford, Stanley, Stevens-Duryea, Studebaker, Toledo, Westcott and Willys-Knight. 

(The Springfield Top was resurrected by aftermarket suppliers in the early twenties as the all-weather or “California Top”, a popular accessory for touring cars, which gave them the functionality of sedan.) 

Demand for the new body style quickly exceeded the factory’s capacity, so a New York investor named Walter L. Fry was brought in to bolster the firm’s finances. In December, 1914 the firm was reorganized as the Springfield Body Corp. with a $1 million capitalization. Fry became the firm’s president, Hinsdale Smith, vice-president and chief engineer, and Arthur P. Smith treasurer. Corporate headquarters were relocated to New York City at Broadway & 55th St., a Detroit Office was established in the David Whitney Bldg. at 1553 Woodward Ave. and the firm commenced operations at a leased plant in metropolitan Detroit. 

The following news release appeared in many of the nation’s papers in late November and Early December of 1915:

“$1,000,000 Concern Takes Over Springfield Metal Body Co. 

"The tremendous demand of automobile buyers for the “Springfield” type of car is emphasized by the announcement that a new concern called the Springfield Body Company has been incorporated with a capitalization of $1,000,000 to take over the business of the Springfield Metal Body Company of Springfield Mass. 

"The corporation will be headed by W.L. Fry, New York City, as president, vice-president and director of sales, E.W. McGookin, Detroit, Mich.; vice-president and chief engineer, Hinsdale Smith, Springfield, Mass.; treasurer, A.P. Smith, Springfield, Mass. The board of directors includes as members, Walter L. Fry, E.W. McGookin, Hinsdale Smith, A.P. Smith and Frederick Fuller. 

"About a year ago, W.L. Fry, president of the new corporation, became interested in the old company. At that time, the general public was just beginning to realize that an enclosed car was a great luxury in the winter time and to grumble about the high price of limousine bodies. Manufacturers were quick to recognize this demand and all sorts of cheap, make-shift winter tops appeared on the market. 

"The only convertible body which combined the beauty, comfort and utility of both the limousine and touring car without sacrificing any of the advantages of either one was the convertible body manufactured by the Springfield Metal Body Company. 

"The great demand in Eastern cities for this type of body by users of high-priced cars, together with its already apparent popularity among owners of medium priced automobiles, convinced Mr. Fry of the practicability of the convertible body as a business proposition. 

"He realized however, that the trend of the automobile business was toward medium priced cars and that in order to reach this market which was growing by leaps and bounds, he must lower the price of convertible bodies. His problem was, therefore, one of organization – of securing men of proven ability to handle quantity of production and a large volume of sales. 

"Just how well Mr. Fry analyzed the possibilities of the market for convertible bodies and solved his problem of organization is best shown by the tremendous increase in business secured by the Springfield Body Company, amounting to 3,000% in about 120 days, which in turn necessitated reincorporation with an increased capitalization. 

"The convertible body made by this company is one of the most popular on the market and is being used by some of the biggest automobile concerns in the country. The Studebaker, Maxwell, Chandler, Mitchell and Paige-Detroit companies all furnish Springfield convertible bodies as regular equipment on their cars. 

"All for the officials of the new corporation are men with established reputations for having done “big things” in their particular lines of work. Some of them are particularly well-known in automobile circles. The Smith brothers invented, designed and constructed the first metal bodies used on automobiles. They also built the first six-cylinder motor constructed in this country. 

"E.W. McGookin, vice-president and director of sales, who is directly responsible for the great increase in business during the last four month, is known as one of the most successful distribution experts in the country. His own individual sales in seven years, were a major factor in increasing the capital of another concern from $25,000 to $11,000,000. 

"That the increase in business secured by this company is not even larger than the phenomenal record of 3,000%, is solely because of the lack of manufacturing facilities which is responsible for the loss of over $1,000,000 worth of business during the last few months. Plans are under way, however, for the erection of an enormous production plant in Detroit, but this will not interfere with the operation of the Springfield plant which will continue to run at full capacity as long as there are no further labor troubles. 

"It has been reported that a large amount of the stock of the new company has been taken up by both New York and Western investors.”

“1916 Cole Motor Company's Latest Offering Is Cole-Springfield Body.” ... "For rain or snow or extreme cold, the Cole-Springfield body is Ideal.” 

On April 4th, 1916 The Wall street Journal reported that: "...following the sale of $750,000 in 8 per cent preferred stock in February, the business of the Springfield Body Corporation, formerly the Springfield Metal Body Company of Springfield, Mass., has increased handsomely. Deliveries on contract in March increased 50 per cent of February, and April will probably show a gain of 33 per cent in March." 

Prior to the reorganization most of the firm customers had been located in New England. The Detroit office brought in lots of new business and a September 16th, 1916 newspaper article announced “A thousand percent increase in orders during the last twelve: That is the sensational record made by the Springfield Body Company, of Springfield, Mass.” 

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette published an interview with the Firm’s president in its Sunday Auto Supplement on September 10, 1916. 

“No Secret About It: Simply Makes The Best Auto Bodies In the Country 

“A thousand percent increase in orders during the last twelve months – that is the sensational record made by the Springfield Body Company of Springfield, Mass., builders of automobile bodies. Although extraordinary production records are by no means uncommon, since the development of the automobile industry, the record of the Springfield Body Company is so phenomenal that the writer attempted to learn from Walter L Fry, president of the concern, the secret of its unusual success. 

‘No secret about it’ said Fry, in his quick decisive manner. ‘We’ve got the only real convertible automobile body in the world – by that I mean a limousine and touring body in one – and moor car owners, as well as the manufacturers, are clamoring to get it. It answers for the first time a demand which has existed since the motor car became a popular means of conveyance. Any sane person would like to own a car which is just as comfortable in winter as in summer, but there are, comparatively speaking, mighty few of them who can afford town both a costly limousine and an open touring car. Some of them tried the cars with the detachable tops, but they did not answer the demand because they did not give good service. They warped and they rattled. They didn’t look right. They didn’t seem to be a part of the car. There was something wrong in the appearance of the affair, but the average owner couldn’t tell just what it was. He was simply dissatisfied. 

‘The Springfield Body Company, however, had a real limousine body with a permanent top, which was so constructed that all of its glass sides and framework could be instantly removed and the body turned into an open model for warm and hot weather driving. The roof of the body still remained up, its graceful lines adding to the striking appearance of the car, and at the same time shielding the passengers from the scorching rays of the sun. The manufacturers of costly cars quickly adopted the Springfield type body, but, of course, expensive cars are manufactured in comparatively small quantities which necessarily meant that our production of convertible bodies would be on the same scale. That meant that we had to charge a big price for them. 

‘Eventually, the manufacturers of medium-priced cars began coming to us with appeals for the all-year-round type of body at a price which would permit them to continue to sell their orders for our bodies as standard equipment on their cars would increase our production to such an extent that our manufacturing cost would be so lowered we could put a minimum price on our product. We decided to make the attempt and build the bodies in quantities. 

‘The rush started from that minute. Even now we can’t keep up with the demand, but our manufacturing facilities are growing as fast as our production increases and we hope soon to be able to handle immediately every order which comes in. 

‘If there is a secret to our success, it is simply that we build a product which appeals to every automobile owner in every section of the country. 

“Already the companies which have adopted the Springfield type body as standard equipment include: The Abbott-Detroit, Cadillac, Cole, Davis, Haynes, Interstate, Marmon, Mitchell, Oldsmobile, Overland, Paige-Detroit, H.A.L Twelve, Reo, Stearns, Studebaker, Velie, Westcott and Winton.” 

A few months later, the Springfield Body Corporation brought suit alleging patent infringement against the Fisher Body Corp. In a November, 1916 news release, Fisher Body’s president, Fred J. Fisher, stated that his company had been advised that there was no infringement, and had he thought there was he would have abandoned that part of his business “since it does not constitute over 2 percent of our entire line”. 

The two-year old Springfield Body Corporation did not survive the economic depression of 1917 and the firm suddenly and silently disappeared. Existing patents were reassigned to the Edward G. Budd Corp., and Budd took over production of the convertible body. 

Walter L. Fry would go on to establish the Fry Products Co, one of Detroit’s largest suppliers of OEM seat covers. He became famous in 1937 when he joined his employees in a sit-down strike ordered by the UAW. One year later he closed down the firm rather than deal with the UAW. 

Hinsdale Smith had little trouble finding another job and was appointed general manager of the Aeromarine Plane & Motors Co. of Keyport, New Jersey. Coincidentally, Aeromarine was owned by Inglis M. Uppercu, Cadillac’s sole New York City distributor and soon-to be owner of the Manhattan coachbuilder, Healy & Co. 

On the strength of orders from the US Army and Navy, Aeromarine constructed a new factory in 1917 adjacent to Raritan Bay in Keyport, New Jersey and Smith was hired to oversee the construction. During World War I, Aeromarine made observation planes for the Army Signal Corps and trainers for the Navy. 

In August of 1917, the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corp. proposed a $6 million scheme to manufacture airplanes for the US Government at the former Springfield Body Corp. plant which was currently on the market for $2 million. In the proposal, a holding company called Goethals, Jamieson, Houston & Jay Inc. would run the plant for Wright-Martin, (Houston was an officer of Wright-Martin) and their product would be combat aircraft that would be fitted with Hispano-Suiza aircraft engines. The Aircraft Production board was uninterested in the proposal and nothing came of it. 

Things did not go well for Hinsdale Smith in New Jersey, and he returned to Springfield within the year to take another stab at the body building with his brother. In 1918 the pair sought out contracts from the regions automakers, bought a factory in West Springfield and formed the Smith-Springfield Body Corp. 

The newly organized Smith-Springfield Body Corporation issued $300,000 of 6-year 7% gold notes in November of 1919 backed by the Empire Trust Co. of New York.  

Hinsdale Smith was the firm’s new president, and his brother Arthur P. Smith vice-president. The firm was organized under the laws of Delaware for the purpose of building automobile bodies. The stock offering stated that the firm “owned 5 acres of land located on the railroad within ¾ of a mile of the center of Springfield upon which it was erecting a modern factory to be fully equipped with machinery for the most efficient production of automobile bodies and ready for operation by January 1 next. The Company has also obtained ones year’s option on a further five acres of ground immediately adjoining the present site.” 

When Rolls-Royce of America, Inc. commenced production of the Springfield Silver Ghost in their East Springfield, Massachusetts plant, Smith-Springfield was selected as one of the automaker’s chief body suppliers.  

The 10 sub-contractors who supplied bodies for the Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work program included Biddle and Smart, Brewster, Holbrook, Merrimac, New Haven Carriage Co., Smith-Springfield and Willoughby. Much speculation has been focused on the remaining two builders, who are thought to be the Amesbury Body Co. of Amesbury, Massachusetts and the Springfield Body Corp. of Springfield, Massachusetts (not affiliated with Smith-Springfield). 

In late 1921, LeBaron’s Ray Dietrich was hired as a consultant and spent close to a month designing and engineering the firm’s Rolls-Royce bodies. 61 Smith-Springfield bodies were built for the Springfield Silver Ghost chassis between 1921 and 1923. 

LeBaron selected Smith-Springfield to build them a sporty dual-cowl phaeton for Milton Budlong, the New York City Lincoln distributor, to display at the November 1921 New York Auto Salon. The caveat was that the car needed to be built in just 18 days, and Smith-Springfield delivered the completed car, on time. 

Springfield made a few low-volume production bodies for other manufacturers such as the air cooled Fox which was built in Philadelphia, PA but by late 1922, most of the plant was devoted to Rolls-Royce body program and at the end of the year Rolls-Royce of America purchased the entire operation. Smith-Springfield’s craftsmen became the backbone of Rolls-Royce’s Custom Body Works, which were relocated from the West Springfield factory to the former Knox Automobile Co. plant on Waltham Ave. in 1923. 

Newton H. Manning, Smith-Springfield’s sales manager became assistant manager of the Rolls-Royce body plant, a position he held until 1928 when he was hired by LeBaron-Detroit as the firm’s general manager.

The vacant Smith-Springfield plant wouldn’t stay empty for long as a group of local businessmen purchased the plant, and resurrected the Springfield Body Corp. hoping to cash in on the earlier firm’s good reputation. 

A January 10th, 1923 press release announced that the newly formed Springfield Body Corp. intended to purchase two additional body plants, the first in Pontiac, Michigan the second in Bloomfield, New Jersey, to compliment the firm’s West Springfield, Massachusetts factory giving the new firm the capability to produce as many as 15,000 automobile bodies annually.

Charles C McElwain, director of the Safe Deposit & Trust Co. of Springfield, MA, was chairman of the board of directors. Other directors included Harry G. Fisk, vice-president of the Fisk Rubber Co., Chicopee Falls, MA, Frank A Woods, director of the Safe Deposit & Trust Co. and Farr Alpaca Co. of Holyoke, MA., and Victor M. Tyler president of the Acme Wire Co. of New Haven, CT and director of the Gotham National Bank of New York. C.S. Dame was the firm’s initial president and Frank M. Livingston, its controller. 

Following the preliminary announcement of the formation of the Springfield Body Corporation came a Jan 28, 1923 statement that a purchase contract has been made for a large plant in northern New Jersey with a capacity of from 5,000 to 7,500 custom jobs per annum, with an option secured on another plant with a yearly capacity of 10,000 bodies in the Detroit district. 

The new firm is thought to have built a number of bodies for the Roll-Royce Custom Coach Work program, but no firm evidence has been uncovered. In fact, little evidence of the firm having produced any bodies for firms other than the Peerless Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio exists.

Springfield kept themselves in the headlines and on March 21, 1923 Springfield Body Corporation stock reached an all-time high of 49 1/8. However, a follow-up to the March 21 item dated March 28, 1923 stated: “The rise in shares of Springfield body was influenced by reports that a contract had been closed calling one of the largest orders ever booked by that corporation. Confirmation was lacking” 

Peerless chose to introduce a new line of Springfield-built luxury bodies in 1924, and they chose the Winter 1923-24 New York Auto Show and Auto Salon for their introduction. A fair amount of publicity resulted from the introduction of a radio-equipped Peerless sedan at the Springfield booth. Springfield boasted that it was the first vehicle to include a radio as standard equipment.

The following year, Springfield exhibited two Peerless sedans at the winter 1924-1925 New York Auto Salon. The New York Times took notice of the firm’s “…five-passenger car being finished in brown, with a hairline black striping and a centerline of gold.”

Known polygamist George Brinton Caldwell was listed as the firm’s president as late as 1925, but within the year, the town of West Springfield foreclosed on the firm’s body plant for non-payment of taxes. 

The following item appeared on the AP wire: 

“August 14, 1926 – Town Bids In Plant for Arrears In Taxes. (AP) For non-payment of taxes of $6,445 the plant of the Springfield Body Co was today bid in for the town of West Springfield by tax collector Raymond A Sweeney, when no bidders at the tax sale. Negotiations were supposed to have been virtually completed for the transfer of the plant to the Sikorsky Manufacturing Co for the manufacture of airplanes, but complications arose and it is now said the sale is unlikely.”

Five months later Samuel T. Freeman & Co., Auctioneers held an auction of the Springfield Body Corp.’s West Springfield real estate, machinery, equipment and supplies. The sale of the firm’s brick 1-story 25,000 sq ft Circuit Ave plant and 5-acre parcel (which included a railroad siding) took place on Tuesday, February 1, 1927.

In 1924, the Smith brothers took the proceeds of the Rolls-Royce sale and purchased the former Stevens-Duryea factory in East Springfield and commenced production of commercial bus and truck bodies. The firm produced a few series-built wooden suburban bodies in the mid-to-late 1920s and early 30s. Springfield offered the regions Chevrolet with a popular suburban body starting in 1925. Similar in style to those built by Babcock and Mifflinburg, bodies were also available for Dodge and Ford chassis.

In 1929 an unusual body was offered by Springfield called the "No.5 Estate Station Body". The hardwood framework of this body was covered with sheet metal panels and painted the same color as the hood and cowl. The extra-wide full frame doors were then edged with stainless steel or nickel-cadmium strips. The roof edge was edged with these strips, and they were used at the belt line in single and double rows for decorative purposes. Instead of side curtains, pull-up windows were used which consisted of a large wooden framed piece of canvas in which large isinglass panels were sewn-in. The windows were raised by pulling them up out of their door pockets and snapped into place with fasteners.  These isinglass windows were placed in all 4 doors as well as the rear quarter windows and tailgate. The same body was offered in 1930 as the No 35 Estate Wagon. Although regular Springfield woodies were sold in large numbers, few of the new pocket-window design were sold, and none are known to exist today.

Unfortunately, the firm did not survive the Depression.

Hinsdale Smith continued to be active in the automotive field into the 1940s and held 35 patents when he passed away in Deerfield, Massachusetts on March 7, 1959 at the age of 89.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -







M.E. Kingston Forbes - The Principles of Automotive Body Design Ware Bros, Philadelphia, PA 1922 (Forbes started his career as a body engineer at Springfield before becoming chief of Buick styling in the twenties)

Hinsdale Smith - “The tendencies in body design” SAE Document Number 140047

Keith Korbut - Automotor Company — Springfield Cornice Works, Springfield, Massachusetts  - The Winding Road - July 2004 - Vol 41, # 7 (Connecticut Valley Region: AACA/VMCCA)

Donald J. Narus - Great American Woodies and Wagons

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

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