The Standard Commercial Body Company was started by a Russian immigrant named Mikhail (Max) Raskin (1884-1966) in 1913. Max was born in Smolensk, Russia in 1884 to Zelda and Ber-Itche (Isaac) Raskin. Isaac was a blacksmith in a shtetl outside of Minsk and Max, the oldest of nine children - Mikhail (Max), Annie, Hilel (Willie), Aaron (Harry), Morris, Mary, Ellen, Esther and David - was the first to enter the family’s wagon and blacksmith shops.
The Raskin boys all worked for their father building plows, wagons and hand tools while the girls helped their mother, who ran a lunchroom to help make ends meet.
When Czarist Russia entered into the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Max was conscripted into the Russian cavalry in Finland, far from the Western front. Apparently life in the Russian Military didn’t agree with him and after presenting his commanding officer with a 100 ruble bribe, he was presented with a forged passport, a change of clothes and was transported back to Minsk.
After Russian troops gunned down some protestors in St Petersburg in January of 1905 violence erupted across the country. A nationwide strike occurred in October, and by that winter things looked dismal, so Max decided to join leave the country. He was invited to stay in New York by a relative and left Minsk, traveling to Hamburg where he caught a steamship bound for Manhattan. After arriving at New York’s Castle Garden processing center in 1906, Raskin went to live with the relative and found work as a blacksmith, earning $6 per week.
Within a few years, Max had saved enough money to bring first his brother Hilel (Willie – b 1890s d 1972), then Aaron (Harry) to Manhattan where they joined him in his blacksmith shop.
In 1913 the three brothers went into business for themselves building horse-drawn trucks and light commercial wagons for New York’s merchants at 108 E. 110th Street, Harlem.
In an interview with his grandson Andrew, Walter Raskin (b. 1913), Max’s son recalled:
Occasionally the Raskins would get stuck with old milk that had been left in the wagons and route delivery vans that had been brought in for repairs. Rather than throw it away, the enterprising Raskin women would cart it upstairs where they let it sour completely, then turn it into various sour milk cheeses such as cottage cheese or hand käse, a welcome treat, especially when times were tough.
In the late teens and early twenties, the Raskins sold Fords through the Raskin Brothers Auto Sales Corporation which was run by Harry. According to Walter Raskin, one day Henry Ford made a visit to their Harlem shops and told his father,
The Raskins became well-known for their dairy trucks and in the early 20s bought out a Philadelphia-based insulated body company which they relocated to Brooklyn. As a teenager, Walter Raskin worked at the Brooklyn plant during the summer and became interested in refrigeration. At the time Standard’s refrigerated bodies used insulated boxes that were lined with copper tubing that was hidden behind porcelain-finished steel panels.
In the early 30s Walter Raskin received a number of patents on his heat exchangers and later manufactured them under the trade name Panelcoil.
After attending Manhattan’s City University, Walter went to work for the family business full time in the accounting office where he was put in charge of keeping track of how many man hours were spent on each job. He recalled how his father did the estimates before he was put in charge of it:
Standard’s first location, 108 East 110th St., was located in Harlem on the south side of 110th near the northern end of Central Park just east of Park Ave. The 200’ deep property consisted of two separate 2-story buildings, one of which had a carriage entrance leading to the back yard where the firm conducted its business underneath a large open shed. As was the practice at the time, the entire Raskin family lived in the building’s top floors, with the rest of the structure was used for their business.
By the late teens Standard had outgrown its leased 110th St. factory, and the firm relocated to larger quarters. They were doing well enough that the Raskin family was able to move into a proper apartment building on 109th St. They next conducted business at 432-436 East 108th St. and 331-3 East 103rd St. followed by 421-23-31 East 104th St. and 450-4 East 104th St.
In 1924 the Raskins expanded using $50,000 loaned to them by the New York-based Bank of United States. In order to qualify for the expansion loan, the Bank of US’s president, Bernard K. Marcus, insisted on giving the bank’s representative, Lionel Shore, a quarter interest in the firm. Max, Willie and Harry Raskin’s share was now reduced from 33% to 25%.
Standard established satellite branches across from the Chevrolet factory in Tarrytown, New York and the Ford assembly plant in Kearney, New Jersey. They also established another factory in an old Brooklyn brewery and another satellite service depot in Long Island.
The Brooklyn plant was located along the west side of Franklin Ave. between Bergen and Dean Sts. Literature used either a 931-3 Bergen St. or 1042 Dean St. address. Franklin Body & Equipment and Dean Products were later located in the same buildings, Franklin at 1042 Dean St., and Dean Products at 985 Dean St.
In 1930 a former employee of the Good Humor Corp. ordered 10 refrigerated route delivery van bodies for use by mobile ice cream vendors. When the trucks were completed, he didn’t have the money to finish paying for them, so Standard Commercial Body found itself in the ice cream vending business. The former Good Humor man arranged for the drivers and the ice cream, and the Bungalow Bar was born.
To distinguish their vehicles from those operated by Good Humor, the Raskin’s ice cream cabinets were topped by a white, with rounded corners, and made to look like a small, mobile Bungalow topped with a dark brown shingle roof. In addition to ice cream for the kiddies, the Bungalow Bar trucks also sold Tromer brand near-beer.
Even though they were in the early days of the Depression, the ice cream/near-beer business was good, and before the season was over an additional 15 truck were built creating a fleet of 25. An additional 25 trucks were built for the following season, creating a fleet of 50.
It came to pass that Good Humor noticed that the image of the Bungalow Bar looked amazingly like that of the Good Humor Bar and the took the Raskins to court. On August 24, 1932, the New York District Court issued the following order:
To comply with the ruling, the Raskins simply painted over the bite on the picture of the ice cream pop, which allowed them back on the streets. Unfortunately they couldn’t monitor the activities of their drivers who began to purchase the ice cream and sell it on their own, cutting out the Raskins. Consequently the Raskins decided to get out of the ice cream business and sold the operation to a group of Greek ice cream vendors who had been using horse-drawn carts. Although the Raskins no longer owned the business, it prospered and during the 1950s the Bungalow Bar fleet numbered over 700.
Although the Raskins were primarily known for their custom-built truck bodies, they were also distributors of Martin-Parry truck bodies, the nation’s largest builder. Martin-Parry was formed in 1919 when the Martin Truck & Body Corp. of York, Pennsylvania and the Parry Mfg Co. of Indianapolis joined forces.
Standing-drive route delivery vehicles began to be popular at the time and Standard offered a light route delivery vehicle that was similar in appearance to early DIVCO and Fageol milk trucks. “Bodies according to Standard are in accord with the times” was their motto.
Standard began producing their own Ford and Chevrolet catalogs in the mid 20s. Their 1929 Ford Model A/AA catalog offered 150 different bodies: included were various suburban, bus, and heavy-duty platform, stake, van, rack and dairy bodies. Also pictured was the unusual Model 600 Deluxe Bus Body which included a trailing rear axle or "bogie" that increased the weight carrying ability of the vehicle. Another memorable body was the Model F-281, a huge cylindrical body that was also designed for use with the bogie-equipped Model AA chassis.
When their passenger car business hit the skids at the start of the Depression, General Motors Chevrolet division quickly switched gears in an effort to build sales of their commercial chassis, and purchased Martin-Parry’s Indianapolis operations in April of 1930 for $900,000. Up until that time, only cab and chassis had been available from the factory. The 1931 Chevrolet truck catalog offered a complete line of standard bodies for their ½-ton chassis; pickup, panel truck, and canopy express, as well as an offering of canopy express and stake bodies for the 1-½-ton chassis.
During the late twenties, the sale of Martin-Parry and other third-party bodies made up the bulk of Standard Commercial Body’s sales. Ford had recently introduced their own line of truck bodies and the 1931 introduction of the factory-bodied Chevrolet truck effectively put an end to the Raskin’s career as a third-party body retailer and installer.
Even though the firm had just experienced a record year, by late 1931 the Depression was starting to take its toll on the firm’s sales. Later that year the brothers decided to sell off all of their satellite sales offices and concentrate on building custom-built truck bodies at their Harlem and Brooklyn factories.
In its early days, Standard had built its reputation on its insulated dairy trucks, which were used by most of Manhattan’s route delivery and bulk dairy transporters. The refrigerated body was still in its infancy, and as they lacked the technology they purchased a Philadelphia firm that specialized in refrigerated ice cream bodies. They relocated the firm’s assets and key employees to the Standard plant in Brooklyn which was now outfitted to manufacture refrigerated bodies.
Harry Raskin designed a heavy-duty steel radiator guard called the Stanguard for commercial vehicles that became successful in its own right. Period advertising read “Safeguard your truck with a Stanguard radiator guard.” Although his patent ran out in the 40s, guards based on his design can still be found in use on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
When the Raskins first moved to lower Harlem in the first part of the century, the area was predominantly inhabited by Eastern-European Jews. During the 20s, many of the Jews had relocated farther north, being replaced by newly arrived Italian immigrants. During the mid-30s, New York’s first Italian-American mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, announced the City’s first Italian-American housing project which would be called the East River Houses.
The project ran from First Avenue to the East River between 102nd and 105th Streets, the very same neighborhood where the Raskins conducted business. Consequently, the Raskins were forced to sell their 104th St properties to the city for ‘pennies on the dollar’ and moved their Manhattan operations to their Brooklyn factory.
Walter Raskin’s refrigeration patents helped keep the firm alive during the depths of the Depression. In addition to refrigerated dairy and ice cream trucks they also built refrigerated display cabinets for the Whitman Chocolate Co. Harry (Aaron) Raskin had earlier used the name Stanguard for an automobile radiator he had designed and he allowed Standard Commercial Body to use it on their refrigerated cabinets.
The refrigerated cabinet business was doing much better than their truck body business, and Walter’s heat exchangers were being used by a number of large manufacturers who included Westinghouse.
A wholesale manufacturer of refrigeration parts named McCabe expressed an interest in a acquiring the talents of Walter Raskin. The McCabes decided that the Raskin’s Stanguard refrigerated cabinet business would be a beneficial addition to their parts business, so in 1939 the Raskins and the McCabe family formed the Stanguard-Dickerson Company, Stanguard was the trade name that the Raskins had used for their refrigerated cabinets, Dickerson was the trade name of the McCabe’s parts.
The firm started business in a 15,000 sq. ft. McCabe-owned plant in Newark, New Jersey, and Max, Willie, Walter and Ruben (Walter’s younger brother) Raskin began working for the new outfit.
Very soon after the merger, the McCabes and Raskins bickered over control of the firm and a disgusted Max left and returned to building truck bodies in Brooklyn under the name Franklin Body & Equipment Corp.
The other Raskins were more willing to cooperate with the McCabes and when lucrative contracts started pouring in at the beginning of the war, they became too busy to argue. Not only did the Quartermaster Corps order ice cream freezers and dispensers, Stanguard-Dickerson won contracts to produce items of a more military nature such as 150 lb smokeless powder boxes, depth charge pistol boxes, degaussing equipment boxes and M80 fragmentation bombs.
The firm’s payroll jumped from 60 to almost 700, whose three shifts worked around the clock producing as many as 1500 boxes per day. However things changed dramatically at the end of the war. Although the firm had a huge factory, a large staff and 20,000 standing orders for freezers and refrigerated chocolate displays they couldn’t locate the compressors needed to power them, and they soon filed for bankruptcy.
Its assets were acquired by the Noma Electric Company, a holding firm that had originally made its fortune in the Christmas tree light business. They now specialized in buying bankrupt firms and harvesting their assets. At the time they also owned the Refrigeration Corporation of America and the Estate Stove Co, two of the nation’s leading appliance manufacturers. Stanguard-Dickerson’s equipment was relocated to an exiting plant in Woodbridge, New Jersey and it soon became apparent to Walter Raskin that his future lay elsewhere.
Raskin still held the patents on his heat exchanger, so he left Noma in 1949 and decided to concentrate on manufacturing heat exchangers/cold plates on his own. He got a loan from his father and established Dean Products in a portion of his father’s (Max) Brooklyn truck body plant. For a number of years, Dean Products was a subsidiary of Franklin Body & Equipment.
An item in the Jan 17, 1949 New York Times announced:
During the 50s Dean Products supplied Franklin with sheet metal stampings and subassemblies for their custom truck bodies and also custom-built refrigerated bodies for route delivery and bulk material handling.
Walter Raskin recalled:
Dean Products started making money right away, and supplied cold plates/heat exchangers to Kelvinator, Stewart Warner and Crosley. Although his patents ran out in the early 50s, Walter Raskin developed a new scaleable cold plate which was marketed as the Panelcoil. Dean Products is still in business, although its Panelcoil production line has relocated to a modern facility in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania.
The City of New York began strictly regulating taxis in 1929 and starting that year, one of the requirements was that any vehicle used for livery or taxi service in the borough of Manhattan had to be able to carry 5 passengers in the rear compartment. Prior to World War II, most manufacturers produced long-wheelbase 9-passenger limousines that met the requirements. After the war, the number was greatly reduced and only Checker, Desoto, and Packard manufactured vehicles that included the required space and requisite jump seats.
In the early 50s, Franklin Body & Equipment manufactured taxis for a large Bronx taxi co-op ran by a Mr. Ackerman. The then-current regulations required that 5 passengers be able to ride in the rear compartment of a taxi. Ackerman devised a plan whereby a stock Chevrolet station wagon could be modified to meet the regulation by installing a rearward-facing bench seat behind the rear axle.
The job required cutting out the rear floor of the wagon, installing a new footwell-equipped rear floor and moving the gas tank forward, just underneath the new rear bench. A prototype was built for Ackerman and following its approval, 50 cabs were built using all-steel Chevrolet wagons. The wagon-based cabs were priced several hundred dollars less than a Checker or Desoto cab, and could be built using used wagons, providing even more savings.
In July of 1954 the previous 5-passenger standard was eliminated and standard four-door Detroit-made sedans became eligible for taxi cab service in Manhattan. The long-wheelbase cars that were previously embraced, were now outlawed as a new maximum wheelbase of 120” was implemented. The new regulation effectively ended the production of Franklin’s wagon-based taxis. According to Walter Raskin, Franklin built 3400 of the wagon-based taxis in the early-to-mid 50s.
Starting in the mid-50s Franklin began exporting large numbers of ambulances to the Middle East for customers in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Additional export customers were located in the Caribbean and South and Central America, specifically Argentina and Panama. During the 50s and 60s Franklin advertised in Chevrolet’s Silver Book as well as similar publications used by GMC, Ford and Dodge/Fargo dealers.
The bulk of their business involved converting panel vans into special-purpose vehicles for municipalities, hospitals and rescue squads. Their Silver Book ads depicted light-truck-based ambulances, mobile hospitals, x-ray units, blood banks and dental clinics, some built on extended wheelbases. Franklin’s larger vehicles featured bodies that were styled like post-war horse boxes and furniture vans.
The modular Franklin rescue body was the forerunner of today's modern EMS ambulance and rescue units and was designed to carry more than one cot in addition to a large array of rescue gear. Most modular Franklins were built on light truck chassis and were popular with metropolitan New York fire rescue squads and civil defense agencies.
A majority of their vehicles were built using General Motors products, and during the late 50s they built a small number of modular ambulances on Cadillac chassis for suburban rescue squads that wanted to use Cadillac chassis. Two 1955 Cadillacs were built for the town of Belmar, New Jersey (just south of Asbury Park) and one each for the Spring Lake, and Manasquan New Jersey First Aid Squads. In 1958, the Point Pleasant, New Jersey First Aid & Emergency Squad ordered a 1958 Cadillac-chassised modular Franklin ambulance.
When forward control vans appeared in the early 60s, Franklin was amongst the first to convert them to ambulance, wheelchair, school bus and police duty and even offered van-based hearses and first call cars. They also converted station wagons to rescue, funeral and civil defense uses and even built a flower car using a 1960 Chevrolet El Camino.
Harry Spindler joined the firm in 1956, becoming sales manager in 1972 following the death of Willie Raskin, who had served as the firm’s salesman since the early 40s. Spindler left in 1982 to work for the Carpenter Bus Body Company. Franklin Body closed down soon afterwards.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com