Standard Wagon Works - 1880s-1910s - Detroit, Michigan


The Fisher Body Company, later the Fisher Division of GM, had strong family roots. It was founded by seven brothers whose grandfather, Andrew Fisher, emigrated from Northern Germany around 1835 and set up a blacksmith shop in Ohio. His son Lawrence Fisher worked in the blacksmith shop. Later, with his brother Andrew and his brother-in-law, he set up a carriage works, himself directing the woodworking facilities. Ironworking, woodworking, carriage-building, and brothers working closely together all reappeared in the remarkable success of the Fisher Body Company.

Lawrence Fisher stressed craftsmanship above all else. All of his sons worked in the family business before leaving home. His brother Albert Fisher, who also learned carriage making from Lawrence, established Standard Wagon Works in Detroit in the late 1880s. At Uncle Albert's suggestion Fred Fisher, eldest of Lawrence Fisher's seven sons, decided to seek his fortune in Detroit.

In 1902, Fred found work as a draftsman at C. R. Wilson Company, joined by his brother Charles in 1904. Wilson, the largest maker of horse-drawn carriage bodies in the world, also built auto bodies for a handful of pioneer automakers, including Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Ford, Peerless and Elmore. The brothers worked there until 1908, when they quit over salaries. Uncle Albert offered Fred and Charles jobs in his carriage shop and the brothers gratefully accepted.

Uncle Albert's Standard Wagon Works had supplied some 50 bodies for the fledgling Ford Motor Co. Fred and Charles recognized that bodies for horse-drawn carriages would not do for motorcars. Automobile bodies needed an entirely different technology. For example, driving a car via its rear wheels put a different set of stresses on the body than pulling a carriage by its front axle; also the higher speeds and greater vibration of motorcars demanded suitable engineering advances.

At this point, the two brothers invited Uncle Albert to join them in their own auto-body business. Between the three of them, they had connections, expertise, good ideas -- and Uncle Albert agreed to supply capital. On July 22, 1908, Albert, Fred and Charles Fisher formed the Fisher Body Co., capitalized at $50,000, with $30,000 cash paid in by Uncle Albert.

Early customers included Ford, Herreshoff, EMF and Oldsmobile. Walter Flanders, a partner in EMF, suggested that the new company build an inexpensive closed car body. Closed cars at that time were not only expensive but were considered undesirable by Ford. As Fred and Charles began to experiment with closed sedan bodies, Uncle Albert not only protested but soon wanted out of the new venture altogether.

At this point the Mendelssohn name entered the Fisher story. The younger Fishers didn't have enough money to buy Albert out, but mentioned their plight to Louis Mendelssohn, an architect and civil engineer who, with his brother Aaron, was a major stockholder in the Herreshoff Motor Co. Asked how much Albert wanted for his share, Fred answered, "$30,000 by noon." Louis supplied it. As chairman of the board, Louis Mendelssohn oversaw the financial side of the operation. He supervised the purchase, design and construction of new buildings and eventually negotiated the sale of Fisher Body to General Motors. His brother Aaron joined in 1910 as supervisor of the general office. Aaron's son Herbert entered the business in 1911 and Louis's son Paxton was put in charge of Plant #1.



For more information please read:

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - Packard: A History of the Motorcar and Company

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

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Marc Ralston - Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - There Is No Mistaking a Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

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

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

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

Thomas E. Bonsall - The Lincoln Motorcar: Sixty Years of Excellence

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Arthur W. Soutter - The American Rolls-Royce

John Webb De Campi - Rolls-Royce in America

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Hugo Pfau - The Coachbult Packard

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

George H. Dammann - 90 Years of Ford

George H. Dammann & James K. Wagner - The Cars of Lincoln-Mercury

Thomas A. MacPherson - The Dodge Story

F. Donald Butler - Plymouth-Desoto Story

Fred Crismon - International Trucks

George H. Dammann - Seventy Years of Chrysler

Walter M.P. McCall - 80 Years of Cadillac LaSalle

Maurice D. Hendry - Cadillac, Standard of the World: The complete seventy-year history

George H. Dammann & James A. Wren - Packard

Dennis Casteele - The Cars of Oldsmobile

Terry B. Dunham & Lawrence R. Gustin - Buick: A Complete History

George H. Dammann - Seventy Years of Buick

George H. Dammann - 75 Years of Chevrolet

John Gunnell - Seventy-Five Years of Pontiac-Oakland


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