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Universal Body Corp.
Universal Body Corp. 1920-1922; Mishawaka, Indiana; New York, New York
Associated Firms
Dodge Mfg. Co.

Universal Body Corp. 1920-1922; mfg. plant; Mishawaka, Indiana; showroom & sales offices, 250 W 54th St., New York, New York

The Universal Body Corp. was one of several dozen firms that manufactured aftermarket bodies for the Ford Model T. However, Universal took a different approach from most of its competitors – electing to offer equipment (bodies, radiators, fenders, disc wheels, and frame extensions) that would disguise the humble origins of their ride, giving it the appearance of a larger, mid-priced car – which they advertised as the 'Universal Car'.

The firm was managed and organized by Kenyon Mix (Nov. 9, 1887 - d. Nov. 29, 1927 in Chicago, Ill.), the son of Mishawaka, Indiana industrialist Melvin W. Mix (b. Nov. 16, 1865 - d. Dec. 11, 1927) and Zella Louise (Kenyon, b. 1868 – married Aug 29, 1887) Mix. The senior Mix controlled a small empire of manufacturing concerns which included the Dodge Mfg. Co. (mfrs. of wood split pulleys and power transmission machinery); National Veneer Products Co. (mfr. Perfecto trunks); Fast Feed Drill & Tool Corp.; Lyradion Mfg. Co. (radios and phonographs); Mishawaka Public Improvement Corporation, owners and operators of the Hotel Mishawaka; as well as two banking institutions, the Mishawaka Trust & Savings Co. and West End State Bank.

Little is known about the younger Mix other than his profession was more often than not listed as 'salesman' in the US Census and Mishawaka directories.

However, his father was one of Mishawaka's most celebrated citizens, serving as mayor of the Indiana city (which adjoins South Bend to the West) from 1902-1905. Melvin Walter Mix was born on November 16, 1865 in Atlanta, Logan Co., Illinois to Walter W. and Mary Elizabeth (Maxey) Mix. He worked in a local hardware store during high school and in 1886 took a position as shipping clerk with the Dodge Manufacturing Co. of Mishawaka, Indiana. His abilities were eventually recognized by the firm's founder, Wallace H. Dodge, and he was transferred to the sales department, and in 1890 was made manager of the firm's Chicago sales branch. Mix subsequently returned to Mishawaka as director of sales and during his tenure significantly increased the sales of firm, which specialized in the manufacture of power transmission equipment for large manufacturers and public utilities. Upon Wallace H. Dodge's passing in September of 1894, Mix was elected president of the concern, which at the time was the largest manufacturer of its kind. By 1910 the Dodge plant at Mishawaka covered 60 acres of ground, had a floor space of 25 acres, and was Mishawaka's largest employer, providing employment to more than 1,200 persons. Factory branches were located in Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburg. Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Ga., and St. Louis and a satellite warehouse was maintained in Brooklyn for supplying the firm's sizable overseas markets. An excellent history of the firm was included in Anderson & Cooley's 'South Bend and the Men who Have Made It,' published in 1901:

"Dodge Manufacturing Company.

"Few industries in the United States equal in magnitude and importance the mammoth works of the great Dodge Manufacturing Company, of Mishawaka, the leading engineers, founders and machinists of the Western continent. This giant industry found its inception in 1878, when Wallace H. Dodge commenced in a modest frame building, and in a primitive manner the manufacture of certain wood hardware specialties of his own invention and of value to the manufacturing interests of the country. The year following he commenced the manufacture of fine lumber, and an extensive lumber yard was added to the original plant. In 1880 the business had grown to such dimensions that a stock company was formed and the facilities of the factory were largely increased. The buildings were entirely destroyed by fire in 1881, but were immediately rebuilt and enlarged, and the company then engaged in the manufacture of wood pulleys, of special design and merit, and with an ingenious, practical and valuable bushing system, which permitted the use of any pulley for a wide range of shafting. These pulleys at once became so popular and in such great demand that the wood pulley was made the main feature of manufacture at this establishment. This was practically the origin and inception of the famous Dodge Independence Wood Split Pulley, with its patent bushing system, now known and in use in every manufacturing city in the world. In every respect these pulleys have proven superior to those of metal construction, and it was not until the genius and skill of the Dodge Company produced this .Independence Patent Pulley that they demonstrated beyond all question their title to supremacy. Chief among the points of excellence possessed by these pulleys is the perfect system of Interchangeable bushings, by which they may be adjusted to a shaft of any diameter, but there are other minor points of excellence, which combined, render them the most valuable of any similar article now produced. The Dodge Independence Wood Split Pulleys have been In successful operation for over eighteen years. Over 3,000,000 of them are now in practical operation in the great manufactories of the world, and the name of 'Dodge' has become a synonym for all that is best and most durable and satisfactory in the perfect transmission of power. The 'Bushing System,' is one of the most important features of these pulleys, as their fastenings are always positively reliable and the strains are always central thus maintaining perfect uniformity in pulley periphery and insuring a true running structure. In addition to these pulleys, and as the natural outgrowth of their manufacture, the company has also devised and manufactures the celebrated Dodge System of Power Transmission by Manilla rope. By this system power can be successfully transmitted from the motor or 'prime mover' to the line or countershafts at machines over any desired distance and in any direction, utilizing all the power without any practical loss by friction. By this system factories can be located several thousands of feet from the steam plant, the dynamo or the water wheel, and the same amount of power transmitted as though the buildings were in immediate connection with the power station. For years this plan of distributing power for large manufacturing plants has been an acknowledged success, as it places all the connections under one head and secures the economical delivery of the power to all departments. This system has been successfully applied to main water wheels, and steam engine connections of every description, and aside from its practical and economical administration, has materially reduced the dangers from fire and consequently resulted in the reduction of the insurance risk. Full lines of power transmitting appliances, fittings and special applications are manufactured and furnished by the Dodge Company and fully cover all kinds of manufacturing plants. The immense plant of the Dodge Manufacturing Company occupies a tract of land nearly sixty acres in area, and forty buildings substantially built of brick and stone, are required for the various departments of this mammoth enterprise. The immense foundry of the company has a daily capacity of fifty tons which will be increased this year to seventy-five tons. There will also be erected during the year two large modern steel buildings, one to be used for foundry purposes and the other as a machine shop. Each of these buildings will be 180 feet long by 125 feet wide, with main central bays of fifty feet in which will be installed thirty-five ton electric traveling cranes of fifty foot span. An extension to the wood working department will also be erected which will be a brick building two stories in height and 150 feet by 65 feet, and the engine room capacity will be increased by 600 horse power. Some idea of the magnitude of this plant may be gained when it is stated that the floor space of the great factory buildings and warehouses approximates about twenty acres. There are over 1,000 feet of lumber sheds connected with this establishment, and the lumber yards occupy about ten acres of ground. The engine room of the company is one of the finest in America, and the aggregate boiler capacity is 1,500 horse power, and the main line of shafting is over 4,000 feet in length. In addition to the elegance, neatness and artistic finish, is the method of conveying power from the driver on the engine shaft to the jack shaft, and secondary transmissions which are driven by the engine. Over 600 skilled workmen are employed in the various departments of these great works, and the entire force of the company in the various branches and agencies number about 150 additional. The company has established branches in Chicago, Ill., New York, Boston, Mass., Cincinnati, O., and Atlanta, Ga., and a branch sales office in London. England. In addition to these branches agencies has been established in every manufacturing center on the civilized globe. The company has received the highest awards from the Franklin Institute in 1885 World's Exposition at New Orleans in 1885 North Central and South American Exposition at New Orleans in 1886 Colonial Indian Exposition London in 1886 Cincinnati Centennial in 1888, American Institute, New York, in 1888 and 1896, World's Exposition, Paris, in 1889, Mechanics Institute, San Francisco, in 1889, California State Agricultural Society in 1889, Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, 1890 and 1892, Franklin Institute, 1891. World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, Atlanta Exposition, 1896, Tennessee Centennial. Nashville, in 1897, and others. The company has furnished many of the largest manufactories of the world with their special machinery for power transmission, and also furnished the immense power system for the World's Exposition at Chicago, in 1893, which required over fifty car loads of materials. They have also furnished rope transmissions to the Niagara Falls Paper Company, the Chicago City Railway Company, the Portland and Cape Elizabeth Railway, and the Pennsylvania Elevators at Chicago. Mr. Wallace H. Dodge, the founder of this great enterprise, died in 1894, after witnessing the wonderful success and expansion of the works he established in 1878, and he was an important factor in its growth and development. The present officers of the company are: M. W. Mix. president and general manager; W. B. Hosforu, vice-president George Philion superintendent and Charles Endlich secretary and treasurer. Mr. M.W. Mix the president of the company has been identified with this great enterprise since 1886 He was general manager in 1894 and was made president in 1895 Mr. Mix is one of the most practical and energetic business men in the West He is master of every detail of the mammoth works and has largely contributed to its present success and wonderful progress."

The senior Mix' involvement in the automobile business dates to 1912 when he purchased the assets of the American Simplex Motor Car Company, the manufacturer of the 1906-1910 Simplex, and 1910-1913 Amplex automobile - the name change was necessitated by the firm's admission to the ALAM (Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers) of which Herman Broesel Sr.'s Simplex Automobile Co. (of New York City & later Trenton, NJ), manufacturers of the S&M Simplex (aka American Mercedes), were already members.

Located at 400 S. Byrkit Ave., Mishawaka, the American Simplex Motor Car Co. entered the marketplace in September of 1905 with a 40 hp 2-stroke twin mounted on a subframe suspended to the chassis by 3 points - the running gear rigidly fixed to the rear axle, pivoting on the forward spring. In 1908 the powerplant was replaced by a 50 hp two-stroke four cylinder. Advertising boasted of the advantages of the 2-stroke process:

"The American Simplex has no valves because it doesn't need them. Valves are the bugbear of every owner of any four-cycle automobile, for the reason that they are a constant source of trouble and expense."

The January 1909 issue of the Cycle & Automobile Trade Journal commented: "they are the first elaborate and heavy cars to be driven by two-cycle motors."

Both Simplex and Amplex entered cars in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911; the former finishing sixth, the latter eighth. Shortly thereafter the firm announced an expansion aimed at quadrupling its output, but increased sales did not result and in 1912 the company's assets were taken over by its main creditor, the Mishawaka Trust & Savings Co., whose president was Melvin W. Mix. Mix' tenure as owner of the firm was short-lived and later in the year he sold the plant and its assets to Adolph Kamm, who reorganized it as the Amplex Motor Car Co. KAmm had no better luck with the Amplex and in 1914 it was sold to William Wrigley who reorganized it as the Amplex Manufacturing Co.. In 1916 the plant was acquired by the King Gillette Co. (William Gillette, of razor-blade fame), who experienced much better luck using the facility to manufacture munitions during the buildup to the First World War.

By that time Melvin W. Mix had come up with a laminated/composite wood disc wheel for which he was awarded several patents as follows:

Laminated wheel filler unit (aka disc wheel for automobiles) - US 1336254 A Filed Jan 31, 1916 - ‎Issued Apr 6, 1920 to ‎Mix Melville W – assigned to ‎Dodge Mfg Co.

Composite wheel filler (aka disc wheel for automobiles) - US 1518269 A Filed Jan 9, 1920 - ‎Issued Dec 9, 1924 to ‎Melville W. Mix.

It is unknown if the product ever reached the marketplace, however he was able to use his disc wheel covers on a new project which was announced to the automotive trade in the summer of 1919.

The formation of the Universal Body Corp. was announced to the trade in the 'New Concerns recently incorporated' column of the August 1920 issue of the Accessory and Garage Journal:

"Universal Body Corporation, Manhattan borough, $160,000"

The "Capital Increases" column of the very same issue (August 1920 issue of the Accessory and Garage Journal) announced a sizeable increase in the firm's capitalization:

"Universal Body Corporation Manhattan borough $200,000 to $350,000"

The October 1920 issue of the Automotive Manufacturer stated that Universal had acquired the services of noted body engineer/designer, H. Putnam Wood:

"H. Putnam Wood has accepted a position as general superintendent of the Universal Body Corp., Mishawaka, Ind. He was formerly in charge of mechanical body design with Brewster & Co., Long Island City, NY."

Wood has started his automotive career in Selmer, Tennessee with the Selmer-Savannah Hack Line, an early operator of taxicabs. In 1913 he established the Northwestern Cole Motor Co., the Cole Motor Co.'s Minneapolis, Minn. factory branch. In 1915 Wood helped form the short-lived Auto Body Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, after which he moved to Long Island City to take a position with Brewster & Co.

The December 15, 1920 issue of Motor West included a short item on an 1,100-mile New York to Mishawaka journey undertaken by two Universal executives:


The picture shows what the Universal Body Corp., 1778 Broadway, New York City, factory in Mishawaka, Ind., can do to make a real automobile out of the Ford. This car, with wheelbase lengthened 20 inches, is the camper’s model. Every night it was used for sleeping by Benjamin Craven and H.J. Houkel, in a journey from New York to Mishawaka—1,100 miles, not including five detours totaling more than 200 miles, and carrying 400 pounds of baggage — in 5˝ days of daylight driving.

"Despite some very bad stretches and poor gasoline, the car averaged more than 18 miles per gallon. Coasting a steep hill, it skidded several feet on a slippery place but did not overturn, the Universal body being 4 inches lower than that of a standard Ford. General Manager George W. Craven states that by January 1 the plant will be producing 50 bodies a day, and that a comprehensive advertising campaign will be inaugurated in the December and January publications. A line of dealers' helps also will be distributed soon."

Pictures of the new Universal body lineup – seen to the right - were included in the Dec 1, 1920 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal, Pp 239, 252, 372.

The patented 20" frame extension utilized by Universal was the brainchild of engineer ‎William N. Shannon, who received the following patent for the device several years before the formation of Universal Body Corp.:

"Automobile-frame extension - US1250677 - ‎Filed May 24, 1917 - ‎Issued Dec 18, 1917 to ‎William N. Shannon"

The abstract accompanying the patent drawings follows:

"146,276. Shannon, W. N. May 24, 1917. Frame components, applying and combining.

"An attachment for converting a pleasure car into a commercial vehicle comprises a three-sided frame extension adapted to be attached to the longitudinal frame members and fitted with a cross piece for the rear axle springs. The frame comprises channel-members 27, 28 the ends of which are flared to fit the tapered ends of the vehicle frame members 11, 12, holes being provided to accommodate the ends of the transverse frame member 16; swells 29 are provided to fit over the heads of the bolts by means of which the corner pieces 17 are attached, and spacing blocks 52 are placed in the channels of the members 11, 12 where the members 27, 28 are bolted thereto. An end transverse member 26 is bolted to the members 27, 28 and brackets 40 are bolted in the angles."

Universal must have purchased the international rights to the patent as they registered it in Germany under their corporate name, which does not mention Shannon:

"Patented vehicle frame extension: DE351056C (Vehicle frame extension, especially for motor vehicles) German patent) applied July 9, 1920 awarded March 31, 1922 assigned to Universal Body Corp."

The February 1921 issue of the Automotive Manufacturer announced that the well-known automobile engineer George W. Craven had recently joined the firm as vice-president and general manager:

"George W. Cravens, formerly a consulting engineer at Westfield, N.J., has been made vice president and general manager of the Universal Body Corp., Mishawaka, Ind."

One 1921 industry listing had Cravens listed as president:

"George W. Cravens, president Universal Body Corporation, Garwood, N. J."

The only newspaper clipping I could locate was the following item which appeared in the February 27, 1921 issue of the South Bend News-Times:

"This Universal Body will be given away by the Ellsworth Store, For the Universal Car

"If you saw this car on the street you would probably take it for a high priced car. If you rode in it you would feel the same comfort you expect, but seldom get, in a high priced car. If you drove it, month after month, the fuel consumption and tire economy would be surprisingly low. It is a car that satisfies the pride of ownership by a pleasing appearance, by dependability of power, and by economy of operation. As a matter of fact, the mechanical part of the car cannot be beaten for it's a FORD chassis and the complete whole is a UNIVERSAL BODY on the universal chassis an ideal combination. The body and attachments are applicable to any standard Ford chassis and can be obtained in standard colors of painting and upholstering. The wheel base is extended to 120 inches and this, plus deep upholstering in Dupont Morocco Fabrikoid makes for absolute comfort. The body is especially attractive with a long, ventilated hood, two piece windshield, carrier basket, heavy nickel bumpers, front and rear, rolled crown fenders, large steering wheel, large headlights, wheel discs, cowl ventilator, polished walnut instrument panel and Dupont Luxar, double-texture top. In every detail the UNIVERSAL BODY makes a Ford one of the most distinctive and best appearing cars on the market.

"The UNIVERSAL BODY is made in touring and roadster models in a number of attractive standard colors and upholstering. If you are interested in making a more attractive and comfortable car of your Ford at a reasonable price and this is EXACTLY what is offered in the UNIVERSAL BODY. Make a personal investigation and ask for a demonstration, which will show you how to convert your Ford into a comfortable and attractive car with all the economy and dependability you enjoy with your present Ford.

"Universal Body Corporation 211 E. Mishawaka Av. Mishawaka, Ind. Phone: Mishawaka 194 George B. Kenyon, Local Agent, Frazier Garage, 118 Lincoln Way East, South Bend, Indiana. Phone 5698. See our exhibit beginning Thursday, Feb. 24, and extending for two weeks at The Ellsworth Store."

A photograph of the Model D Universal Car appeared in the July 1921 issue of Motor Record with the following caption:

"Universal Body for Ford Car

"The Universal Body Corp Mishawaka, Ind., announces that it is making shipments on its Model D five-passenger and roadster bodies for the Ford chassis. The Universal body was originated and perfected by the Universal Body Corp. which incorporates the use of a specially patented extension which lengthens the wheelbase to 120 inches. The use of this extension in connection with the Universal body with its tapestry upholstery is claimed to give the completed car riding qualities and appearance of a high priced car."

The July 13, 1921 issue of Motor World included a pictured of the firm's new Model D Touring Car:


"The radiator shell is nickel plated and the hood is long and well ventilated. The windshield is made in two adjustable sections and is given a non-rusting finish. The headlights are large and are equipped with no glare lenses. The running boards are covered with linoleum and bound with aluminum. Front and rear bumpers are included with the body. These bodies are furnished in any one of five standard colors. Price $500. Universal Body Corp., Mishawaka, Ind."

A more detailed description of the Universal Model D appeared in the July 1921 issue of the Automobile Journal:

"The Universal Body Corporation of Mishawaka, Ind., announces that it is making shipments of its Model D five-passenger and roadster bodies for Ford chassis. The Universal body was originated and perfected by the Universal Body Corporation which incorporates the use of a specially patented extension which lengthens the wheelbase to 120 inches. The use of this extension in connection with the Universal body with its tapestry upholstery gives the completed car the riding qualities and appearance which compare very favorably with a car selling at two or three times the price.

"The specifications are as follows:

"Radiator Shell - Polished Nickel Finish Rolls Royce Type Constructed so as to Increase the Amount of Air Passing Through the Radiator

"Hood - Extra Long and Well Ventilated

"Windshield - Made in Two Adjustable Sections and Is Given a Non Rust Finish

"Head Lights - Large Electric with Suitable Bulbs and No Glare Lenses Are a Part of the Regular Equipment

"Running Boards - Substantial Linoleum Covered and Aluminum Bound

"Fenders - Best Type of Enameled Steel Deep Flange Rolled Crown

"Bumpers - Heavy Steel Both Front and Rear Furnishing Ample Protection for the Radiator Body and Fenders

"Top and Covers - A Double Woven Fabric Top of Special Design with Side Curtains with Windows of the Best Transparent Fabric. Two Plate Glass Windows Are Placed in the Back Curtain. A Regulation Envelope Is Provided for the Protection of the Top When Down.

"Side Curtains - In Addition to the Regular Sectional Side Curtains the Rear Section Is Provided In Two Portions Which Gives a Full Victoria Quarter if Desired.

"Wheel Discs - The Standard Ford Wheels Are Strengthened by Patent Heavy Steel Discs Which Are Fitted on the Inside and Outside of All Wood Wheels.

"Steering Wheel - Extra Large

"Instrument Panel - Polished Hardwood Mounted Under the Cowl

"Carrier Basket - Installed on Steel Extensions on the Rear of the Body Providing Space for an Extra Tire and Luggage Carrier. The Rear License Plate May Be Mounted on This.

"Front Seat - Cushion and Back Adjustable to Three Positions Thus Accommodating Both Tall and Short Drivers Rear Seat Adjustable to Any One of Four Positions

"Upholstering - Finest Quality Imitation Leather Fabric Throughout Cushions Are Body Finish

"The Bodies Are Furnished in Any One of the Five Standard Colors: Holland Blue, Saginaw Red, Deep Gun metal Grey, Light Black, Garibaldi Green.

"All Fenders Are Black

"Universal bodies with the above standard equipment are now being shipped from Mishawaka at a price of $500 plus war tax, f.o.b. Mishawaka, Ind.

"Universal Body Corporation, Mishawaka, Ind."

The August 1921 edition of the SAE Journal announced that H. Putnam Wood had resigned as superintendent of the firm after a short 8 months of employment with the start-up body manufacturer:

"H.P. Wood has resigned as superintendent of the Universal Body Corporation, Mishawaka, Ind., and is now located at Chicago."

H. Putnam Wood's later career included a short stint as the head of the Wood Motor Sales Co., in Minneapolis which was followed by a short stint with the Seaman Body Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His early taxicab experience came in handy as a designer with the Checker Cab Mfg. Co. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, for whom he worked from 1923 to 1928.

Universal's listing in the 1922 Motor Vehicle Yearbook follows:

"MISHAWAKA - Universal Body Co. M.W. Mix, pres.; Kenyon Mix, genl. mgr.; F.S. Willet, treas.; W.E. Roe, pur. agt."

The July 6, 1922 issue of Motor Age announced a noticeable decrease ($175) in the price of a touring car kit:

"Universal Body Co., Mishawaka, Ind., announces a reduction in price of their touring model for Ford chassis. The new price is $325."

A possible reason for the price reduction appears in the July 12, 1922 issue of the Ligonier Leader:

"Huge New Dodge Firm Buys Mishawaka Plant

"A new $9,000,000 corporation has been formed to take over the interests of the Dodge Mfg. Co. at Mishawaka, and its subsidiary plants. Melvin W. Mix, president of the company since 1895, will retire from active business. Chas. F. Marse, of Chicago, will be president of the new organization, and Mayor W.W. Dodge, of Mishawaka, vice-president. Mr. Mix has sold his holdings in the company to the new organization. Mr. Mix started with the Dodge company as office boy in 1896."

The sale of the Dodge Company by Mix coincided with the withdrawal of the Universal Body Co. from business. Listings for the firm disappear entirely in the 1923 industry directories. It is unknown how many bodies/frame extension kits were sold, but none are known to survive. Outside of factory-supplied pictures and period advertisements, no third-party pictures exist of any Universal-equipped vehicles, and one wonders how many were actually completed during the short time they were in business. 

© 2015 Mark Theobald for







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

Anderson & Cooley - South Bend and the Men who Have Made It, pub. 1901

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