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Witham Body Co.
C.C. Witham Co., 1916-1920; Merrimac, Massachusetts; C.C. Witham Body Co., 1920-1922; Witham Body Co., 1922-1925; Amesbury, Massachusetts
Associated Builders
Biddle & Smart

Amesbury, Massachusetts’ Witham Body Company was a short-lived firm known primarily for its attractive 5-passenger sport sedans that were supplied to Stearns-Knight and Wills-Sainte Claire. The firm was also an early manufacturer of bumper cars, which were manufactured under contract to the Stoehrer & Pratt Dodgem Corp. of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Its founder, Carlton Chesley Witham, was born in the town of Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts on January 5, 1876 to Samuel M. and Charlotte A. (Wentworth) Witham. Samuel Mosher Witham (b. Jan. 14, 1843-d. Jun. 7, 1911), was born in York, Maine on January 14, 1843 to Elkhana D. and Mehitable L. (Ramsdell) Witham. Once he reached maturity Samuel moved to Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts where he enjoyed a long career as a carpenter and building contractor.

On July 22, 1865 Samuel M. Witham married Newbury native Miss Charlotte A. Wentworth (b. Dec. 31, 1838-d.Oct. 15, 1915), and to the blessed union were born two sons; Sanford H. (b. July 8, 1866), and Carlton C. (b. Jan. 5, 1876) Witham.

After a public education in the schools of Newbury and Haverhill, Carlton C. Witham embarked upon an eight-year career working in the region’s numerous shoe factories, after which he purchased a poultry farm in nearby Merrimac. In 1895 Carlton married Miss Melissa A. Yeaton (b.1875 in Alton, New Hampshire), the 1900 US Census lists his occupation as farmer.

Since he was a young lad of six, Carlton had been instructed in the carpentry trade by his father, and, despite constructing his own house at the age of 19, it is somewhat singular that he did not take up carpentry as a profession until 1910 when he gave up the poultry business and went to work for a contractor in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Within the year he returned to Merrimac establishing his own construction company which enjoyed great success during the ensuing decade.

The 1917 Essex County directory lists him as follows: Carlton C. Witham, 29 School st., Merrimac, Essex County, General Contractor. He also served a four-year term as Chief of Merrimac’s Volunteer Fire Company.

During the First World War Witham was recommended for appointment to the post of chief engineer of one of the large government shipyards, but he was then in poor health and was unable to accept. He, however, enrolled in the State Guard organized in 1817, to take the place of State National Guard troops mustered into the United States Army for war service, and as a member of Company D, Sixteenth Regiment of Massachusetts State Guard, he served during the time of emergency, 1917-1919, in the grade of private.

While still working as a contractor Witham was involved in the formation of the Home Built Toy Company of Merrimac, Mass., whose May 16, 1919 incorporation papers list him as treasurer. Capitalized at $50,000, no further information could be found in regards to the wooden toy manufacturer other than its formal dissolution which occurred in April of 1921.

During 1920, Witham became interested in the automobile business, and using the profits of his contracting business took over an old manufactory located at 100 Friend St., Amesbury, where he embarked upon the manufacture of automobile bodies and ‘Dodgems’ an early type of bumper car.

The Witham factory was situated opposite Amesbury’s railway freight office on the right hand side of the railroad tracks in one of the buildings formerly occupied by the Atwood Mfg. Co. (aka Atwood Bros., Attwood Castle.), a structure originally constructed for the Charles Rollins & Son carriage company.

The ‘Dodgems’ were produced under license for the Stoehrer & Pratt Dodgem Corp. of Lawrence, Mass. Financed by Haverhill, Mass. amusement operator Ralph Pratt, its father & son inventors, Methuen, Mass.'Harold and Max Stoehrer, were awarded the following US patents for ‘amusement apparatus’ which we recognize today as the first practical American-built bumper car:

US Pat. 1373108 - Filed Dec 7, 1920 - Issued Mar 29, 1921
US Pat. 1467959 - Filed Mar 27, 1920 - Issued Sep 11, 1923
US Pat. 1478979 - Filed Mar 31, 1922 - Issued Dec. 25, 1923
US Pat. 1652840 - Filed Oct 26, 1923 - Issued Dec 13, 1927

As illustrated to the right, Stoehrer & Pratt’s ‘Dodgems’ were round in plan and designed to seat two people. They had semicircular padded seats under which the motor was housed, and the horizontal steering wheel was mounted on a vertical post in front of the operator and passenger. A raised tubular metal railing around the crescent-shaped foot area gave minimal protection to the occupants' feet, and there were no seat belts to hold the driver or passenger in place. A metal leaf spring surrounded the round platform base of the car so that when collisions occurred, the spring would receive the brunt of the impact.

Witham created the vehicle’s sturdy wooden framework to which the internal electrical components and pre-cut sheet-metal sheathing was attached. The Dodgems were finished using the same techniques used in automobile bodies, after which they were shipped by rail to waiting customers.

Stoehrer & Pratt’s ‘Dodgems’ were incredibly popular, an advertisement in Billboard magazine proclaiming it "the repeater of all repeating rides... the Rolls-Royce of amusement devices. It brings them and it holds them.” The amusement was sold across the country, Benjamin F. Arrington’s ‘Municipal History of Essex County in Massachusetts’ (pub. 1922) states:

“During the past year his (Witham’s) company has shipped cars to almost all states of the United States, to Canada, Mexico and England, and the demand, in the concrete shape of orders now on the books, even comes from South America, Japan and India.”

A late 1922 ad (the last year of the Witham-built round-body style) states that 800 cars were manufactured by the company during the year.

In late 1922 the manufacture of Stoehrer & Pratt’s Dodgems was transferred to their own factory at 68 Woodland Street, Lawrence, Mass. and Witham’s 50 employees embarked upon the manufacture of automobile bodies on a full time basis, the November 23, 1922 issue of Iron Trade announcing the incorporation of the Witham Body Company:

“AMESBURY, MASS.—The Witham Body Co. has been incorporated with $100,000 capital to build automobile bodies, by Carleton C. Witham, Merrimac, Mass., and George F. Kelley and Octavius T. Howe, both of Boston.”

George Fuller Kelley, formerly with the Rhode Island Textile Co., of Pawtucket, R.I., was a former student at Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., Octavius Thorndike Howe (b.1851) was a retired Lawrence, Essex County, Mass., physician and Naval historian.

Witham produced closed bodies under contract to the Stearns-Knight Motor Car Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, and the Wills Sainte Claire Co. of Marysville, Michigan. The Friend Street factory had a monthly capacity of only 80 bodies and by late 1924 additional manufacturing facilities were required. Iron Age reported:

“Carlton C. Witham, Amesbury, Mass., has taken over the former plant of the Briggs Carriage Co., Cedar Street, and will remodel for the production of automobile bodies.”

During 1925 Biddle & Smart purchased the Amesbury factories of T.W. Lane, Hollander & Morrill and Witham in order to expand their production of bodies for Hudson and Rolls-Royce. Witham’s business activities after his withdrawal from the body business are currently unknown.

© 2012 Mark Theobald -






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

Benjamin F. Arrington - Municipal History of Essex County in Massachusetts, Volume 3, pub. 1922

Orra L. Stone - History of Massachusetts Industries Vol I-IV - Boston, MA, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. 1930

John Bartley - Amesbury as a Body-Building Center – April 13, 1943 – Collection of the Amesbury Public Library

Betsy H. Woodman - The Salisbury Beach Dodgem: A Smashing Ride (1920-1980), Bulletin of the Essex Institute, Volume 120, pub. 1984

Seth Gussow - A Short History of Bumper Cars, Automobile Magazine, November 1997 issue

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