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Fred. R. Wood & Son
Frederick R. Wood, Frederick R. Wood & Son, F.R. Wood & Son Inc.; 1848-1930s; 219-221(+205) West 19th St. (at 7th Ave), New York, New York; F.R. Wood & Son Inc., 1930s-1939; Brooklyn, New York
Associated Builders

F.R. Wood & Son are best known for a handful of Rolls-Royce limousines they bodied in the late teens and twenties. More recently an original 7,000 mile Wood-bodied 1931 Duesenberg Model J Town Car (chassis # 2467 - engine #J-418L) was unearthed in a Manhattan parking garage and purchased by comedian Jay Leno.

Known in their day for their high quality commercial delivery vehicles, Frederick R Wood & Sons built the world’s first electric ambulance in 1899.  They occasionally built a one-off limousine or town car for one of their commercial body customers and are known to have built on Crane-Simplex, Duesenberg, Mercedes, Panhard, Rolls-Royce and Thomas-Flyer chassis. 

Although they shared the same surname, Frederick R. Wood was not directly related to Bridgeport, Connecticut's Frederick Wood, a principal of the famous Bridgeport and Manhattan carriagebuilding house of Wood Bros. that operated a number of large warerooms along Broadway from the late 1840s into the early 1880s.

The Frederick (R.) Wood of our story first established his Manhattan carriage business in 1848, later relocating to 219-221 West 19th St following the Civil War. 

An 1870 advertisement in the New York Herald offered New Top and Open Road Wagons built using E.F. Brown’s Patent C Spring as well as an assortment of used vehicles including two Coaches, two Bretts, two Park phaetons and one Rockaway. 

Just before the turn of the century Wood became heavily involved with electric delivery vehicles and invalid coaches and even built a one-off steam-powered bus for the New York Motor Vehicle Co. in 1900. The 20 passenger charabanc was powered by a 2­-cylinder horizontal compound engine fed by a vertical Morrin Climax boiler. Paraffin-fueled, it used wood alcohol as a primer to start the heating. The chassis was also built by Wood and was driven from New York to Buffalo for the Pan American Exposition of 1900. 

The firm was listed as an electric motor vehicle manufacturer from 1900-1902 although they built few electric automobiles. Their specialty was electric-powered commercial vehicles; delivery vans, ambulances and light trucks. F.R. Wood was unaffiliated with the Woods Motor Vehicle Co. of Chicago, Illinois, a much more prolific electric vehicle manufacturer of the early 20th century. 

In Chapter 13 - Electric Motive Power for Automobiles – of his 1901 treatise, Horseless Vehicles Automobiles, Motor Cycles Operated by Steam, Hydro-carbon, Electric and Pneumatic Motors, author Gardner Dexter Hiscox gave readers the following detailed description of the Wood Electric Ambulance: 

“F.R. Wood & Son, well-known carriage builders of New York city, who have made a specialty of motor vehicle work for several years, have recently constructed for St Vincent’s Hospital the first electric ambulance put in service in this country. It weighs 4,000 lbs. and is geared to a speed of 9 miles per hour. The battery equipment consists of 44 cells grouped in four sets. By means of plate glass windows in the front and sides and glass doors at the rear of the vehicle can be entirely inclosed. The windows are of the disappearing type and the doors are removable, so that it will be equally serviceable both summer and winter. Solid rubber tires are employed.” 

“The electric automobile ambulance shown in fig 226 (at the left) was built by F.R. Wood & Son of New York City, for St. Vincent’s Hospital. It is handsome in appearance, being well finished. The openings are all inclosed with beveled plate glass windows, which open or closed with ease. The windows are of the disappearing type and the doors are removable, so that it will be equally serviceable both summer and winter. Solid rubber tires are employed. 

“The vehicle is steered from the front wheels, and is propelled by two 2-horse power motors, which are suspended on the rear axle. The current for the motors is supplied by 44 cells of storage batteries in four sets, and is managed by a controller placed under the seat entirely out of view. The controller permits of three speeds ahead, 6, 9 and 13 miles per hour, and two speeds to the rear, 3 and 6 mils per hour. The radius of action of the ambulance is 25 to 30 miles. 

“The Wood pedestal gear is used, making it possible to have the body low, which is essential in an ambulance, and adds to its appearance. All the fore and aft bending strain on the springs is relieved by the pedestals sliding vertically up and down on the pedestal box. The driver is in immediate communication with the surgeon by the aid of a speaking-tube. The inside trimming is of leather, and the bed slides out, and being caught by irons, stands out parallel with the sidewalk, thus enabling a patient to be placed upon the bed without the necessity of being jolted, which is inseparable to the use of stationary beds. The inside and outside electric lights are of ten-candle power each. The mounting are all of brass.” 

Additional electric ambulances were delivered to the Roosevelt and Presbyterian hospitals in 1902. The Motor Review commented on the birth of the electric invalid coach “When New York was in the throes of the deadly heated spell, the undoubted superiority of the auto over the horse was made most convincingly apparent. When man and beast fell beneath the heat of the sun, the ambulances had their inning." 

Although the electric ambulance that carried the mortally wounded President William McKinley from the Pan American Exposition’s Temple of Music to the Exposition’s Hospital on September 6, 1901 is often listed as a Columbia, close examination of the photo reveals it to be nearly identical to the ambulance F.R. Wood built for St Vincent’s Hospital in 1900. 

Dr. Nelson Wilson, Sanitary Officer of the Pan-American Exposition, wrote in "Details of President McKinley's Case", in the October 1901 issue of Buffalo Medical Journal that: 

"The dash (of the ambulance) to the hospital was thrilling and sensational. Mr. F. T. Ellis, who was driving the motor vehicle, handled the steering bar with the utmost skill; no chauffeur however skillful, however expert, ever drove an automobile with more speed and with more wisdom through dangerous places than did Ellis, who is a third-year medical student of the University at Buffalo. The crowd was dense along the route to the hospital and yet, although the machine was driven at top speed, there were no accidents. Inside lay the Chief Magistrate of the United States, carefully attended by Dr. G. McK. Hall and Mr. E. C. Mann, the latter a senior medical student on the staff of the medical department of the Pan-American Hospital." 

Wood built some very attractive electric delivery vehicles for John Wanamaker’s Manhattan and Philadelphia department stores as well as a small fleet for B. Altman's department store. 

The Horseless Age reported on the fleet built for B. Altman in the Feb 6 1901 issue: 

“B. Altman & Co., the Sixth Avenue dry goods house, were the first firm in the city to introduce an electric delivery service. The earlier electric vehicles of this firm were built by Frederick R Wood & Sons, of New York using the electric equipment and running gear of the Riker Electric Motor Company were illustrated in The Horseless Age shortly after they were placed in service in the first half of 1898. These vehicles are still in service. The same defects (wire wheels, pneumatic tires, etc.) as noticed in the description of the early type of Riker delivery wagons and as given in some other instances of experience with this vehicle, were discovered here and were avoided in subsequent designs. At present the firm has twelve wagons in service and intends to still farther extend this branch of its delivery equipment.  The latest type of delivery wagon installed has for its principal featured the Wood pedestal gear (running gear without reach), chloride batteries (46 cells of 120 ampere hours capacity) and two Westinghouse motors of 2 horse power each. The weight of the vehicle empty is 4,500 pounds, and it is geared to a maximum speed of 10 miles an hour.

“The firm has also lately had constructed by the same builders an electric truck for carrying goods to Harlem, carrying a load of two tons, and capable of a speed of 7 to 8 miles an hour.

“An operator and a delivery man accompany each vehicle in the delivery service. Three trips, aggregating about 19 miles, are made each day, and the batteries are charged between trips when the vehicles are being loaded. For charging the batteries the firm has installed a special generating set, the regular lighting generators not being available for this purpose, as the charging time between the second and third daily trips coincides with the period of maximum demand on these generators. The electric station is under the supervision of an engineer experienced in storage battery and general electric work, who is assisted by quite a number of electricians and machinists. The batteries and the rest of the electrical equipment are regularly inspected, and all developing defects are card for in time. On account of this very careful supervision the service is proved quite satisfactory and has led the firm to increase the number of its wagons from time to time.”

Early in 1902 Frederick R. Wood announced to the trade that he had entered automobile manufacturing to make a profit, but had lost money instead and would no longer be building the Wood Electric. Instead, Wood elected to concentrate on buses and commercial coachwork, building an occasional passenger car body for the firm’s most important clients. In the early 20th century Wood employed a number of talented designers ranging from the old-world master J. Kutchma to Henry Crecelius, Jr., a talented young delineator who learned the trade under his father at Brewster.

At least 5 Wood-bodied cars are known to exist, the aforementioned Duesenberg Model J Town Car, three Rolls-Royces Landaulets and a single Rolls-Royce Limousine. Three of the Rolls-Royce’s carry their original bodies, the first a 20/25 hp model, the second a 1921 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and the third - a 1933 Rolls-Royce PII. The only unoriginal car is a 1911 40/50hp Silver Ghost that was rebodied by noted Silver Ghost collector Millard Newman in the early 1980s with an F.R. Wood Landaulet body taken from a 1914 Thomas-Flyer.

The Wood limousine body that was built on the Phantom II chassis is pictured to the left. Built for Mrs. Esther Jackson Porter, the car was more recently (1959-1989) owned by Charles F. Neuhaus, of Myrtle Beach, SC, who adds the following information:

"Over the years I have identified at least thirteen Rolls-Royce chassis bodied by F.R. Wood.  These include eight Silver Ghosts between 1922 and 1925, four Phantom I's between 1927 and 1930 and a single Phantom II, body built between November 6, 1933 and May 1934.  Most of the Silver Ghosts and the four Phantom I's would have been built by Rolls-Royce of America in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The Phantom II was built in Derby, England, but was one of only 125 left-drive chassis built for the American market.

"The Phantom II was built for Mrs. Esther Jackson Porter of 45 East sixty-eighth Street and Glen Cove, L.I.  Mrs. Porter was the widow of William H. Porter, a partner in the firm of J.P. Morgan & Co., ex-President of Chemical National Bank and ex-Vice President of Chase National Bank.  R. Wannamaker bought two F.R. Wood bodies on Silver Ghost chassis, one a limousine and the other a touring car.  At the same time William Porter bought a limousine on a Silver Ghost Chassis from F.R. Wood.

"In November 1933, the widowed Mrs. Porter bought a Phantom II chassis 210 AMS from J.S. Inskip, New York City Rolls-Royce dealer, and had the chassis delivered to F.R. Wood and Son in Brooklyn.  The car was completed in May 1934, the same month Mrs. Porter died at age 72." 

According to Duesenberg historian Fred Roe, Jay Leno’s 1931 Duesenberg Model J (chassis # 2467 - engine #J-418L) was purchased new at the 1931 New York Auto Show by a New York department store owner and is the only Duesenberg bodied by Wood.

Sometime after 1931 F.R. Wood relocated to Brooklyn where it survived until 1939 building bus bodies and commercial delivery vans. The limousine body on the ex-Porter Rolls-Royce PII is believed to be the firm's last body built for a classic-era automobile.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Charles F. Neuhaus







Gardner Dexter Hiscox - Horseless Vehicles Automobiles, Motor Cycles Operated by Steam, Hydro-carbon, Electric and Pneumatic Motors - 1901 - Norman W. Henley & Co. pub

Dr. Nelson Wilson - Details of President McKinley's Case - Buffalo Medical Journal, October 1901 issue

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

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

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

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