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
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
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
“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
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
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
"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
"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 - Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Charles