York-Hoover Body Corp, and its predecessor, York Body Co. are best remembered today as a prolific supplier of wooden depot hack and station wagon bodies for the Ford Model T. Still in business today, the York Group, remains the nations premiere manufacturers of burial caskets, a line introduced by York-Hoover in the early 30s.
The firm began as the York Wagon Gear Co., founded in 1892 by Peter Keller, a York, Pennsylvania carriage maker, to supply the area’s buggy and wagon builders with a locally produced source of bodies in the white, carriage gears, axles and other wood and metal parts and sub-assemblies.
York Wagon Gear‘s offices, showroom and main factory were located adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad at 700 Linden Ave. at the corner of Belvidere Ave.
A March 18, 1915 fire caused by a defective electric light destroyed a large portion of the York Wagon Gear Co.’s plant, but the loss was covered by insurance and the factory was rebuilt.
In its early days, York Wagon Gear's best customers were George W. Hoover and Sons and the Martin Carriage Works of West York, two of the most prominent carriage makers in the area. Both firms would later play a role in the region’s automobile and commercial body manufacturing business.
The emergence of the automobile, and in particular, Henry Ford’s Model T did not go unnoticed by Keller and in the mid-teens, the firm began offering commercial bodies for the popular horseless carriage.
Although some very early Ford trucks were sold with commercial bodies, Ford discontinued the program in 1913; leaving the field wide open for enterprising commercial body builders through 1924 when the first factory-built Ford Model T pick-ups were introduced.
The firm’s commercial bodies proved so popular that in 1917 Keller reorganized the firm as the York Body Corp. to better reflect their line of work.
When the region’s largest carriage manufacturer, the York Carriage Co. went out of business in 1919, its modern Franklin St. factory was purchased from the receivers, more than doubling the Body Corp.’s manufacturing capacity.
York Carriage Co had been established in 1890 by Samuel E. Bailey at 238-242 N. George St., in York. Bailey specialized in the manufacture of light and business wagons and his S.E. Bailey Co. was a respected Lancaster, PA carriage manufacturer. A ware room was subsequently established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 203 and 205 N Broad St. resulting in a move to larger quarters at 158-188 N. George St. in York. By 1896, Bailey had outgrown his second factory and a new facility was erected at the corner of Franklin and Hay Sts. employing 150 hands. Unfortunately the firm’s directors did not anticipate the success of the automobile, and in the mid-teens the region’s largest manufacturer was forced into bankruptcy.
George W. Hoover & Sons was another long respected York carriage builder with a factory located in downtown York at 9 E. Philadelphia St. Following a name change to the Hoover Wagon Co., the firm became known for their smart-looking route delivery vehicles, hearses and invalid coaches.
In 1911 Hoover built a handful of electric-powered 1500-lb delivery trucks for a regional retailer – quite possibly for the Wannamaker Department Store chain. During the teens, a new factory was erected on Wheatfield St., adjacent to the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, giving the firm easy access to new customers located in Baltimore, MD and Washington DC.
A little-known fact is that in most small towns, the owner of the local funeral home typically ran the local furniture store as well. In very small communities some funeral parlors did double-duty, operating as a furniture store Monday through Friday and as a funeral home when the need arose.
Hoover was one early firm which catered to the funeral home/ furniture store marketplace. Starting in 1914 they offered a combination motorized funeral coach, furniture delivery car using a stretched Model T chassis. This utilitarian vehicle would prove popular in the early years of motorized coaches and numerous manufactures soon offered similar models.
These early multi-purpose vehicles look much like the flower cars that would become popular starting in the late 1930s and some big-city funeral directors used them for transporting floral tributes in large corteges. The unusual Hoover casket-cars were made through the early 1920s.
Some directors used them to transport chairs, altars, and supplies to the cemetery grounds while others used them as a first call car, the vehicle which was sent to the home of the deceased. In the 19th and early 20th century, some families kept the body in the house and the funeral director did the embalming on site. A number of manufacturers offered embalming or first call cars, which typically contained a casket and all supplies needed for embalming.
For 1918 Hoover offered a long wheelbase funeral coach on an extended Ford Model TT Chassis. This low-priced maker offered curved-glass corner windows at the front, making their closed coaches look like miniature trams or trolley cars. Hoover also offered a more traditional carved-panel 8-column hearse in either a modern light grey or tradition black lacquer finish.
For urban hospitals and ambulance services, Hoover's wide delivery van-like ambulance body could carry two gurneys and was available on a number of heavy-duty chassis from manufacturers like Cadillac, Dodge or REO.
Hoover offered its own assembled 1-ton gasoline truck starting in 1917. It had a 20 hp Continental 4cylinder engine and bevel drive. In 1919 the chassis cost $1,435 and it disappeared from the roster of US truck manufacturers in 1920. Many of Hoover’s assembled trucks were fitted with van bodies and sold to the US Post Office.
The 1920 Hoover catalog featured a number of 8-column coaches mounted on 31hp V8 Cadillac touring car chassis. Between the columns they offered either windows, carved-drapery panels, or a combination of the two.
Primarily a commercial body-builder, Hoover coaches were stylistically a few years behind the times. While other manufacturers offered limousine-style coaches and ambulances, the 1921 Hoover catalog looked like a reprint of the 1916 catalog.
Although the firm modernized its name in 1922, becoming the Hoover Body Co., its coaches remained five years behind the times. 1922 & 1923 Hoovers were massive, heavy-looking, vehicles with intricately carved columns and panels, although a number of solid color and two-tone paint schemes were available.
The 1924 Hoover catalog included some traditional carved-panel hearses, but included a number of modern-looking limousine-style coaches for the first time. One unusual model featured an intricately carved belt-line molding and three weird-looking 3/4 size beveled-glass rear compartment windows. Another limousine-style coach featured contemporary styling and normal windows which extended from the belt-line to the bottom of the roof.
For 1926 Hoover's limousine-style bodies were a little lower and more modern looking, incorporating the then popular multi-pane windshield with integral visor. A slab-sided 4-column casket car was shown on a Dodge Brothers truck chassis, although Hoover continued to mount their bodies on any customer-supplied chassis presented to them.
Bus bodies were an early specialty and by the early twenties the firm was advertising a line of smart-looking suburban and estate bodies for the Dodge Bros, Ford and Chevrolet chassis in the nation’s leading magazines. Their bodies were popular with wealthy landowners, and the firm maintained a factory service depot and sales office in Long Island City, New York.
While other manufacturers preferred to supply standard catalog bodies, Hoover advertised their custom-built “Hoover Specialized Bodies” that could be built using their patented Stelkote panels, a durable steel-covered insulated panel popular with ice and diary vendors.
Re-usable collapsible bodies were sometimes used when a truck chassis made its initial journey from the factory to the dealer or body builder. York’s model 15 driveway cab was one of the few rudimentary structures that were available to car dealers at the time.
Following the poorly received York Cabriolet for 1925-27 Chevrolet chassis, the York Body Co. decided to concentrate its efforts on the commercial body business. In 1928, it consolidated its holding with those of their cross-town rivals, the Hoover Body Co., forming the York-Hoover Body Corp. giving the new corporation a capacity of 50,000 auto commercial bodies annually.
The officers of the York-Hoover Body Corp were: President, Horace D. Keller; vice-president and general manager, Peter A. Elsesser; secretary, William E. Groft; assistant secretary, Luther A. Dettinger: treasurer, Reuben A. Paules; assistant treasurer, Edwin S. Ziegler. The firm even published their own newspaper, the York-Hoover Herald, into the late 1940s.
Although the new Ford Model A lineup included a factory station wagon, aftermarket builders were still able to come up with interesting products unavailable from Ford. York-Hoover and others offered slip-on cargo bodies that could be fitted in place of the rumble seat/deck lid on Model A Business Coupes. A simple huckster body was also available that could be installed on a bare Mode A chassis/cowl.
In 1929 Congress authorized funding allowing the US Postal Service to replace their aging fleet of surplus WWI Parcel Post delivery vehicles. A line of standardized bodies were eventually agreed upon and York-Hoover produced the smaller 96 cu. ft. versions. Mifflinburg Body Co. built 500 mid-sized bodies for the ½ ton Model A chassis and 550 for the larger Model AA. While August Schubert Wagon Co. of Syracuse, NY produced the largest 200 cu. ft. and 215 cu. ft. bodies. Over 4,000 bodies were produced by the three builders during the 3-year long Postal Body program.
A display ad from the 1929-1930 R.L. Polk Business Directory lists four separate plants:
Although the Depression put a halt to the exponential growth the firm had enjoyed in the late 20s, York-Hoover diversified into other markets. Their expertise in metal and wood fabrication led to the introduction of York-Hoover burial caskets in the early 30s.
York-Hoover became known for their insulated ice and dairy bodies that were built using Armorply insulated metal/plywood panels. In 1932 they built a fleet of 64 flat-front dairy bodies for Borden’s that were fitted to Ward Electric chassis.
York-Hoover even tried to break into the taxi-cab manufacturing business. Built using the 1933 Ford model 40 4-cylinder chassis, York-Hoover’s Model F-40-33 Taxicab was designed to compete against the purpose-built cabs sold by New Era and Checker. Unfortunately the taxi was not a success, and the project was abandoned.
From 1933-1938, York-Hoover supplied Hudson with Panel Delivery bodies for the Hudson and Terraplane commercial chassis. Their streamlined appearance complimented the distinctive mid-30s Hudson chassis making them the best-looking factory panel deliveries of the era.
The firm’s most popular products were their insulated route delivery vehicles and step vans which continued intro production into the 1950s.
York-Hoover, Checker Cab, Bantam Mfg, Ford, General Motors, Willys-Overland and others produced prototypes prior to the build-up associated with the start of World War II. York-Hoover produced a light-weight all-terrain vehicle for the program, eventually producing 69 examples for testing.
However, the design was not selected for manufacture, but during the war, the plant retooled for war work producing ambulance bodies, cargo boxes and trailers such as the G528 K-38 linesman trailer, a small covered box mounted on a ¼-ton axle that carried cable and splicing equipment needed by the US Signal Corps and other agencies During the war, the plant employed 300 workers and was one of the 4,000 US businesses that gained the coveted Army - Navy "E" pennant for their production excellence.
Under the leadership of George T. Stone, the firm continued to manufacture commercial dairy and step-van bodies into the mid 50s. According to an article in the Aug 16,1954 Williamsport Gazette, York-Hoover’s board contemplated purchasing the former plant of the Mifflinburg Body Co., but was not the successful high bidder.
Labor problems came to a head in July of 1957 when the UAW launched a 5-month-long strike at the firm’s Truck Body Division. On November 5th, 1957, the Gettysburg Times hinted that the firm would be permanently closing down the plant rather than settle the strike, but on November 27th, it announced that a 30-month contract had been signed with the union.
In 1958, York-Hoover decided to concentrate its efforts on casket-making and sold the assets of its Truck Body Division to the Pittman Manufacturing Co.
York-Hoover’s surviving casket division is now known as the York Group, and is the second largest producer of caskets in the United States.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com