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John Thomas Batts
John Thomas Batts b.1864-d.1932
Associated Firms

John Thomas Batts was a self-made millionaire who spent the early part of the Twentieth Century in Grand Rapids, Michigan manufacturing wooden hangers, clothes racks and store fixtures. His main claim to fame was the design of the ‘wishbone’ wooden hanger which he patented in 1903 and remains in production today.

Late in life he designed an unusual ‘Highway Pullman’ which incorporated a number of features not seen before or since, and had it constructed upon a late model Packard. For numerous years a number of automotive historians have misidentified the vehicle as a hearse, which it most certainly was not.

John Thomas Batts was born on April 12, 1864 in Cheatham County, Tennessee to Benjamin Franklin (b. Jan. 5, 1828-d.Jan. 19, 1892) and Sarah Ann (Gupton b. Feb.1,1832-d.Mar.3,1892) Batts.

They were married on Jan. 3, 1851 and to the blessed union was born thirteen children; of which John Thomas, was the eighth born. The Batts family relocated to Stoddard County, Missouri and shortly thereafter John Thomas and two of his brothers - Calvin and Allan Batts - contracted Malaria, of which our subject was the only survivor of the three. The family moved back to Tennessee sometime after 1876 although our subject remained in Missouri to seek his fortune. After a number of odd jobs he embarked upon a career in the garment industry as a retail assistant in a men’s store in Carthage, Missouri.

He married Cora Ann Wylie on August 11, 1899 in Kelso Township, Scott County, Missouri – his wife (b. May 28, 1871-d.Dec. 30, 1941 in Kelso) was the daughter of Samuel and Jane (Byrne) Wylie. To the blessed union was born 4 children; Carl Truman (b. June 11, 1892); Walter Harold (b. June 5, 1894); Irwin Roy (b.1896) – all born in Cape Giradeau, Missouri – and Lucille Jane (b. Nov. 26, 1903 in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan) Batts.

Batts got tired of straightening up the piles of suits after the store’s customers got through digging through them and set about designing an anatomically correct wooden clothes hanger, for which he applied for a patent in 1903. Meticulously crafted and durably constructed result, the Batts ‘Wishbone’ remained the industry standard for the next 100 years.

In a 1993 interview, his grandson, John H. ‘Jack’ Batts explained:

“Mens suits back then would take up three stacks – one each for trousers, vests and coats. He figured this was a lousy was to display garments for sale… He designed a hanger so a retailer could hold it up and the customer could visualize what he would look like in a suit.”

Batts proceeded to design, patent and manufacture an entire suite of racks and merchandisers, which were quickly adopted by the nation’s clothing retailers. Business was so brisk after the First World War that a massive $150,000 plant expansion was necessary, the ‘New Incorporations’ column of the May 29, 1920 issue of Michigan Manufacturer & Financial Record reported on the firm’s reorganization:

“John Thomas Batts Inc. Grand Rapids - manufacture and sale of furniture store and house furnishings etc. John Thomas Batts, Robert D. Graham, M. Fred Avery, Grand Rapids $150,000.”

After the War he brought his two eldest sons, Carl T. and Walter H. into the business and by 1922 they had all been appointed officers in the new organization, who listing in the 1922 Grand Rapids directory follows:

“John Thomas Batts Inc. - John Thomas Batts, Pres.; Carl T. Batts, V Pres.; Walter H. Batts, Sec. Treas. Garment Hangers and Wardrobe Fixtures, 710-712 Monroe av., Citz Tel 07138”

The firm also branched out into Canada, eventually establishing subsidiaries in Vancouver, British Columbia; LaSalle Quebec; and Etobicoke, Ontario.

John Thomas Batts established a winter home in Pasadena, California in the mid-twenties and it was here he came up the design for his ‘Highway Pullman’. The text of his patent application for the vehicle follows:

“Be it known that I, JOHN THOMAS BATTS, a citizen of the United States residing at Pasadena in the county of Los Angeles and State of California have invented a new original and ornamental ‘Design for an Automobile’ of which the following is a specification reference being had to the accompanying drawing forming a part thereof in which Fig 1 is a perspective view Fig 2 is a side view and Fig 3 is a top plan view of an automobile showing my new design. I claim the ornamental design for an automobile as shown.”

Batts’ Pullman was constructed by a currently unknown Pasadena or Los Angeles coachbuilder using a 140-inch wheelbase 1929 Packard 8 chassis.

Shortly after the car’s construction in early 1932 Pasadena ‘Star News’ reporter Joseph Mears featured the vehicle in the Pasadena, California paper. The story was picked up by Popular Mechanics which included a short article on the unusual caravan in its August 1932 edition:

“This De-luxe Highway Pullman Seats Eight

“Flivver tourists who rattle across the continent would think they were dreaming if they saw the de-luxe eight-passenger motor car the body of which was designed by a Grand Rapids manufacturer, John Thomas Batts. This car weighs 6,600 pounds. There are four cushioned seats in the passenger’ compartment, in addition to the driver’s space. Two more seats may be added. The car is equipped with radio, electric fans, special lights, bookcase, wardrobe and dressing table. Sliding screens are provided for the windows, and tow partitions are also fitted in to slide back when necessary.

“The inventor decided against cooking in the car. He is particular about his menu and didn’t want to carry a chef along too. The body is completely insulated. Special stop and turning lights, front and rear, and nickel-plated panels in front make the car visible at all times. Mr. Batts is a successful inventor.”

Filed on August 8, 1932, Batts ‘Design for an Automobile’ was issued US Design Patent No. USD87954 on Oct 18, 1932, unfortunately Batts didn’t live to get the award, having passed away on August 17, 1932, during a stopover in LaGrange, Illinois.

Walter H. Batts took over the business after his father’s death, maintaining its position as the nation’s leading manufacturer of wooden hangers and garment display systems. During his years in charge the firm introduced a popular line of metal racks and hangers and upon his retirement in 1959 Walter’s son, John Harold (aka Jack) Batts, assumed the firm’s presidency. The firm established a satellite manufacturing facility in Zeeland, Michigan and embarked upon the manufacture of plastic garment hangers, which soon became the firm’s main line. Jack Batts retired in 1999 selling their plastic hanger division to A&E Products Group (hanger division of Tyco Industries) and its wood hanger business to Bennett Wood Specialties, Inc. who renamed it Robert Carlton Hangers.

During his short life, Batts received the following patents:

Garment Hanger - US765331 - Grant - Filed Dec 24, 1903 - Issued Jul 19, 1904 to John Thomas Batts

Extension Bracket - US851484 - Grant - Filed Mar 16, 1906 - Issued Apr 23, 1907 to John Thomas Batts

Garment Support for Wardrobes - US872401 - Grant - Filed Nov 21, 1906 - Issued Dec 3, 1907 to John Thomas Batts

Garment Support for Wardrobes - US992105 - Grant - Filed Jan 30, 1909 - Issued May 9, 1911 to John Thomas Batts

Garment Hanger - US980907 - Grant - Filed Mar 21, 1910 - Issued Jan 10, 1911 to John Thomas Batts

Garment Hanger - US980908 - Grant - Filed Mar 21, 1910 - Issued Jan 10, 1911 to John Thomas Batts

Show Case - US1007052 - Grant - Filed Nov 5, 1910 - Issued Oct 31, 1911 to John Thomas Batts

Rug Holder - US1112775 - Grant - Filed Feb 7, 1913 - Issued Oct 6, 1914 to William Jefferson Critcher assigned to John Thomas Batts Inc.

Costumer Stand - USD60639 - Grant - Filed Jan 3, 1921 - Issued Mar 21, 1922 to John Thomas Batts

Garment Hanger Bracket - USD60640 - Grant - Filed Jan 3, 1921 - Issued Mar 21, 1922 to John Thomas Batts

Costumer - USD60600 - Grant - Filed Jan 3, 1921 - Issued Mar 14, 1922 to John Thomas Batts

Costumer Stand - USD60639 - Grant - Filed Jan 3, 1921 - Issued Mar 21, 1922 to John Thomas Batts

Packing and Shipping Case for Garments - US1450708 - Grant - Filed Apr 28, 1919 - Issued Apr 3, 1923 to John Thomas Batts

Packing and Shipping Case for Garments - US1455063 - Grant - Filed Mar 13, 1922 - Issued May 15, 1923 to John Thomas Batts

Endless Carrier Garment Supporting Structure - US1456963 - Grant - Filed Jul 19, 1920 - Issued May 29, 1923 to John Thomas Batts

Packing Case for Garments - US1543046 - Grant - Filed Jan 24, 1924 - Issued Jun 23, 1925 to John Thomas Batts

Garment Hanger - US1593285 - Grant - Filed Sep 25, 1924 - Issued Jul 20, 1926 to John Thomas Batts

Extension Garment Hanger - US1728919 - Grant - Filed Feb 24, 1925 - Issued Sep 24, 1929 to John Thomas Batts

Packing Box for Clothing - US1836433 - Grant - Filed Aug 19, 1929 - Issued Dec 15, 1931 to John Thomas Batts

Design for an Automobile - USD87954 - Grant - Filed Aug 8, 1932 - Issued Oct 18, 1932 to John Thomas Batts

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







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

This De-luxe Highway Pullman Seats Eight, Popular Mechanics, August 1932 issue

Barry Rohan - Company Well-Suited for Hangers, Knight-Ridder Syndicate, March 15, 1993 issue
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