The automobile was initially developed in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. By the early twentieth century, automobiles were becoming an American phenomenon. In the beginning, the automobile was simply an extravagant toy for the rich. Carriage and bicycle manufacturers and backyard inventors were making cars and prior to World War I there were several hundred automobile manufacturers.
Following World War I, automobiles became an integral part of the American middle class. Manufacturers began designing, manufacturing, and marketing cars for this segment of the market. Cars stopped being horseless carriages and acquired their own distinctive designs. Automobile manufacturing boomed. In 1929, following a major stock market crash, the country fell into the Great Depression. Former President Calvin Coolidge observed:
“When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results.”
Unemployed people don’t buy new cars. The Ford Motor Company employed 128,000 people in the spring of 1929 and by August 1931, Ford only employed 37,000. Just before laying off 75,000 workers, Henry Ford stated:
“..the average man won’t really do a day’s work unless he is caught and cannot get out of it. There is plenty of work to do if people would do it.”
While Ford survived the Great Depression, many automakers did not. Shown below are a few of the car companies that didn’t survive the Great Depression.
The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, based in Buffalo, New York, manufactured cars from 1901 until 1938. Just prior to the Great Depression, in 1928, Studebaker Corporation gained control of the Pierce-Arrow. This provided Pierce-Arrow with a dealer network as the cars could now be sold through the Studebaker dealerships.
Shown above is a 1931 Pierce Arrow Model 41 Limousine.
By 1934, Pierce-Arrow was losing money and the company was reorganized with a loan from New York bankers. In 1936, the company brought out its last all new model. Pierce-Arrow declared insolvency in 1938. The company’s chief engineer, Karl Wise, assembled the final Pierce-Arrow a few months later from parts obtained from the company’s receivers.
Shown above is a 1930 American Austin Coupe. The American Austin Car Company was founded in 1929 and produced automobiles licensed from the British Austin Motor Company. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1934.
Shown above is 1931 De Vaux Sedan. The De Vaux-Hall Motors Company made cars based on the 1930 Durant. They started production in 1931 and filed for bankruptcy in 1932. They produced 4,808 cars in one model with two style trims.
Shown above is 1936 Cord 810 Westchester Sedan. The Cord was noted for its innovative technology and streamlined designs. The 810 had front-wheel drive and independent front suspension. Only 1,174 were made and the model was plagued with reliability problems.
In 1893, Herbert H. Franklin founded the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Company in Syracuse, New York, which became the first machine die-casting enterprise in the world. In 1901, together with engineer John Wilkinson, he developed an air-cooled engine. The following year, the Franklin automobile was introduced. The first Franklin took two months to build and became the first four-cylinder automobile produced in the United States. The car weighed 900 pounds and could go 12 miles per hour. In the first year of production—1902—Franklin sold a total of 13 cars at $1,100 each.
Shown above is a 1929 Franklin Model 135 4-Door Sedan.
In 1930, Franklin introduced a new 100 horsepower engine. In 1932, responding to competition from other luxury cars, Franklin brought out a twelve-cylinder engine. However, the Twelve was the wrong vehicle to build in the Great Depression and only 200 were ever produced. In 1934, Franklin Automobile Company declared bankruptcy.
Shown above is a 1932 Franklin Airman. Franklin was the most successful air-cooled automobile in the U.S. The Franklin Airman was a favorite vehicle for organized crime—the police would traditionally try to disable a vehicle by shooting at the radiator, but the Airman had no radiator.
Robert Craig Hupp and Louis Gorham Hupp organized the Hupp Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan in 1908. The Hupp brothers introduced their first car, the Hupmobile Model 20, to the public the following year at the Detroit Auto Show.
As with other automakers, the Great Depression impacted the Hupmobile. In 1935 there was an attempted hostile takeover of the company and by 1936 the company had to sell some of its plants. In 1937, Hupmobile suspended manufacturing. A new line of six-cylinder and eight-cylinder cars was brought out in 1938, but by this time there were very few Hupmobile dealers. Hupmobile stopped production in 1940 and its remaining cars were sold to creditors and distributors.
Shown above: 1924 Hupmobile Model 12-R Touring Car. Hupmobiles were made by the Hupp Motor Company from 1909 until 1940.
Shown above is a 1928 Hupmobile Century 4 Door. This was designed by Amos Northrup. Hupmobiles were made by the Hupp Motor Company from 1909 until 1940.
Freelan Oscar Stanley and Francis Edgar Stanley, twin brothers who had created a successful business in manufacturing photographic plates, began to tinker with some possible automobile designs and produced their first steam powered automobile in 1897. In November, 1898, they opened an automobile business. Their new vehicle caught the attention of John Brisben Walker, publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine, who inquired about buying the business. The brothers set a ridiculously high price--$250,000—and, much to their surprise, Walker bought the business. Walker’s partner in the new business was Amzi Lorenzo Barber, commonly known as “The Asphalt King” as he had made a fortune in paving U.S. cities.
The name Locomobile came from “locomotive” and “automobile.” The partnership between Walker and Barber did not last long (two weeks according to some sources). Barber took the Locomobile name and moved the production of the new cars to Watertown, Massachusetts. The Stanley twins stayed with the Locomobile Company of America as general managers.
In 1922, Durant Motors acquired Locomobile and continued to use the Locomobile brand name for their top of the line automobiles until 1929. By 1929, Durant Motors was failing. In an attempt to save the company, they brought out the Locomobile models 8-86 and 8-88, but it was too late. The last Locomobile was made in 1933.
Shown above is a 1923 Locomobile, Model 48, Sportif.