Old Dealership Building in Wilsonville

I obviously inherited my love for old dealership buildings from my parents, because they snapped this photo the other day while passing through the village of Wilsonville, Nebraska:

Above that amazing arched doorway it reads, J.B. Andre ’07”

I did a little research, and it looks like J. B. Andre moved to Wilsonville from Marshalltown, Iowa in 1903 and opened a blacksmith shop.  This 1907 building would have been ideal for that, and you can almost see the carriages rolling in under that beautiful arch.

It wasn’t long before Andre became interested in automobiles.  One 1908 story noted that Andre was driving a new Mitchell, which, by the way, made a grand total of five automobiles in town.  By 1912, Andre was selling Mitchells.  He then moved on to selling Oaklands, Briscoes and Maxwells.  By 1930, Andre was a Mopar man, advertising Dodge Brothers trucks in the 1930s and new Plymouths and Chryslers into the 1950s:

Finally, Andre signed off on this interesting bit of history that was published November 1, 1929, just days after the great stock market crash:

1952 Chrysler Imperial



The Inception of One-Third of the Big Three

This headline from 1910 caught my eye the other day:

The author of this story was expecting the two companies to start one of the greatest manufacturing wars ever seen, a war that would set the automobile world on end and “create sensations never before anticipated”.  Maxwell did eventually become stiff competition for GM, but certainly not in the way the author of this headline was predicting it would happen.  It all makes for an interesting story about the birth of one of the American auto industry’s “Big  Three”.

The Maxwell-Briscoe automobile came into being when Jonathan D. Maxwell, who had worked for Oldsmobile as an engineer, combined forces with Benjamin Briscoe, owner of a Detroit sheet metal manufacturing plant.  JP Morgan was an investor and the Maxwell-Briscoe became the third largest seller behind Ford and Buick.  This success was due in part to an imaginative sales manager with the decidedly east-coast name of Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey who dreamed up an unending parade of publicity stunts.

The 1910 combine that was mentioned in the headline above became the United States Motor Company (USMC) and involved both Maxwell and a company called Columbia.  Columbia was owned by the Electric Vehicle company.  This was significant, and the reason some were forecasting war, because Electric Vehicle owned the Selden patent.

In the 1870s, attorney George Selden had begun the process of obtaining a patent covering the use of an engine to propel a vehicle, but Selden kept the patent pending so long that it was not granted until 1895.  By this time, many others were creating automobiles and everything Selden claimed was already being used by others.  Regardless, Columbia paid Selden for the rights to this patent for a lump sum plus a royalty for every car produced and claimed the patent covered every gasoline-powered automobile in the country.

Many major manufacturers formed a group called the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), an organization that granted licenses to manufacture automobiles to those paying the royalty fee. The ALAM made it clear that they would not be granting licenses to all applicants, thereby keeping all the business for themselves.  The decision-makers at the ALAM made the strategic error of denying a license to the always-combative Henry Ford, and that’s when the real war began.

Ford taunted the ALAM into suing him.  Ever the master of publicity, Ford successfully portrayed himself as the underdog and made people sympathetic to his position.  Both sides took out pages of advertising to argue their case in the court of public opinion, and the actual court case drug on for years, beginning in 1903 and not ending until 1911.

The dueling advertisements often appeared side by side:

The ALAM won in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York with a judge that admittedly knew nothing about engines.  Ford appealed and the US  Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit saw things differently.  The panel of judges ruled that the Selden patent was limited to the use of a Brayton engine to propel a vehicle whereas the defendants were utilizing the Otto engine, that Selden had simply made the wrong choice and that the defendants neither legally nor morally owed him anything.  They sent the case back to the trial court to be dismissed and even ordered the court costs charged to the ALAM.

1919 Maxwell at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska.
1919 Maxwell brochure drawing

The United States Motor Company collapsed a year after the suit in 1912, and Briscoe left to make a new car (the Briscoe). Jonathan Maxwell reorganized and moved to Detroit where he manufactured Maxwell Fours as well as trucks and buses.  Things went well for a time, but the company was hit hard by the post-war recession.  Enter Walter Percy Chrysler.

Chrysler had started his career in the railroad industry before catching the eye of GM executives.  He went to work for GM in Detroit and was put in charge of the Buick division.  He was an indefatigable worker who operated efficiently, making judicious use of his time.  Before long, Chrysler made Buick into GM’s strongest unit.  When he arrived, Buick was making 40 cars per day, and, when he left 8 years later, 560 Buicks per day was the output.

Chrysler made the move to Maxwell in 1920, and there were many problems for him to solve.  A merger with Chalmers did not work out well, and the Chalmers automobile was phased out.  The Maxwell’s reputation had suffered due to mechanical issues, so it was revamped and rebranded  the “Good Maxwell”.

By 1924, Chrysler was ready to introduce a new car, one named after himself. The new Chrysler had a high-compression six-cylinder engine that cruised comfortably at 70 mph, hydraulic four-wheel brakes, and a reasonable price tag of $1395.   It was an immediate hit with the public that shattered records with 10,000 new Chryslers being produced and sold within the first six months. People lining up to buy Chrysler’s creation included racecar drivers like Joe Boyer and Jimmy Murphy.

It is a household name now, but advertisements at the time had to instruct people how to pronounce the name of the new automobile:


1926 was the last year for the Maxwell as it was re-made into a 4-cylinder Chrysler.


In 1928, Chrysler continued his streak by purchasing Dodge Brothers and also introducing the Plymouth.  So, the author of that 1910 story was sort of correct about Maxwell going to war with GM. It just took a number of years, a name change and the genius of Walter P. Chrysler to get there.


“Men who get very far ahead have some other qualities in addition to ordinary ability, capacity, energy and opportunity.  Some are idea-resourceful.  They possess imagination.  They dare to take a chance and be different.  They are willing to tackle anything.  They refuse to acknowledge defeat until actually licked, and even then they are thinking about their next chance.”

-Walter P. Chrysler


American Motor Car Manufacturers’ Association advertisement. Los Angeles Herald, 26 December 1909, part II p. 4.

Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers advertisement. The San Francisco Call, 24 February 1907, p.46.

“Big Auto War Expected Between Maxwell-Columbia Combine and General Motors Co. of Detroit.” The Los Angeles Record, 26 February 1910, p. 9.

Chrysler advertisement.  The Detroit Free Press, 14 September 1924, p. 47.

Chrysler advertisement.  Richmond Times-Dispatch, 28 June 1925, p. E5.

“Chrysler Six Breaks Record.” The Rutland News, 5 July 1924, p. 1.

“From Engine-Wiper to Motor Car Wizard.” The Spokesman Revie, 6 January 1924, p. 3.

Independent Automobile Manufacturers of America advertisement. The San Francisco Examiner, 29 May 1910, p. 42.

Licensed Motor Car Association of Los Angeles advertisement. Los Angeles Herald, 26 December 1909, part II p. 4.

Maxwell advertisement.  The Tennessean Sun, 20 August 1922, p. 2.

“The New Chrysler Car.”  The Tampa Tribune, 27 January 1924, p. E1.

“Selden Patent Decision Causes Furor in Auto Trade.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 January 1911, p. 3.

“Selden Patents Decision Not Particularly Important.”  Williamsport Sun Gazette,  11 January 1911, p. 5.

“Talks of Plight of Independents.”  Los Angeles Herald, 31 January 1910, p. 8.

“To Test Patent in Supreme Tribunal.” Moline Daily Dispatch, 10 January 1911, p. 5.









1954 Kaiser

This is the front end of a 1954 Kaiser, among the last manufactured in America before the company moved operations to Argentina.  That hood scoop  was functional, and the Kaiser Super 226 “power-on-demand” engine had considerable horsepower for its time.  It needed it, since the body was a whopping 218 inches in length (for comparison purposes, my Ford F150 Super Cab barely surpasses it at 231 inches in length)!