Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Youngstown Car Industry

Youngstown has always had a connection with the auto inductry. Starting with the early carriage companies who made the first cars to todays GM plant producing the brand-new Chevy Cobalt in Lordstown, the auto business has been near the forfront of Youngstown industry. Below is a brief history of local manufacturers courtesy of the Youngstown Public Library.

The Studebaker Corporation started producing the Avanti in 1963. In 1986, Michael Kelly purchased the Avanti Motor Corporation, located in South Bend, IN, and renamed it the New Avanti Motor Corporation. When J. J. Cafaro bought 47.5 percent of the company in April of 1987, he urged Kelly to move its operations to Youngstown. In August of that year, Avanti moved to the Ross Industrial Park on Albert Street and opened a showroom on Wick Avenue. Kelly sold his 47.5 percent interest to Cafaro in September of 1988 and Cafaro changed the company name to the Avanti Automotive Corporation. In 1991, Avanti, which produced the only handcrafted car in America, ceased operations after making only 405 cars. Michael Kelly, along with a partner, purchased the assets of Avanti in 1999 and relocated the plant to Villa Rica, GA, where the cars are still being made.

Blue Goose
In 1902, prominent area businessman Henry Wick engaged an engineer named L. B. Smyser to build a car for his personal use. The royal blue luxury car, known as the "Blue Goose", was said to have cost somewhere between $8,000 and $20,000 to make. The car's chassis was built in Youngstown on Wick Avenue near the Mahoning Courthouse, and was considered to be the largest and most expensive car in America at the time. The car was sold for $765 in 1904.

Dr. Carlos C. Booth, a local physician, designed the first car in Ohio. The Fredonia Carriage and Manufacturing Company, located at 155 -165 Market Street in Youngstown, built it in 1895. W. Lee Crouch, of the Pierce-Crouch Engine Company of New Brighton, PA, produced the engine. After selling the car in 1897, Dr. Booth designed a second car, again commissioning Fredonia Carriage to build it. It was completed in 1898. Both were called "Booth" cars. Dr. Booth is credited as being the first physician to use an automobile to make house calls.

In 1902, the Fredonia Carriage and Manufacturing Company changed its name to Fredonia Manufacturing Company and began producing cars known as the "Fredonia". It was considered to be the first car entirely manufactured in Youngstown. The company made approximately 200 cars over a two-year period. Fredonia Manufacturing filed for bankruptcy in 1904 and the factory was destroyed by fire in 1907.

The Youngstown Carriage and Wagon Company, whose name was changed to the Mahoning Motor Car Company in 1903, began production of the "Mahoning" automobile that same year. Charles T. Gaither, former engineer of the Fredonia Manufacturing Company, became one of the engineers. The "Mahoning" went out of production in 1905.

In 1898, Ward Packard bought a Winton automobile, which he felt needed improvement. When the owner of the Winton Company ignored his advice, he formed a partnership with one of Winton's major stockholders, George L. Weiss, Winton's plant manager, William A. Hatcher, and William Packard to build their own automobile as "Packard & Weiss". The first Packard automobile was finished in November of 1899. In September of 1900, the company incorporated as the Ohio Automobile Company, which developed such innovations as the first "H" pattern gearshift, and the first steering wheel in an automobile. The company was renamed the Packard Motor Car Company in 1902. By this time, the quality of the automobiles had attracted wealthy investors from Michigan, who gained control of the company's stock and moved the company to Detroit in 1903. The original owners all left the company, although Ward Packard kept his stock and remained listed as president until 1909. The company merged with the Studebaker Corporation in 1954, with the last Packard automobile being made in 1958.

Originally founded in Cleveland in 1920, the company reorganized as the Sterling-Knight Company of Warren, Ohio, in 1923. Production began in Warren in June of 1923, with 450 cars completed by the end of 1924. The company ran into cash flow problems the following year, but continued producing cars until the middle of 1926. By December of that year, the company was bankrupt.

Trumbull and Pendleton
The Trumbull Manufacturing Company in Warren made the first Trumbull automobile in 1899. The plant burned to the ground in March of 1900, but was rebuilt and producing both Trumbull and Pendleton cars by 1901. Another fire in 1905 destroyed the automobile manufacturing part of the plant, causing the company to switch its focus from cars to other machinery.

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