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Made in Nebraska -- early automobiles

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Jonz, Beatrice 1912
We do not often think of Nebraska as the hotbed of automobile manufacture, but in the early days of the automobile (1890-1912) more than a few automobiles were manufactured at a number of varied locations throughout the state (as in most states). Needless to say, these early ventures did not rival Detroit as the Capital of Auto manufacture, but they did serve to fuel the dreams of these early Henry Ford wannabes.

According to the Standard Catalogue of American Automobiles, automobiles were manufactured in 22 cities in Nebraska (big and little), accounting for some 47 auto brands. True, most of these early automobiles were one-of-a-kind, or autos made for family members, friends, and members of the community where the plant was located, but they serve to show the amazing interest there was in the horseless carriage in that time. It is interesting to take a look at a few of the early Nebraska automobiles.

The "Omaha," built in Omaha during 1912-13. This was a five-passenger car with an underslung frame, powered by a 233 cubic inch, four-cylinder engine with a shaft drive. The builders offered the car for a sticker price of $1,250. Production started well enough, but by September 1913, things soured and the firm filed for bankruptcy.

The Schroeder, Syracuse 1904
"Schroeder," Syracuse 1904. Schroeder Brothers (Charles and Joe) built a handsome body of close-grained yellow birch, which they powered with a 2-stroke 7 h.p. 1 cylinder engine. It was steered with a tiller. Evidently several were built, and when the brothers' shop was dismantled years later enough parts to build two more were found.

"Stover" Syracuse 1909. A.C. Stover must have been the premier "Jack of all trades," the tinkerer's tinkerer. When he arrived in 1895 he was the proprietor of a horse-drawn photo gallery, which he parked at the 1st National Bank. At fair time he exhibited at the State Fair. He built a machine shop from cement blocks, which he himself had made. He was the first in Syracuse to show movies. He owned Syracuse's first crystal radio. He was the first to do electric welding. He was the first to vulcanize tires. He built a motor boat that could travel on land as well. He built the first filling station. He built his own car (the Stover naturally), which he used to ferry people from Main Street to the Fairgrounds. Evidently the car building did not work out all that well, because he also became the first Chevrolet dealer in Syracuse.

"Victormobile Steamer" Omaha 1900-01. This car, by Drs. Coulter & Henry, Gustav Anderson, and H.K. Clover, was powered by a 51⁄2 h.p. steam engine, with an automatic boiler feed. It could travel at 25 m.p.h. The owners claimed that they had made several lengthy trips, one to North Platte and back, with no trouble. They bragged that they would be able to produce three machines per week. Evidently production outstripped demand and the operation was abandoned in 1901.

The Wittman, Lincoln 1901
"Hemstreet" Niobrara. 1901. C. Hemstreet, proprietor of the Hubbard House Hotel in Niobrara, built an 18 h.p. steam car, carrying 15 passengers, which he used to ferry guests to and from the hotel. His quote in an issue of Motor Age, "I am an engineer and love steam. Having studied the matter carefully, I would advise steam in all cases."

"Cushman," Lincoln, 1903. Long before the Cushmans got into the business of making motor scooters (1936) and golf carts (1954), they were a well-known maker of gas engines in various sizes. Leslie Cushman made at least 6 cars, a 2 h.p., 4, 6, 10, and 16 h.p., according to the Nebraska Motor Vehicles Registry. These cars were apparently made for family members, friends and neighbors.

"Wittman," Lincoln 1901. J.H. Wittman, O. Wittman, and O.J. Junge, made the Wittman Racer, then sold Stanley Steamers, which they renamed the Locomobile.

"Fuller" Angus, Nebraska, 1908-10 The Fuller brothers, CM, LE, & CE, of Angus had been producers of wagons and buggies since the turn of the century. Their first automobile was realized when they bought a single-cylinder engine in St. Louis and simply fitted it to one of their horse-drawn carriages. Their car found ready sale to a doctor in town. The Fuller brothers were imbued with enthusiasm, but they trod with deliberation. By the time full scale manufacture was embarked upon by the brothers in 1908, the Fuller had grown into a car with four and a six-cylinder engines. The Angus Automobile Company was established, and a new factory was built in town. "The only car manufacturer in Nebraska" the brothers advertised in 1908. Early on, however, residents of nearby Nelson purchased controlling stock in the Angus Company, and in late 1910 this majority voted to move the company to Nelson. The company did not survive the move. Total production was 91 cars in 1910, 43 in 1911.

"Gawley" Aurora 1895. TR Gawley was a grocer in Aurora who built a 2-cylinder 6 h.p. gasoline car in 1895. The front wheels measured 36 in., the rear wheels 42 in. "The back wheels are on a stiff axle going ahead," reported the Horseless Age, "but are so constructed that they can turn back, by means of a ratchet. On the back axle the ball bearings are set under the spring blocks." Gawley planned to enter the car in the Chicago Times-Herald Contest of 1895, but could not complete it on time. He guaranteed to sell 50 machines in his own state of Nebraska, just as soon as they can be put on the market." This plan apparently went awry.

"Jonz" -- Beatrice, Nebraska & New Albany, Indiana, 1909-12. Chester Charles Jones was a Nebraska automobile dealer who was arrested on the streets of Beatrice in 1906 for exceeding the town's 6 mph speed limit. In 1908 he applied for a patent on a 2-stroke gasoline engine that he described as "new and useful" because of its mere five movable parts and the fact that it was air cooled from the inside of the cylinder. With his brother Ellsworth, a local druggist, he organized the automobile company in 1908. A 3-cylinder Jonz runabout was reportedly ready for the Chicago Automobile Show early in 1909, but the Jonz brothers were in financial difficulties. The Beatrice Daily Sun tried to help. "The factory is now in full blast," the Sun reported, "And the Beatrice citizens and residents of this section must give it the support it merits, or the industry will give us the go by." It didn't work. Outside capital arrived in late 1910 from Barton B. Bales of Louisvile, Kentucky. The American Automobile Manufacturing Co. resulted, and all Jonz machinery was moved from Beatrice to a new factory in New Albany, Indiana, just across the river from Louisville. Stock subscriptions were sought. "The prospectus issued was one of the most elaborate and most extravagant that ever has seen the light of day...a masterpiece of word-juggling." An estimated 8000 to 9000 people bought what it said and invested in the company. The chief selling point of the Jonz was its "vapor-cooled engine ... it has no valves, no cams, no gears, no push-rods, no rollers, no rocker arms, no pumps, no radiator, and no water." The car was dubbed "The Tranquil Jonz." Apparently, it was too tranquil. One New Albany man who witnessed a test demonstration at the factory reported that the Jonz refused to run more than 100 yards before serenely coming to a halt. This may have been an isolated case, but it was obvious the Jonz engine was somewhat of a lemon. Continental engines were imported, and the few cars that were produced in New Albany before the company went into receivership in March 1912 were shipped out of town. At least one Beatrice Jonz is known to exist.

Source: Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-42, courtesy Mike Nothnagel

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Let me congratulate you on an excellent article about the Nebraska built automobiles. I am a researcher and historian of early American automobiles from 1861-1929. I have created a web site www.earlyamericanautomobiles.com, the largest on the internet. I have just about finished a book-type with 36 chapters with the information that I have found called "The History of the Early American Automobile Industry" While reading the 1912 Automobile Topic digitized magagine, I came across a picture of the 1912 Omaha automobile which I had been searching for., but no information. My Beverly Kimes Catalogue of American cars had some info, but the picture was terrible. As always, I use Google search and came across your web site.I noticed that you had no picture and I was thinking that you may want it to add it to your history. All information and pictures and advertisements are free for anyone to copy. You can find the Omaha in Chapter 16 of my book. Just click on the link in the bule box and click on Forward. and then to Chapter 16. I am alwalys glad to help anyone. Sincerely, Royal Feltner

-- Posted by Royal Feltner on Sun, Apr 22, 2012, at 5:38 PM

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By