Historic Car Brands
Thomas B Jeffery, an inventor and bicycle manufacturer from Chicago, first began building automobiles in the late 1890s. Moving to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1900, Jeffery began producing ‘Rambler’ automobiles – the same brand name he had used for his bicycles.
So committed to automobile production was Jeffery that he sold his bicycle company, Gormully & Jeffery and bought the old Sterling Bicycle Company’s factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The original factory building was only 600 by 100 feet (183m × 30m) in size.
1901 Rambler A prototype – Charles T Jeffery
Thomas’ son, Charles T Jeffery, experimented with modified versions of 1901 Rambler Models A and B, adding two radical innovations: steering wheels and front-mounted engines, but by the time Charles had them ready for production in 1902, his father had talked him out of these features and convinced him to stick with tillers and engines under the seats.
From 1902 until 1908, Jeffery cars became larger and more reliable, starting with the 1902 Model C.
Jeffery cars were built on assembly lines, similar to the layout used by Ransom E Olds, so in 1903 Jeffery sold 1350 Ramblers. By 1905, Jeffery more than doubled this number and one reason may have been the fact that Charles insisted on incorporating his 1901 innovations.
By 1907 Jeffery was producing a wide variety of body styles and sizes, including a five-passenger Rambler that weighed 2600 pounds (1200kg) and cost US$2500. The following pages are from a brochure for the seven-passenger, Jeffery Four model and we’re indebted to the Wisconsin Historic Society for the use of these historic pictures.
In April 1910, Thomas B Jeffery died in Pompeii, Italy, and in June of that year, the business was incorporated under the name of the Thomas B Jeffery Company, with Charles T. Jeffery as the president and general manager, H W Jeffery, vice president and treasurer.
A significant success for the company was a large number of trucks Jeffery manufactured and which attracted the interest of the United States Army. The US Army became Jeffery’s best customer during World War I.
During World War I, Jeffery produced a four wheel drive truck, known as the Jeffery ‘Quad’ that became the the Nash Quad after 1916. Approximately 11,500 Jeffery and Nash Quads were built.
The Quad had four-wheel drive, four-wheel brakes and four-wheel steering. The Jeffery Quad eventually became the workhorse of the Allied Expeditionary Force. These vehicles saw severe service under General John J Pershing.
By 1915, the company’s buildings expanded to cover over 20 acres (eight hectares) under roof and its adjacent facilities – including a test track – had grown to over 100 acres (40hectares). Charles T Jeffery changed the branding from Rambler to Jeffery, to honour his father, Thomas B Jeffery.
In May 1915, Charles T Jeffery was on his way to France aboard the British luxury liner, RMS Lusitania, to discuss a contact to supply armoured Quads to the French Army. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and 1200 people lost their lives, but Charles was rescued.
This experience had a profound effect on him and he decided on a complete change of lifestyle and put the Jeffery Company up for sale.
In August 1916, Charles Nash, co-founder of Buick and former general manager of General Motors, purchased the Jeffery Company and renamed it Nash Motors. So, the Jeffery Company was the forerunner of Nash Motors and American Motors Corporation (AMC) that was purchased by Chrysler in 1987.
Automotive production continued at the original sites under a number of succeeding companies. The last facility in Kenosha, known as Kenosha Engine, was finally closed by Chrysler in 2010.
Charles T Jeffery enjoyed his retirement, mostly sailing on Lake Michigan. He was also an avid collector of rare books, maps and autographs that were sold at auction upon his death. Jeffery also spent much of his time championing various charities. He died on 10 November 1935 at his home in Kenosha, at 59 years of age.