Historic Car Brands
First came the Maxwell in 1904, followed by the Chalmers in 1908. The two brands joined forces in 1917 and, in turn, became part of Chrysler in 1923.
1909 Maxwell Roadster – Hyman Ltd
Let’s look firstly at Maxwell, where automobile production began under the Maxwell-Briscoe Company of New York in 1904-05. The company founder, Jonathan Dixon Maxwell, had worked for Oldsmobile and his business partner, Benjamin Briscoe, was an automobile industry pioneer and part owner of the Briscoe Brothers Metalworks.
In 1907, following a fire that destroyed its factory, Maxwell-Briscoe opened a mammoth automobile factory in Indiana, with raw material going in at one end of the plant and finished cars out the other. This factory later continued as a Chrysler plant until its demolition in 2004.
Alice Ramsey – US Library of Congress
Maxwell was one of the first car companies to market specifically to women. In 1909, it generated a great deal of publicity when it sponsored Alice Huyler Ramsey, an early advocate of women drivers, to be the first woman to drive coast-to-coast across the United States.
The company strongly aligned itself with the women’s rights movement and announced its plan to hire as many female sales personnel as male. At that time, it offered a promotional reception at its Manhattan dealership which featured several prominent suffragettes such as Crystal Eastman, while in a showroom window a woman assembled and disassembled a Maxwell engine in front of onlookers.
1914 Maxwell racer – Detroit Public Library
In 1913, the Maxwell assets were overseen by Walter Flanders, who reorganised the company as the Maxwell Motor Company, Inc. By 1914, Maxwell had sold 60,000 cars and the company responded to the increasing number of low-priced cars by introducing the Model 25, for US$695.
This five-seat touring car had high-tension magneto ignition, electric horn, optional electric starter and headlights, and an innovative shock absorber to protect the radiator.
Maxwell with body by Holden’s Motor Body Builders – State Library of South Australia
Of the ‘good Maxwell’, the Mail, Adelaide on Saturday 9th December 1916, reported, under the heading Maxwell Utility Point Motor:
‘There seems to be considerable controversy amongst motor car manufacturers regarding the best type of engine. The driver is confronted with a conglomeration long -stroke, high-speed, multi-cylinder and other terms – used to convince him that one engine is superior to another.
‘In the discussion of types, the ultimate purpose of any engine is often lost sight of; that is, utility and efficiency in everyday service.
‘The Maxwell engine is up to the minute in design. It has the long stroke and small bore; it has a maximum speed of 2000 revolutions per minute. The makers do not exploit these features. They believe the public is more interested in performance and the worth of the design can only be determined from a practical standpoint.
‘In ordinary driving, with a correctly designed engine, the gears of the transmission are seldom changed. The driver merely throttles up or down, the speed of the engine thereby regulating the speed of the car. The Maxwell engine turns from 500 to 2000 revolutions per minute. The range of speeds represents car speeds from five to fifty miles per hour.
‘But if the highest efficiency is to be secured there must be a certain car speed at which the engine is timed to give the best all round results and that speed should be the car speed.
‘It is not practical to combine the features of a racing car with those of a pleasure vehicle. The big, powerful racing car is useless in mud or sand, or even on the smallest up-grades, whilst the practical car runs easily through such obstructions, yet it is not adapted to excessive speed.
‘A careful study how Maxwell cars are used has been made and the firm has found that 90 percent of all driving is done at about 25 miles per hour. This is the point where the car must give the greatest utility and the Maxwell engine is produced with this fact in mind.
‘The engine is designed and built with consideration for the utility point – 25 miles per hour, or in terms that apply to the engine, 1000 revolutions per minute. That is what is meant by the utility point engine.
1917 Maxwell 25 three-litre Tourer – Bonhams
‘This sensible construction explains why the Maxwell has established many new records for practical endurance and economy. It explains why the Maxwell will average 30 miles per gallon of petrol and why it is the world’s champion endurance car.
‘The Maxwell engine is simple, practical and serviceable to the utmost. You will appreciate this remarkable engine when you drive a Maxwell. It is the main reason for the amazing Maxwell performance.’
In its heyday, Maxwell was considered one of the three top automobile firms in America, beside General Motors and Ford. However, Maxwell incurred massive debt, having over-produced to the point where more than half of its production remained unsold in the post-World War I recession of 1920.
In the following year, Walter P Chrysler took a controlling interest in Maxwell Motors, when Maxwell was merging with the ailing Chalmers Automobile Company, which subsequently went broke in 1922.
In 1925, Chrysler formed the Chrysler Corporation and the Maxwell company assets were absorbed by Chrysler.
The Maxwell car continued, however, because the 1926 four-cylinder Chrysler model was created largely from the previous year’s Maxwell. It went on to become the base for the 1928 Plymouth.
US comedian, Jack Benny, kept the Maxwell name alive long after it had ceased production. Here he is shaking hands with US President Truman, from the seat of an early Maxwell and another photo shows him with actress Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks) and sidekick Rochester in a 1923 Maxwell.
Jack Benny’s stage character was famously miserly and drove old cars, rather than buy expensive new ones.
1913 Chalmers torpedo tourer Model 17 – Steve Glover
Hugh Chalmers was vice-president of National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio in 1907, when car-maker Roy Chapin at Thomas-Detroit asked him to take over the company.
The stockholders voted to rename Chalmers-Detroit Motor Company on June 15, 1908, and the first Chalmers car was the Model 30. The Company sold 3047 cars in 1909, at an excellent profit of three times its stock value.
Chalmers Motors’ early success was due primarily to Roy Chapin, treasurer and general manager and Howard Coffin, chief engineer. However, both men left Chalmers in 1909, to start the Hudson Motor Car Company.
1913 Chalmers tourer – SV1ambo
The Chalmers Motor Company was founded on January 26, 1910 and Chalmers built a factory in Detroit that survived until 1991, under Chrysler.
The plant had a foundry to make engines, transmissions, axles, nuts and bolts. At first, engines were manufactured by three outside suppliers, but Chalmers soon brought engine manufacturing in-house. Chalmers wanted to make as many parts in-house and only bought specialised parts, like spark plugs and tyres from outside suppliers.[
Hugh Chalmers was also a prominent investor in the new Hudson Motor Car Company, but failed to see its products had better prospects than his.
The high point was 1911, when Chalmers sold 6250 cars and was ranked number eight auto producer in the USA .
From 1908 until 1913, the Chalmers Model 30’s design remained unchanged, although its price climbed past US$2000 per unit.
By 1915 the auto-business was changing and, with some 250 makers, became more competitive. The automobile economy was booming, but sales of Chalmers’ cars were declining and it had slid to 14th in the market.
1922 Chalmers Touring – LGLSwe
To counter this trend, Chalmers decided on much higher annual volumes – targeting 60,000 cars- to reduce production costs per vehicle. In November 1915, he presented his 1916 models to his dealers and sold 13,000 automobiles worth $22 million in less than an hour. The new cars had better engine performance and improved body design.
However, in mid-1916, dealer stocks were bursting with unsold vehicles and Chalmers was obliged to reduce production from 15,659 automobiles in the first half to only 5749 in the second half. By late-1916 the company was close to bankruptcy.
In September, 1917, the Maxwell Motor Company contributed to Chalmers’ bottom line, by leasing its plants for five years. Maxwell decided to keep the Chalmers brand in production, preserving its reputation.
The two companies fully merged in 1922, after Chalmers went bankrupt, but the Chalmers brand continued until 1923. The old Chalmers plant produced Chryslers from 1924.