History of Early American Automobile Industry

Chapter 28


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Copied from January 1920 Motor Magazine
Happy New YearIf You Make It So

The year 1920 is going to be one of the greatest business years for the automotive dealers. It will be a successful year to big and small dealer alike, because factory production is gaining impetus every day and the industry as a whole is rapidly recovering from the temporary halt caused by war work, labor and fuel shortage. We must not begin where we left off in war days, but rather must project that time into the future and see what is before us.

The dealers have gone through 1919 with flying colors for the most part and the race in 1920 is going to be swift and furious. This year the demand for cars will probably exceed the supply, but with the factories catching up in production dealers throughout the country may be able to satisfy the demands of their customers before the end of the year.

The great thing for the dealer to bear in mind is that some time we shall have a situation where the supply of cars exceeds the demand. When that time comes dealers will be forced to sell cars whether they want to or not. It will be more than merely taking orders and promising delivery dates.

Every cloud has a silver lining. If by going through the period of reconstruction the dealer has learned to run his business better, to broaden his field of prospects by adding new forms of automotive equipment he is just that much better prepared for the attack in 1920 and the years after that Although 1919 may have been overhung at times with dark clouds, back of those dark business clouds was the sun and now that the sun has come through, the harvest must follow. Friend dealer, 1920 is here and he is yoursif you want him.

How wrong they were! The year started with greater growth with almost every phase of the industry growing and hiring more workers. Hardly amonth had passed before trouble started. It was one thing after another and each one was worse. The only bright spot for the year was the month of April when productinsrose for a normal month

February 19, 1920 MOTOR AGE

Car Production in January Suffers a Minor Slump Influenza, Lack of Railroad Freight Cars and Uncertainty of Labor Situation Are the Principal Causes of Dropping off

DETROIT, Feb. 13 Drlveaways of the finished product and drlve-lns of materials will have to be the salvation of production schedules in the Detroit
manufacturing district for the next few weeks if January experiences of the makers are a criterion. January production was below schedule save in isolated instances and there is little hope held out of any radical improvement until the weather improves considerably. Lack of freight cars, bad weather, uncertain labor conditions and the nfluenza epidemic are held responsible by the manufacturers for their failure to keep up to their schedule. They hope for some improvement in February but there will be no radical change for the better until the weather moderates and the present prevalence of influenza subsides to a marked extent. The freight car situation, they declare, cannot be bettered until a sufficient time has elapsed after the return of the roads to their privat owners to permit of the latter getting back to normal schedules. In the meantime, the situation Is being met as far as possible by drive-aways and delivery of materials to the factories by motor truck. So far, the roads out of Detroit to the southern territory, to the east and as far west as Iowa have been In sufficiently good condition to permit of driving finished cars to their destination by dealers and in this way the makers have been able to produce all the cars they could.

Owing to the lack of storage space for finished cars, however, if the roads become impassable, the makers will have to voluntarily cut down their production because they will have no place to put their product. Inbound shipments of parts and materials have been aided considerably by the use of motor trucks. The Inbound freight received by railroad is only a fraction of what it la In normal years and had not the motor truck freight service been developed to a considerable extent during the last three or four years, the factories would have had to curtail their production even more seriously than has been the case. By use of the trucks, however, makers have been able to get almost as great supplies of parts and materials as their manufacturing capaclties, interfered with in other ways, have been able to absorb.

The influenza epidemic has had the effect of slowing u p production to a considerable extent due to the cutting down of working forces. The  deaths of several prominent men in the auto- mobile industry in the Detroit district threw a scare into others and as a result officials and workmen leave their desks and workbenches at the earliest symptoms of Illiness. The result was that some factories lost as many as 20 per cent of their normal working forces.

While there have been no labor disturbances worthy of mention, the general uneasiness in the labor market is as acute in the automobile field as it Is in  any other industry. As a rule, however, the automobile men are well satisfied with their working conditions and there is no grave danger of disturbances.


February 26, 1920 MOTOR AGE

Now It's Something Else Which Interferes With Motor Car Production

DETROIT, Feb. 22A situation unprecedented in the history of the automotive industry threatens to cut production in the Detroit district to a considerable exent before June. One blow after another has fallen on the automobile makers but the latest, an announcement by the Detroit Edison Co., that it would be obliged to deny power to all industries not absolutely essential unless it is afforded some relief from the present coal shortage, is the proverbial straw which threatens to break the camel's back.

All sorts of measures have been resorted to by the makers to keep up their production schedules. They are getting their raw materials and parts supplies overland by truck trains, and trains going to the various factories so laden are not uncommon now and will be every-day sights before the end of summer. The truck has been the salvation of some of the factories and it is unquestionable that as the result of the improvements which have been made In overland truck train shipments, manufacturers may soon become independent of the railroads.

Can't Get Cars to Dealers

When it comes to delivering the finished cars, however, it is a different thing and the inability of the manufacturers to get rid of cars they have actually made rather than inability to manufacture them may soon become the really potent factor in slowing down production. Roads throughout the United States are in bad condition at present, precluding the possibility of dealers from many sections staging driveaways, although these are being made between Detroit and cities to which the roads are in passable condition.

All manner of expedient is being resorted to by manufacturers to store the cars they have made but which cannot be delivered to distributors on account of the railroad congestion and the impassable roads. Every bit of commercial storage space was, of course, snapped up months ago. One manufacturer has taken over an old hotel, renting the whole building just to get the spacious lobby in which to store machines. Another has rented a former brewery to store cars and it is ludicrous to see cars being stored in the huge vats formerly used to brew beer. Still another has notified distributors that it is up to them to get their own cars, and as a consequence the Detroit hotels are filled with distributors who are camping out there looking after their interests. These distributors have become regular Sherlock Holmes for spotting empty freight cars and when they spot one in Chicago, Cleveland, Toledo or any other nearby city, they
stage a driveaway of sufficient cars to that city to load them for transportation to their final destinations.

April 22, 1920 MOTOR AGE.

Railroad Strike Hits Motor Car Production Detroit Factories Are Closed Down at End of the Week While Plants in Other Cities Are Almost as Badly Affected by Switchmen's Walkout

It is an intensely parlous undertaking in these unsettled days to prepare an article concerning the effects of acurrent strike. For by the time this story reaches our readers, the present "outlaw" strike of railroad switchmen may have been settled, or broken; all may be again serene in the industrial world, or some new conflagration broken out in some heretofore unthought of spot.

Whatever may be the situation, however, just put it down in the book that another whack has been taken at motor car production for 1920. A week ago we were in receipt of extremely optimistic reports from the principal manufacturing centers of the automobile industry. The program of 2,250,000 new cars for the current year was almost certain to be surpassed, said these advices. Factories were speeding up and, despite minor labor difficulties, it looked as if the shortage of motor cars might be overcome within a year instead of the two years which seemed probable a
short time since.

"It is impossible to forecast what the situation in Detroit will be if relief is not immediately afforded," wired our Detroit correspondent in answer to our
request for a story. "All factories except Ford are at a complete standstill and there is considerable doubt if they will be able to resume operations immediately even if power is again supplied." The situation in other cities is just as serious. Every report indicates that motor car production has been badly hithow badly probably will not be known for several weeks. It may be that these optimistic prophecies will be fulfilled after all, but the railroad strike of the last fortnight has at least done its very best to prevent.

The motor car industry has formed a habit of doing difficult things; of over-coming seemingly insuperable difficulties, but it has a giant's task on its hands this time. For the strike has caused a tremendous slackening of production at a critical period when it was vital that the factories be kept going at full tilt. When we mention the motor car industry, we turn to Detroit as the Mohammedan turns to Mecca. And the status of the industry in Detroit at the present time is indicative of the industry throughout the United States.

Detroit felt the full effects of the strike almost immediately. An order was issued April 12 by the Detroit Edison Co. that all power was to be shut off and that industries in the territory supplied by the company would either be force to close down entirely or run on power generated In their own plants. As virtually all the automobile factories in the territory depended upon this company as the main source of their power, the effect was immediate.

Efforts were made by some of the manufacturers to install emergency power plants to meet the crisis, but even with this expedient it was possible to run only at about half normal capacity. Other companies accepted the situation without a struggle and posted notices informing their employees of their shutting down. Most of the factories were running at part production as the week ended, but it was virtually certain that unless relief afforded within forty-eight or seventy-two hours, the entire industry would be at a standstill. While the actual number of employees thrown out of work cannot be accurately estimated. It is believed that at least Carson, Pirie, Scott fit Co., one of the west's leading dry goods concerns, was unable to obtain its goods by train and was forced to depend upon motor truck.

50 per cent of the men employed in the Industry affected. General Manager Haynes of the Dodge Brothers factory declared that 9000 of the company's 18,000 employees were affected and a canvass of the other factories Indicated that virtually the same conditions prevailed elsewhere. The Ford Motor Co. main factory is operated by its own power, but the blast furnace and body plant are dependent upon the Detroit Edison Co. and at least 20,000 men employed by Ford are affected. In ability to get raw material or to store the finished product Is expected to throw about 30,000 more out of work within the week.

Two days after the strike started It was estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 men were out of employment in Detroit alone, another 35,000 in Flint, 10,000 in Pontiac, 4000 in Lansing and so on down the line. In the entire automobile industry in all parts of the country, 250,000 men out of work on account of the strike be a conservative estimate.


There is some confusion between the California Automobile Corporation and the Leach-Bitwell Motor Car Company. In Beverly Rae Kimes book, Standard Catalogue of American Cars, 1805-1942, she states that the California model was made by the Leach company as a smaller car and production started in 1923. In my research, I have found that these two companies were two different companies making cars at the same time in Los Angeles within blocks of each other. The California company was on North Almeda Street and was in their new factory building and the Leach company moved into the former Republic Motor Car Company's factory that was located on Santa Fe Avenue. They had an entirely different board of directors and owners.

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After testing their experimental automobiles for several months and perfecting their designs, the California Motor Car Corporation decided to put their automobile into production in late 1919 as a 1920 model and named it the California so it would appeal to the western market. All of their men were well trained in factories in the East  and decided to build their car in Los Angeles. The Western market was much more appealing than those elsewhere in the country.  Edward M. Lawrence was in charge of production and purchasing, Robert J. Schefferly was the engineer, and  Allison L. Tull was head of advertising and sales. Their first two models were a roomy, luxurious, seven-passenger touring car, and a handsome four-door, four-passenger sports model. Most of their parts for the assembled automobile were locally purchased to save transportation costs and to help the local wholesalers. THe wheelbase was 134 inches with a 56-inch tread with 33-inch tires. Two extra complete wheels and an air pump was also provided. The dash board was complete with all of the gauges and  a clock. The customer was getting everything he needed without extra costs.

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1920 California Automobile Advertisement

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1920 California Automobile Advertisement

The California started production in 1920 with all of its ups and downs with parts suppliers. It continued into 1921, but there is no record as to when it shut down. Like so many other companies during this year, it probably met the same fate and had to close down that year.


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1922 Leach-Biltwell Four Passenger Coupe Automobile

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1922 Leach-Bitwell Sedan Automobile

In 1916, Martin Leach was the manager of the Leach Motor Car Company, Los Angeles, CA, whose business was customizing cars for the Hollywood elite. When the company was reorganized as the Security Motor Corporation in 1918, he left the company to build his own cars. The Leach Bitwell Motor Company was organized with a $1,000,000 capitalization fund with the help of Leon G. Martin. They purchased the the recently vacated Republic Truck Company's factory and produced the Leach Power Plus Six touring models. A sportscar, touted as a man's car, was added in 1921. Prices for his cars started at $5,000. Recapitalization for $5,000,000 was done that year in order to purchased the Miller Engine and Foundry Works in Los Angels. Harry Milled designed the six-cylinder, 100-horsepower engines. The Leach Bitwell were the first ones to use hardtops commonly called California tops. By this time, the company had some serious financial problems, and they began to slash prices. Moving into a smaller factory did not help and the company ceased operations in 1922. Total output for its duration in businedd is estimated to be fewer than 300,

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1922 Leach-Bitwell Four-Passenger Coupe Automobile

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1920 Leach Automobile Advertisement


After leaving the Mason Automobile Compaany, Fred Duesenberg teamed up with his brother, Augie, they relocated to St. Paul, MN to establish a marine and automobile engine business that was named Duesenberg Motor Co. He continued with the Mason race car engines until they were renamed as Duesenberg. The Duesenberg brothers never owned a company. They were strictly employees.The Duesenberg Motors Corporation was organized in 1916 by New York financiers with $1.5 million dollars in capital and constucted a huge factory in Elizabeth,  New Jersey.with  production to follow. However, they found themselves with a big factory and nothing to make but a few engines for some new automobile companies. Very little racing was done during the war so they went into making airplane engines. They believed that the four cylinders were past it and wanted to start making eights. The companies were agreeable to this and rights to the four-cylinder were sold to various companies. Duesenberg Motors and the plant was bought by Willys. After selling the factory,they moved to Indianapolis, IN and organized a new company named the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Corporation capitalized at $1.5 million.

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1922 Duesenberg Model A Coupe

They had been working on their new engine and had built a prototype. The production cars would use the overhead camshaft design. When it was introduced at the 1920 Hotel Commodore in Novvember as their Model A and it was a sensation with its first in America  hydraulic four wheel brakes. By changing the motor to an overhead cam design at the last minuite, caused a two year delay in production. The backers of the company had very little experience and also, the brothers didn't care that much for  being businessmen and the end result was reorganizion in 1925 as Duesebnberg Motors Corporation but still, it wasn't any better. More than 600 Model A's had been built but with very little profit to show for it. It was later changed to Model J.

They still excelled on the racing circuit. There were two great racing cars that dominated racing, Duesenberg and Miller.

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1917 Miller Golden Submarine
Harry A. Miller Inc. Los Angeles, CA

Albert Cord, president of Auburn Automobile Company, bought the company in 1925 and instructed Fred Duesenberg to build a super automobile that could be compared to or surpass the world's best automobiles. It took time to do this, but in the meantime, the Model X which had been a shoe string attempt to redo it into the Model A and was made during 1927. It was made out of the parts on hand and a dozen were made. 

The Model J Duesenberg was first shown at the New York Car Show of 1928. The engine produced a whopping 265 horsepower (198 kW) from a straight-8 engine with dual overhead camshafts, and was capable of a top speed of 119 mph and 94 mph in 2nd gear. The supercharged version of the Model J, the SJ, was reputed to do 104 mph in second and have a top speed 135-140 mph in third. At a time when even the best cars of the era were not inclined to exceed 100 mph, the SJ ran from 0-60 in around eight seconds and 0-100 in about 17 seconds. Duesenbergs generally weighed around two and a half to three tons depending on the custom coachwork of the individual car.

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1929 Duesenberg Five Passenger Coupe

The Duesenbergs were built until 1937. Its name has taken its place in the history of the automobile industry as the world's greatest automobile. It was truly a "Duesy". And so was the manufacturing of automobiles in this country from 1861-1929.


Copied from the 1920 Motor Age Magazine

The Argonne four-cylinder car exhibited at the Commodore is a two-passenger short model fitted with a high speed engine of 33/4 by 53/4 inches The car is a product of the Argonne Motor Car Co., Jersey City, Mich., which will produce this model together with a four-passenger open sport model in quantities.The roadster sells for $4500 and the four-passenger $4700. The wheelbase is 118 in. Springs are semi-elliptic with oilless bushings. Tires are 32 by 41/2 in. cords. The six-passenger car utilizes two auxiliary seats in the tonneau and the top is lined throughout with beveled plate glass windows in the rear.

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1920 Argonne Roadster

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1920 Argonne Automobile, Fountainhead Museum, Alaska

The Argonne was named after the fierce battle in Argonne, France in   the First World War. Otto Bieir and Harold Porter, who were previous designers, designed the  The Argonne Motor Car Company, Jersey City, New Jersey, was formed to produce it. It was supposed to be a six-cylinder, but for economy's sake, it became a four-cylinder. Advertisements began in the latter part of the summer in 1919, but it made its first appearance at the New York Automobile Show in January, 1920. 20 mph per gallon and 70 mph were guaranteed. It was truely a handsome, well-made car, but by the time it was put on the market, the postwar recession was having a very serious affect on the industry and the company had to close down in March, 1920 with no more that two dozen cars made. Eventually the remaing parts from the sheriff's were used to make a few additional closed cars that were sedans and one coupe. The previous cars were all open models.

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1920 Eisemann Magneto Company Advertisement Featuring  the Argonne Automobile

H. C. S.

Copied from the 1920 Motor Age Magazine

The car is of four-passenger capacity. Its center of gravity is very low, the height of the windshield being less than the height of an average man. The seating arrangement provides ample space even though the car is as low as it is. Individual step plates are used instead of the running boards. The body is mounted on a 120 in. wheelbase chassis. The engine has four cylinders, is block cast and completely enclosed. The engine a rated 60 horsepower.

The H. C. S. especially had been designed to render quick service. There are no grease cups and the starting motor, generator and ignition head has been placed on the right side of the engine in the most accessible position. It is possible to dismantle any unit of the car, such as the rear axle, transmission, or remove the engine, steering gear, etc., without in any way disturbing the neighboring units. It Is powered with a Weidely four-cylinder engine of 33/4 by 43/4 in., with the valves in the head. The car has a 120-in. wheelbase and is priced at $2950. The wheels are 32 by 41/2 in. and the car has two extra wheels and tires, one on each side. No running boards are used, two aluminum steps taking their place. 

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1920 H. C. S. Automobile


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1920 H.C.S Touring Car

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1921  H. C. S. Two-door Sedan Automobile


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1920 H. C. S. Automobile Advertisement


Copied from the 1920 Motor Age Magazine

The six-passenger Ferris is a 130-in. wheelbase job with an aluminum custom built body. Five Disteel wheels are included in the equipment with a spare carried on the left side. The engine is a Continental 33/4 by 51/4 in. with Splitdorf magneto and Zenith carbureter. Springs are semi-elliptic with oilless bushings. Tires are 32 by 41/2 in. cords. The six-passenger car utilizes two auxiliary seats in the tonneau and the top is lined throughout with beveled plate glass windows in the rear. It is very complete, including such features as a windshield cleaner, integral bumper with frame, trunk rack, etc


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1920 Ferris Touring Automobile

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1921 Ferris Sedan

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1921 Ferris Automobiles

The Ohio Trailer Company, Vleveland, OH, was reorganized as the Ohio Motor Vehicle Company in 1919 to build  "The Car of Character". It was named after the company's secretary and treasurer, William Ferris. It was a well built with assembled parts and very expensive. The aluminum body had its high radiator gave it a custom appearance. It, too, became a victim of the post-war recession in June, 1921. The receiver gave permission to finish what cars they could with the parts on hand. When production stopped in 1923, a total of 450 cars had been made.

May l9, 1920 MOTOR AGE

April Production Is Cut by One-Third Switchmen's Strike and Resultant Fuel and Steel Shortage Knock Schedules in the Head

Automotive production In the United States slumped off from one-third to one-half for April compared to the record-breaking totals produced in thepreceding, month. The rail strike and its resultant shortage of fuel and materials was responsible for the April slump, but there were other factors which probably would have cut into production to a slight extent, even had there been no strike. Factory officials are rather more optimistic for May work than they are for two or three months ahead. They believe they will be able to get their production figures up to schedule for May, but hold little hope they will be able to continue on schedule for the later months of the year. They look for a material shortage for the rest of the year and believe that this will begin to affect
them by June or early July rather than at present when the railroads have not yet made the financial arrangements to take all the steel they will require later
for rehabilitation.

Detroit Production One-third Off

Detroit production fell off approximately 33 per cent. The total of passenger cars made in the Detroit district for April was 111,961 as compared with 176,831 for March. Truck production for April was 15,771. These figures include all of Michigan and those of Willys-Overland and Willys-Knight in Ohio.
Before it became known that steel was to be diverted several executives expressed the opinion that the steel shutdown as a result of the railway strike
would mean a more serious menace to the industry than the lack of fuel, inasmuch as it would be several weeks before the steel mills could again be in
full production. The Ford factory, which continued operations when all others in the district were shut down, laid off 26,000 for a full week beginning April 19, Ford had prepared for the fuel emergency and went along on full production for the first ten days of the strike, but laying off this big bunch of men cut production badly in the second half of the month and as a result built only 51,066 cars and 7,179 trucks In the month. This gives Ford a total of 722,915 cars in the first nine months of the fiscal year with a schedule calling for 1,000,000 cars for the twelve month.

Prices on the available cars rose to a point where no one could afford them. Ford had previously lowered his prices but now the prices had risen to a point where the were now unaffordable.. For instance, if a car sold for $1,900 before the war, it was priced to $2,400 shortly after the war to $2,700 by the middle of 1919, and by June of 1920, it was $3,100. Ford cars went from $250 to $490. If one wanted to buy one, it was most likely done by credit. Not only were the prices of cars increasing, but it was happening in everyday cost of living.

Ford Motors Company shocked the industry in June of 1920 when the prices of its cars were lowered by 14-31 % which were the same as before the pre-war years. The following month Franklin folowed suit with a 17-29% percent cut. Willys laid off two-thirds of its work force in September and Ford went to a five-day work week. Trying to keep as many workers from being laid off and several  companies went on a four day work week. By this time, 50,000 workmen had lost their jobs. Uncertain of their future, a great many left for other cities to seek employment.

Production in September dropped to 10,000 cars a week for the entire Detroir area which included Toledo, OH. and wages were stuck at 57 cents an hour. Buick, in Flint, was on a six-hour a day shift and Dodge closed down for a week to take an inventory of all of its factories. Several manufacturers that had recently started production with great anticipation of success could not overcome this unforseen disaster and had to closed down further increasing the number of unemoloyed workers

1920 Automatic Electric Pleasure Vehicle
Automatic Transportation Company in Buffalo, NY

1921 Lorraine Touring
Lorraine Motors Corp. Grand Rapids, MI Detroit 

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1921 Birmingham   Four Door Sedan
Birmingham No-Axle Motor Corp. Jamestown, NY 

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1920 Texan B-38 Touring
Texas Motor Car Association Fort Worth, TX


1920 Carroll Touring
Carroll Automobile Co. Lorraine, OH

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1921 Heine-Velox Limousine
Heine-Velox Engineering Co. San Francisco, CA


Copied from the 1920 Motor Age Magazine

Amco is the name of a new American made passenger car to be made by the American Motors, Inc., for export trade only. In other words,, the Amco is a foreign car made in America but sold abroad only. The car is laid out to meet European requirements entirely, having right-hand drive. The car is to be an assembled proposition made up of parts prominent in the automotive world. The wheelbase is 114 in. but the springs are exceptionally long for such a short car, 76 per cent of the wheelbase being spring underlaid. Since the car is to be sold in a foreign market special attention has been given the design of the cooling system and it is claimed by the company that cooling surface is ample to take care of strenuous service in tropical climate.

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1920 Amco Automobile

The Amaco was designed by D. M. Eller and was fitted with a British body and either left or right hand steering could be had. Production was begun in Norwalk, CT, but soon moved to Stamford after merging with the Springfield Motors and Davenport Foundry located there. It went out of production in 1922.

By now, Ford had gotten rid of all of his former associates. Harold Wills, who had suffered through long winter nights in 1902 to help Ford with is racer, had gladly taken a $16 million buyout and started his own Will St. Claire Automobile Company. Bill Knudsen, who was the backbone of the company, was fired because of Henry's ego. Ford later admitted that Knudsen was too good for him. He was later appointed as Michigan's U.S. Senator. Ford wanted to be the only voice that was heard. He got his wish. His future executives would only be able to say "yes or no, Sir".

1921 would test the automobile industry to its fullest extent and it was on a roller-coaster ride that would last until the niddle of the year. The Ford Motor Company was its lead car.

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Addendum 1    Addendum 2   Addendum 3