Pictured: 1910 Teddy Roosevelt in the back of a Mitchell.
Mitchell-Lewis Motor Company was founded in 1900 in Racine, Wisconsin as a motorcycle maker spin-off from the wagon maker Mitchell & Lewis Company Ltd.
|Headquarters||Racine, Wisconsin, United States|
The company began manufacturing automobiles in 1903. The wagon business and auto companies were combined into Mitchell-Lewis Motor Co. in 1910. The Mitchell car brand produced automobiles from 1903 to 1923.
The Mitchell Lewis Building at 815 Eighth Street in Racine was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 20, 2005. The Racine architectural firm of Guilbert & Funston is credited with designing the building.
The Mitchell House at 905 South Main Street was owned by Henry Mitchell of the Mitchell Wagon works and was designed by Cecil Corwin.
Originally a carriage builder, the company's first model was a 7hp runabout. Nash Motor Company bought Mitchell-Lewis in 1924.
Mitchell offered four-, six- and eight-cylinder models were built. The 1920 Model E-40 had a rear-sloping radiator which led to the unfortunate nickname of the "Drunken Mitchell". Sales never recovered, and when the company folded in 1923, Nash Motors bought the factory. The company was known for large, fashionable touring cars.
With the beginning of the new century, big changes started happening for Henry Mitchell and William Turnor Lewis’s companies. Expansion into new markets was inevitable, starting with the introduction of the bicycles and motorcycles that had begun in 1898.
An ad for the 1902 Mitchell Motorbike.
By 1902, the first motor cycles were being built for consumer purchase. They were nothing like today’s fancy motorcycles, however. The first ones that were built in 1898 were so slow that someone peddling on a traditional bicycle would be able to reach their destination faster. By 1902, better mechanics and design led to a faster product and the Mitchell Motor Cycle was outpacing models made by Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee. In that first year of production, 600 Mitchell Motor Cycles were built, making it the best-selling motorcycle at the time.
Harley Davidson is now producing a three-wheeler reminiscent of this Mitchell motorbike from 1903!
But 1902 was also a big year for the company for another reason: the introduction of the automobile. The first motorcar was made by the company in that year and it became clear that the automobile would soon replace the wagon as a primary method of mobility.
Thus, in 1903, The Mitchell Motor Car Company was established, as the company officially made the switch from wagons to automobiles. The engines used were designed by John W. Bate. Two car models were available that first year for purchase. One had 4 horsepower and the other, larger model, had 7 horsepower. Each car offered two forward speeds and a reverse option.
An early Mitchell on the streets of Racine.
In 1904, John W. Bate designed a new engine for the automobiles and began making suggestions to speed up the assembly process. Using these new procedures, 82 vehicles were assembled that year with the new engine.
The Mitchell Car needed a slogan and in 1905, the well known slogan was born: “The Car You Ought To Have At The Price You Ought To Pay.” The company continued to expand, producing 315 vehicles, including bigger trucks. A 9 horsepower model car was one of the most popular models, selling for $750 dollars.
Automobiles and wagons were shipped by rail to all parts of the country.
Conquering the United States as a market wasn’t enough of a conquest for the Mitchell. In 1907, The Mitchell Car Company began shipping worldwide. An agency selling the Mitchell was opened in Paris, creating a central selling hub in Europe. Shipping to foreign countries didn’t stop there. The car was sent to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Romania, South Africa, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii. The Mitchell was truly known around the world for its quality!
An assembly line was used at the automobile plant.
In a feat of mechanical ingenuity, by 1908, all of the parts for the Mitchell car were manufactured in-house, except for the electrical equipment, wheels, and tires. Through the elimination of the middle man, production was streamlined even further and in that year alone, 2166 cars were built. But just having a slogan wasn’t enough to contribute to such a level of success. In 1909, lyricist C.P. McDonald and musician J.W. Gilson created a song about the Mitchell automobile and it became synonymous with the famous car.
This slogan was used up until 1910.
The production plant for the Mitchell Motor Car Company covered 30 acres and employed 2,800 men in 1910, that year producing 5,614 cars. Expansion was happening so quickly that The Mitchell Wagon Company and The Mitchell Motor Car Company had to consolidate to form the Mitchell-Lewis Motor Company in order to stay ahead of production and demand. With the merger came a change in slogan: “Silent As The Foot Of Time.” But even as the company grew, internal changes were happening that would impact the Mitchell company down the road. William Turnor Lewis retired as president, and his son William Mitchell Lewis was nominated as the Republican candidate in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race. He didn’t win but it did cement the family name as one of honor and high class. William Turnor Lewis took his retirement seriously, taking his wife on a year-long cross country tour of Europe in their 1910 Mitchell Touring Car.
Changes and additions to the various Mitchell models increased in 1912. Cars ranged in size from a smaller “woman’s” car to a custom limousine that cost as much as $7000 dollars! The year 1913 brought in the French designer René Petard to make some design adjustments, including electric lights and self-starters. Petard contributed these changes while also running the Paris dealership. Some employees recount the company covering 75 acres of land and having over 10,000 employees at its peak.
Several times, Mitchell touring cars were shipped to Europe for Grand Tours by the family. This picture shows chauffeur Frank Zirbes, John Dwight, Mary and William T. Lewis in Paris in 1910. The photo was taken by their niece, Olive Mitchell Dwight.
In 1915, The Mitchell Motor Company lost an icon. At the end of the year, William Turnor Lewis, the second founder, died suddenly of a stroke. Sales peaked at 10,000 units by 1916, but the family sold all its interest in the company to “big-city” investors from Chicago and New York. The family slipped quietly away from the company they had spent decades building. This year marked the end of an era as the Mitchell drove into a new era, a time plagued by disastrous model specifications, poor word-of-mouth publicity, and a war that would close down the company for good.