The Kissel Motor Car Company was an American automobile and truck manufacturing company founded by Louis Kissel and his sons, George and William, on June 5, 1906 in Hartford, Wisconsin.
The company custom built high-quality automobiles, hearses, fire trucks, taxicabs, and trucks from their plant at 123 Kissel Avenue, Hartford. Kissel manufactured trucks of 3/4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 tons, and maintained a sales office at 2515 Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois in early 1913.
In 1915 the company (542 Kissel Ave.) advertised in the National Lumberman the new models that included a 1000 lb. and 6 ton replaced the 5 ton.
During World War I the company produced trucks for the US military as well as the allies. In June 1915 Kissel shipped 30 ambulances and 50 heavy service trucks to the Kingdom of Serbia. By 1918 Kissel was producing the Standard B "Liberty" Truck for the military. Kissel prospered after the war but with stiff competition and the Great Depression, mounting losses, and an attempted hostile take-over by New Era Motors' president Archie Andrews forced Kissel to file for receivership protection in November, 1930.
Conrad Kissel (b.1812, d. 1872) emigrated from Alsace to Addison in Washington County, Wisconsin in 1857. His son, Ludwig “Louis” Kissel, moved to Hartford, Wisconsin, in 1883 and in 1890, in a partnership with his four sons Adolph P., Otto P., William L. and George A., opened Kissel Hardware Store, the Hartford Plow Company that manufactured and distributed farm machinery, Kissel Manufacturing Company, and the Hartford Electric Company. They distributed engines for various manufacturers (Through Kissel Manufacturing Company) and developed their own gasoline engines including out board boat motors. The partnership was also involved in home building and sales through, a stone quarry, sand pit, and facilities for milling their own finished lumber. In 1906 Otto formed the First National Bank of Hartford as a principle shareholder and became Vice-President. In 1925 Otto was elected president and held that position until retiring in January 1933.
In 1906 the Kissel Motor Car Company was incorporated by Louis, his four sons, and US District Attorney H. K. Butterfield. The company began production in 1907 and lasted until 1931.
Advertised as "KisselKar," of the 35,000 automobiles the company produced, only 150 are known to exist today. The Wisconsin Automotive Museum of Hartford has several of these remaining cars on display. The most famous car was one the company donated to Hollywood actress Anita King for her transcontinental trip in 1915 that marked the first-ever such trip by a female driving alone. The most popular Kissel model was the 1919 thru 1927 Speedster, nicknamed the Gold Bug. The two passenger (sometimes four-passenger) Gold Bug was owned by famous personalities of the time such as actor Fatty Arbuckle and aviator Amelia Earhart. Beginning in 1927, Kissel also produced the sporty White Eagle Speedster.
The car Kissel referred to as a "speedster" was widely known as the Gold Bug. The car was popular with many other celebrities including Bebe Daniels, Jack Dempsey, Ralph DePalma, Eddie Duchin, Douglas Fairbanks, Greta Garbo, Gladys George, Ruby Keeler, William S. Hart, Al Jolson, Mabel Normand, Mary Pickford, and Rudy Vallee. A 1923 Gold Bug (model 6-45), one of four survivors from that model and year, was owned by Andew Kissel and William Ruger. The 1927 Kissel Gold Bug Coupe Roadster was used in the movie The Eddy Duchin Story" in 1956.
Kissel used Mercury as its logo. In the late 1930s, Henry Ford requested use of the logo for a new marque the Ford Motor Company was planning to introduce, and permission was granted.
West Bend company
In 1935, the Kissels manufactured outboard motors and were major suppliers of Sears, Roebuck. In 1942 the business was sold to the West Bend Aluminum Company.