The Big Car Database


The Anderson Carriage Manufacturing Company in Anderson, Indiana, began building automobiles in 1907, and continued until 1910. 

Anderson Carriage Company, 1884-1895; Port Huron, Michigan; 1895-1911; Detroit, Michigan  (aka Anderson Body Co.)

The cars were known as "Anderson".

Elwell-Parker was a UK-based manufacturer of electric motors and components which established a US branch, the Elwell-Parker Electric Co., in Cleveland, Ohio. The US branch was established in 1892 at 4224 St. Clair Ave. and was managed by M.S. Towson. 

Elwell-Parker manufactured electric locomotives and omnibuses in England and introduced their first "electric dog cart" in 1896. Their US branch produced electric motors and controllers although a handful of completed vehicles were built for demonstration purposes. 

Regional builders such as Cleveland’s Baker Electric Co. and Detroit’s Anderson Carriage Co. purchased many of their components from Elwell-Parker and in 1909 Anderson purchased the firm’s US subsidiary to guarantee a constant supply of electrical components for their thriving electric car business.

However the sale did not mark the end of Elwell-Parker in the US, as they returned years later to Bedford Park, Illinois where they built a plant to manufacture electric fork lifts. 

William C. Anderson (1853-1929) was born to Hiram and Susanna (Cummings) Anderson in Milton, Ontario, Canada. Following his graduation from Business College, he moved across the St. Clair River to Port Huron, Michigan where he began building carriages and buggies starting in 1884.

Anderson discovered that a large proportion of his firm’s output was going to Detroit, which was located 60 miles to the south of Port Huron. So Anderson and two Michigan businessmen named William A. Pungs and William M Locke, formed the Anderson Carriage Co. in 1895, establishing a Detroit plant at the intersection of Clay and Riopelle Sts, a few blocks west of Cadillac’s current Hamtramck assembly plant. Anderson was the firm’s president, Pungs, its treasurer and general manager, and William M. Locke, the firm’s secretary. 

Originally born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, William M. Locke, moved to East Tawas, Michigan in 1869 and built up a large lumber business where he became acquainted with William C Anderson. When Anderson relocated to Detroit in 1895, Locke was brought in as a partner, serving as the firm’s first secretary, and later on its treasurer. 

(Anderson Carriage Co. should not be confused with the Anderson Carriage Mfg. Co. of Anderson, Indiana, who also manufactured a few automobiles).  

William A. Pungs had his hand in a number of early Detroit manufacturing firms, usually as a financier. Although he was born in Cologne, Germany in 1850, he emigrated to Detroit with his parents when he was only two years old. As a young man he worked in the machinery, railway, and carriage supply business before he organized the Michigan Railway Supply Co. in 1882. That firm established his fine reputation and great wealth which he later used to help finance the Anderson Carriage Co., the Pungs-Finch Auto and Gas Engine Co. and the Michigan Yacht and Power Co. He resigned from Anderson in 1898 to become president of Detroit’s Central Savings Bank and his original firm, the Michigan Railway Supply Co. merged with the Chicago Railway Equipment Co. in 1899. 

Following the resignation of William A. Pungs, William M. Locke, the firm’s secretary became its treasurer and William Phelps MacFarlane, the firm’s longtime plant manager became secretary. McFarlane started working for Anderson in 1886 in the trimming department and by 1892 was in charge of the entire factory. He was elected Secretary of the firm in 1900, and continued to serve as the superintendent of coachwork through the twenties. 

Anderson started building a few automobile bodies for local manufacturers and began toying around with the idea of producing his own automobile. It was decided to equip the car with an electric drivetrain, and Anderson’s chief engineer, George M. Bacon, settled on a setup manufactured by the Elwell-Parker Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. Rather than call the car the Anderson, which was a popular name at the time for automobiles, they wisely decided on the moniker, Detroit Electric, which was to become the most popular, and long-lived, electric vehicle to be sold in the United States. 

The first Detroit Electric appeared in June of 1907, and by the end of the year 125 cars had been manufactured. Anderson offered their first closed car, the Inside-Drive Coupe in 1908, and soon established a reputation as well-built, easy-to-drive cars. 400 Detroit Electrics were built in 1908, 650 in 1909, and 1,500 in 1910. 

Anderson purchased the Elwell-Parker Co., in 1909 to make sure they had a constant supply of electrical components. The firm was located in Cleveland, Ohio and up until then had supplied components to their competitor, the Baker Electric.  

Along with Elwell-Parker’s electrical components, Anderson also got the services of their plant manager, M.S. Towson, who proved to be a valuable asset to the firm in years to come. 

Anderson Carriage Co. was reorganized in 1911 into the Anderson Electric Car Co. who would produce both electric vehicles, horse-drawn carriages and automobile bodies simultaneously. Both their electric cars and production automobile bodies were well-known for their finely constructed wood-framed aluminum bodies and luxurious interiors. 

The 1911 Detroit Electric featured a new “chainless” shaft drive and advertised that it could go a full 80 miles between charges. An endurance run held later that year proved it to be a very conservative estimate as a specially-prepared Detroit Electric test vehicle traveled an incredible 211 miles on a single charge. 

The car was marketed to doctors and women drivers in their memorable advertising campaigns which graced America’s most popular magazines including National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Century and Country Life. Advertisements stated the Detroit Electric would "take you anywhere that an automobile may go with a mileage radius farther than you will ever care to travel in a day."  

The Detroit Electric Model 60 had a top speed of 20 mph, and featured dual controls so it could be driven from either the front or rear seat. Its power came from 14 six-volt Edison batteries which were controlled by a sophisticated controller that varied the speed of the car by connecting the batteries in either series or parallel depending on which of the 5 speeds were selected. The wives of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. were some high-profile owners of Detroit Electrics. 

The Detroit Electric was built in Scotland under license by Arrol-Johnson starting in 1913, and was now available in the States as a taxicab, limousine, hearse or ambulance. In 1914 production exceeded 4500 vehicles, however within two years, sales had fallen to 3,000. Anderson purchased the Chicago Electric Motor Car Co. in 1916, but the production numbers continued to fall during the First World War. 

William C. Anderson retired in 1918 and M.S. Towson, formerly of Elwell-Parker, succeeded him as president. A few months later the electric car division was reorganized as the Detroit Electric Car Co. although the production body business continued as the Anderson Electric Car Co. (sometimes still referred to as the Anderson Carriage Co. or Anderson Body Co.) 

Following the Armistice, sales of electric cars took a nosedive in the United States and the firm began to concentrate on their more successful line of commercial delivery vehicles which were still quite popular in large metropolitan areas. Starting in 1920, their automobiles began to take on the appearance of a “normal” automobile and featured faux radiators and hoods, looking somewhat like the imported FIAT.

Anderson also began to attract more customers for their quality automotive coachwork, and was soon building production bodies for Velie, Davis and other medium-priced cars built in the metropolitan Detroit region. They enjoyed a fine reputation and when Henry Leland started manufacturing his Lincoln automobile, Anderson was the only local firm to receive a contract to produce coachwork for the 1921 Lincoln Model L. In fact, the prototype bodies of all 12 (1921-22) original Lincoln designs were made in the Anderson shops. 

In 1922, George M. Bacon, Detroit Electric’s chief engineer designed a gasoline-powered delivery truck that could be driven from four positions; front, rear, or either running board. The vehicle was designed specifically for dairymen with large suburban routes that needed a dependable vehicle year round. As is the case today, an electric vehicle’s range is severely limited during cold weather so an internal combustion engine was the only acceptable power plant. Unfortunately, Bacon’s superiors had no interest in producing any gasoline-powered vehicles and killed the project. 

Bacon knew his design would be popular and got in touch with some local dairymen and investors who agreed that the vehicle would be popular. Bacon resigned from Detroit Electric in 1923 and organized the Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company to produce his new milk delivery vehicle. The LeRoi-engined vehicle was produced in limited quantities for the Detroit Creamery, one of his investors, and entered into production in 1926 as the DIVCO powered by a 4-cylinder Continental engine and a Warner 4-speed transmission. 

M.S. Towson, now a major shareholder in the firm, reorganized its production body-building activities as the Towson Body Co. in 1922. Towson inherited all of Andersons remaining contracts and remained one of Lincoln’s production body builders even after it was purchased by Ford Motor Co. The Detroit Electric Car Co. continued as before. 

Anderson/Towson Body Co. built the 1921-22 Lincoln body types 101 through 105 as well as the short wheelbase type 107. These body styles included the seven-passenger Touring, of which most had folding tops, and a few had the permanent hardtop or California Top.  There was a massive three-passenger Roadster, a five-passenger Phaeton, a four-passenger Coupe, and a five-passenger Sedan Brougham. Most of the Anderson/Towson bodies were designed by Buffalo, New York’s Brunn & Co. as were the early Lincoln bodies produced by that city’s American Body Co. 

Additional contracts were soon forthcoming from Packard and other Detroit-based builders such as Velie and Davis. 

When the founder of the C.R. Wilson Co., Charles R. Wilson, died suddenly in 1924, the firm’s board of directors were faced with an uncertain future and no strong leadership within the firm, so they approached another Wilson for help. 

Although Detroit banker William Robert Wilson shared the same last name as the C.R. Wilson Co.’s recently departed founder and president, they were not related. However, Wilson, who also happened to be the president of Detroit’s Guardian Trust Co., had once been president of the Maxell Motor Corp. and was keenly interested in getting back into the automobile business. 

He brokered a deal whereby the C.R. Wilson Body Co., J.W. Murray Mfg. Co., Towson Body Co., and the J.C. Widman Body Co. would merge, forming the Murray Body Corporation under the leadership of John W. Murray. The three larger firms, Wilson, Murray and Towson had longstanding contracts with the Ford Motor Co. and were in good financial shape, while Widman employed craftsmen with specialized skills that would be beneficial to the new firm.  Unfortunately, the new firm was in receivership within the year. However they emerged a few months later as the Murray Corp. of America, but that story is continued on the Murray page. 

The Detroit Electric Co. continued building a handful of passenger cars though the early thirties, but the bulk of their business came from their small commercial vehicles which remained popular as inner-city delivery vehicles. 

William C. Anderson passed away in 1929, and the next year, the firm’s new management decided to try and disguise the next generation of Detroit Electric automobiles. So with body parts sourced from Briggs, the 1931 Detroit Electrics finally looked like a “normal” automobile. They used generic bodies that were very similar (identical) to those Briggs manufactured for Dodge and Willys at that time. Unfortunately, they did not bring the same success to the firm as Franklin’s redesigned Series 11 that had revitalized the Syracuse air-cooled automaker a few years previous. 

The Detroit Electric Co. never rebounded from the Depression and was eventually purchased by A.O. Dunk, who like Dallas E. Winslow, purchased defunct manufacturing companies for pennies on the dollar and sold off their assets. Dunk reorganized the company as the changing its name to the Detroit Electric Vehicle Mfg. Co. and kept it alive for a number of years, but following his death in 1936, the firm quickly faded and was finally dissolved in 1938. 

© 2004 Mark Theobald -