The Big Car Database


The Bush was a mail-order car made by the Bush Motor Company of Chicago from 1916 to 1924.

Ralph Birchard (Sr.) established the Birch Motor Car Company.  Bush Motors did no manufacturing but bought in cars from other makers. Lycoming and Continental motors were often used for the 4- and 6-cylinder versions of the car. Amongst others, cars were made by Huffman and Piedmont, as well as the Norwalk Motor Car Company, Martinsburg, West Virginia ( operating from 1912-1922 )

The first Bush cars were presented as gifts to graduates of the Bush Auto Mechanics School in Chicago, and about the same time, J.H. B, who headed his own operation, decided to market cars on a commerical basis. The Bush sold only by mailand the comapny bought cars from other manufactures including Sphinx, Pullman, Piedmont, Norwalk, Corw-Elkhart and Huffman among others. The cars were built to stipulated specifications and the builders attached proper badge and hubcaps carrying Bush nomenclature. Lycoming and Continental 4 & 6 cylinder engines were used.

Hunderds, perhaps thousands, of Bush automobiles were sold over the decade the company was in business.

Ralph Birchard was working for a Chicago area advertising company and somehow got unvolved as an executive with the Bush Motor Car Company. At some point relatively early on he got the feeling he was being pushed out of the Bush company and thought to himself, "If they can do it, so can I." And so he established Birch along the same lines as Bush.

The advertising angle is important to what was going on, because--although both companies did, indeed, sell cars, the real hustle was selling $30.00 or $40,00 ten-part mail order classes on how to drive, maintain and sell cars. They knew that many people would be intrugued with getting into the auto business, but few would actually do much more than take the coiurse. I doubt there were ever full dealerships as we know them, rather those that took the inititiative might buy a car and then tell their friends. America was rural, and there were many folks nowhere near a city. Most of the cars were probably delivered by rail, although I'm sure some were driven to their ultimate destinations.

As described above, the cars were made by other manufacturers, and given the identification tags of the Birch company. I don't have a car, but I do have a radiator plate and a couple of door plates. I don't know how rigorously Bush or Birch maintained standards in the manufacturing process, my grandfather described it as, "When the cars came off the assembly line, they took their logo off and we put ours on." They were certainly reliable enough. My grandmother actually set out cross country in a Birch by herslf (and her three children, ages 4, 2 & 1), and made it to Los Angeles. I'm sorry to say I know only the barest outline of this tale. I wish I'd asked more questions whrn I was a kid.

I believe the dates set out in one of the above posts are slightly off. Bush, as I remember, started in 1913 and my grandfather started Birch in 1915. Birch kept selling cars until 1920, and my grandfather kept the company open until 1923 to sell parts to those who had bought cars and needed to make repairs.

Credit: Ralph Birchard's Grandson

The Bush motor-car 

The Chicago-built Bush automobile, which was available for $945. The car was equipped with a 34.7bhp (SAE) four cylinder Lycoming motor, and was capable of carrying upto five passengers. The engine had a two bearing crank, and detachable cylinder heads, the unit being coupled to a three speed gearbox and torque tube transmission. Cooling was by thermo-syphon, and carburetion courtesy of a Carter carburettor.

The electrics were provided by a 6 volt battery, itself maintained in charge by a gear-driven dynamo built into the crankcase.

American Automobile Digest described the styling as ".. emphatically of the stream line type with long sweeping curves and eye-pleasing contour. It has large doors, a double cowl, slanting seat frames, the hardware being entirely concealed".

It seems that the Bush cars were only available in black, with a one-man mohair hood, and adjustable side screens.