Part 1: Building the E-M-F Company
The automobile industry in the first decade of the twentieth century was an overflowing cauldron of new ideas, entrepreneurial tinkerers making machines, inventors developing ideas on the fly, and big money looking at all of these developments for the next best thing. Sound familiar? Like, in the twenty-first century?
By 1908, car companies were not a new phenomenon. But car companies that could last through their first year of incorporation or production? Now, those were a rare breed. E-M-F was one of them.
In the midst of this turmoil and hubbub, three men from three different backgrounds and experiences were somehow drawn together by lines of fate:
Barney Everitt, carriage maker, trim shop owner, and supplier of auto bodies, first to Oldsmobile (1900-1902) and then to Ford (1902-1907), who was then made president of Wayne Automobile Company in 1907;
Bill Metzger, inventor of the automobile dealership, organizer and promoter of Detroit’s first auto show in 1899, the man who put on the Grosse Point Race of October 1, 1901 between the well-known Alexander Winton and the newcomer Henry Ford, and the man who sold 2286 Cadillacs at the New York Auto Show in January of 1903;
Walter Flanders, known by 1905 in Detroit as a master of mass production, who apprenticed as a tool and die worker, became a sales rep for several companies and an expert on machinery applications, a man who invented machines that vastly improved Cadillac’s production lines in 1906, who was then hired by Ford to improve his Model N production lines in 1907 and soon had Ford’s output doubled, and who resigned in 1908 just as he had helped set up the Model T for roll-out.
Chance, or Fate?
The three men did not work too far from each other in their respective employments, so it was probably not pure chance that their paths crossed. What ultimately brought them together was a desire to combine forces and make an automobile with their names on it. With each of their individual reputations, it would only be a matter of time before they found the backing for their great idea.
The idea? Make a well-engineered and stylish car for middle income folks who could afford between $700-$1400, since many of the cars offered at this time were for the well-heeled only and often cost between $3000-$4500 and even more. This was a power play for the burgeoning middle class from all walks, but their maneuver also included some the same demographic that Henry Ford was targeting, rural folk who wanted to get up and go.
And it wasn’t that the three partners didn’t have talent or experience to back up their notions:
Everitt was president of a car company in 1907, Wayne Automobile, whose plant on Piquette Avenue was just down the street from Ford.
Metzger knew the ins and outs of car companies and how to sell cars. By 1903 he had built a four-story dealership selling several brands of gas and electric autos. He had made Cadillac the number two best-selling car in America behind Olds and had an investment in Cadillac that was paying dividends. Metzger also had a hand in the Northern Car Company.
Flanders, a master in production work flow, had introduced the concept of production scheduling for ordering supplies, scheduling their delivery, and also for delivering finished cars to dealers in a scheduled manner. He had met Everitt, the supplier of Ford’s bodies, and no doubt he knew of Metzger as well.
These three were known experts in their fields. What these three men needed was an event to announce their intentions and attract investors. LeRoy Pelletier would be just the front man that pulled that off.
Pelletier was a first-rate jack of several trades. He had covered gold rush news in the Klondike for The New York Times, helped found Dusquesne Motor Car Company in Buffalo, worked at Ford Motor Company as a “publicity engineer,” then at Maxwell-Briscoe. He knew a thing or two about what made a car company work and he could write about it. Pelletier would become the E-M-F company’s publicist.
After joining E-M-F as their advertising manager, Pelletier arranged for a banquet in June of 1908 at New York’s Café des Beaux Arts and invited interested parties and potential investors. The company principals proposed a medium-sized car of 106-inch wheelbase with a four-cylinder engine of 30 rated horsepower. The intention was to initially build 12,000 units at the Wayne Auto plant, and be ready to start as soon as backing was secured. The comprehensive presentation was well-received, a press release was issued, and shortly thereafter, one million dollars was raised to capitalize the business. E-M-F was ready to launch their first car, the Everitt 30.
The first Everitts rolled out as planned in July of 1908, and news of it was headlined in contemporary automotive journals . It was a quality mass-produced car produced by “the Big Three”, as the partners were sometimes referred to.
Walter Flanders had developed the use of jigs to insure quality control during assembly, and all parts were manufactured in-house at the Wayne Automobile plant, which helped keep costs in line with expectations. With a 4” X 4.5” bore/stroke ratio, the four cylinder L-head engine displaced 226 cubic inches, produced 30 A.L.A.M.-rated horsepower, was motivated with a three-speed transmission and an expanding-ring leather clutch. All of this quality was wrapped in an attractive body mounted on a 106 inch wheelbase for $1250 F.O.B.
Success has its own way of creating problems. The Everitt 30 was doing well in sales and the company, which had incorporated in August of 1908, had purchased Wayne Automobile in September to ensure their production. And, to get even more production capability, they also purchased the Northern Motor Car Company in October. They were on track to produce their intended 12,500 units by the end of 1909, which, according to Walter Flanders’ calculations, was going to be the only way to keep the company afloat. Only problem: how to set up a distribution network and sell that many cars, and quickly?
The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, famous for its carriage building, was anxious to enter the horseless carriage trade, and their earlier attempts with using chassis and automotive parts supplied by Arthur Garford, a famous bicycle parts manufacturer, had resulted in disappointment, lawsuits, and a hostile takeover. For all of 1908, Studebaker was able to sell only 500 high-priced motorcars, and the Garford factory itself could not produce more than 1000 units per year. Studebaker’s motorcar dreams were not going anywhere.
Hearing of the E-M-F Company’s production plan, and needing a more profitable way into the growing automobile market, Studebaker signed up to sell half of E-M-F’s production using Studebaker’s vast network of over 4000 dealers, which were conveniently spread throughout the South and the southwest United States. Flanders, who had brokered the deal, felt confident that E-M-F could sell its share in the East.
The Best-Laid Plans
What seemed like a sweet deal in August of 1908 had gone sour by April of 1909. In fact, due to either this agreement with Studebaker or other matters, Everitt and Metzger abruptly resigned from their company and went off to make their own next car business. They initially called it the Metzger Motor Car Company, incorporated their name in September, 1909, and opened for business with the Everitt Four-30 in 1910. Since they had taken their chief engineer, William Kelly, with them, the Everitt Four-30 was essentially a carbon copy of the E-M-F Everitt 30 (but with a slightly longer wheelbase of 110 inches). Remember carbon copies?
Meanwhile, back at the E-M-F-plants, which were going like gangbusters, Flanders purchases the DeLuxe Motor Car Company in July of 1909 to meet production quotas and compete car-for-car with the likes of Henry Ford, who is also producing and selling hand over fist. And, in a vertical integration maneuver that anticipates what Ford would later do at its River Rouge facility (raw materials go in at one end, finished cars go out at the other), Flanders purchased Western Malleable Steel and Forge Company, and then Monroe Body Company, to insure a complete in-house chain of production. E-M-F was on a roll and, according to automotive expert Beverly Rae Kimes, by the end of 1909 would produce over 8100 automobiles, making it fourth in total production nationwide.
However, by the end of 1909, the partnership with Studebaker really gets sour, and things begin fall apart. Events get so complicated and so much stuff is happening that it is best to chronicle the painful details on a timeline. All of this is done in Anthony Yanik’s saga of the rise and fall of this star-crossed company. The book is called The E-M-F Company. Recommended.
*** Special thanks go out to Ms. Carla Reczek of the Digital Collection, Detroit Public Library, whose help in locating historic photographs make journals like this possible. ***
We will cover the next part of this twisted tale of love, betrayal, and the triumph of human ingenuity and endeavor in the next part of this two-episode story. Plus, we will get to the speedster side of the street as well, which begins in 1910. Stay tuned!