Sunday, October 19, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014- Toledo Lucas County Library- Images In Time
Quite a few years back now I stumbled across the Toledo Lucas County Library’s online collection of photographs and its what you’d expect of an online collection based in the hometown of the jeep. Its a true treasure trove of images. When I began looking it was far more than I had ever hoped to find and it was hard to pull myself away. There’s everything here from the turn of the century historical images of a young Willys-Overland company straight through and detailing alot of early jeep images that are hard to find anywhere else. There is a ton of jeep stuff here and so I want to slowly present it to you guys, starting today with some of the earliest images, the pre-jeep Willys-Overland that emerged at the turn of the century to sell some 4,000 cars a year by 1910 and was one of Toledo’s largest employers. Willys-Overland and its subsidiary and auxiliary businesses that supplied it at the time employed a full third of Toledo’s workforce! That amounted to 18,000 employees in Toledo alone with a further 20,000 in Elyria, Ohio, Buffalo, New York and Flint and Pontiac, Michigan.
John NorthWillys grew up in Canandaigua, New York, in the western end of the state. He was an enterprising young man who eventually started out selling and manufacturing his own line of bicycles. That is, until he saw his first automobile in 1899 while on a business trip in Cleveland and grew convinced that this was the future of transportation. He became a dealer at first using a Pierce that he bought to use as a demo model. He eventually sold Ramblers as well and being the turn of the century it started off slowly with only a few sales per year. Ever onward, Willys began selling Overland autos until he took advantage of financial difficulties in that company and acquired it in 1907. It became of course, the proto-Willys-Overland Motor Company.
Willys shifted his production facilities to Toledo when he bought yet another bankrupt car company, Pope. It was a success. He sold more than he could nearly produce and by 1909, the very same year that Henry Ford introduced his Model T, the Willys-Overland Company unveiled the Overland Model 38. “For the model years 1910 through the end of the Ford Model T production in 1927, the Overland car was second in production only to the Ford.” (Allpar.com) By the end of 1910, Willys-Overland was producing over 4,000 cars per year, all of which were pre-sold as they were produced. He ended with a profit of $1 million within one year of nearing bankruptcy. In the five years between 1910 and 1915, production increased by tenfold from 15,500 cars to 150,000. Its pretty amazing what he accomplished- and all this way before the jeep was dreamed of.
Things went on from there in a pretty steady rate. It was in 1913 that he acquired the rights from a British manufacturer, Charles Knight to produce under license an engine that used something called the sleeve- valve that replaced the traditional valve system still in use today. It was innovative, but not as efficient as what it led to, the Go-Devil 4. By 1917, Willys-Overland Motors (as it was now called...) produced 1,000 cars in a single shift!
Willys was incredibly active, gobbling up smaller and less successful companies and adding to his holdings. Among them, were the Moline Plow Company (which later became Minneapolis-Moline and during WW2 made tractors which the Navy used as tugs moving aircraft, which were coincidentally nicknamed ‘jeeps’!), Duesenberg and the New Process Gear Company of Syracuse, NY (which, of course, also coincidentally produced many, many transfer cases which modern jeeps used... he later had the sell the NP company. But this leveraged debt and labor troubles forced him to dump off alot of it as well, but there are interesting connections.
John North Willys never seemed to slow down. He died of a heart attack in 1935 at the young age of 61 after saving his company from bankruptcy. He was driven, working 12-16 hours a day sometimes seven days per week. After his death, the company was reorganized as the Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. and was helmed by chairman, Ward Canaday, who along with Joseph Frazer as president and Barney Roos, the engineer became familiar as some of the early names behind the jeep.