History of the Automobile in St. Louis | Living St. Louis


♪♪JIM: I’M JIM KIRCHHERR, AND
WE’VE GOT A BIT OF HISTORYCOMING UP — ACTUALLY,
QUITE A BIT OF HISTORY.WE’RE GOING TO START OFF WITH A
STORY BY PAUL SCHANKMAN ABOUT ANINDUSTRY THAT USED TO BE
PRETTY BIG IN ST. LOUIS.MOST OF IT IS GONE, BUT THERE’S
STILL PLENTY OF EVIDENCE AROUNDIF YOU KNOW WHAT
YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.ARCHIVE NARRATOR 1: YES, THE
1963 “CORVETTE STINGRAY” IS THESPORTS CAR WITH A
EUROPEAN HERITAGE BUTAN AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY.PAUL: NO BIOGRAPHY ABOUT THE
HISTORY OF THE “CORVETTE” WOULDBE COMPLETE WITHOUT A
CHAPTER ABOUT ST. LOUIS…TOM EYSSELL: THIS IS A ’65.[CAR HORN HONKS]PAUL: …AND NO BIOGRAPHY ABOUT
THE HISTORY OF THE AUTOMOBILEWOULD BE COMPLETE WITHOUT A
CHAPTER ABOUT ST. LOUIS…[CAR HORN HONKS]PAUL: …OR, IN THIS
CASE, SEVEN CHAPTERS.TOM EYSSELL: WHAT WAS BEING
DONE AT ST. LOUIS BETWEEN,SAY, 1900 AND 1930,
IT’S JUST FORGOTTEN.THIS CITY HAS AN AMAZING,
RICH AUTOMOTIVE HERITAGE BUTUNFORTUNATELY HAS
REALLY NEVER BEEN TOLD.♪♪MOLLY: I AM A HISTORY GEEK.I’M A CAR LOVER.AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO BRING ALL
OF THOSE STORIES TOGETHER WITHINTHE PAGES OF A BOOK WAS FAR
TOO TEMPTING TO EVER TURN DOWN.♪♪PAUL: MOLLY BUTTERWORTH USED TO
RUN ST. LOUIS’S “NATIONAL MUSEUMOF TRANSPORTATION”.TOM EYSSELL IS
JUST AN OLD GEARHEAD.AND TOGETHER THEY HAVE WRITTEN A
BOOK ABOUT THE ST. LOUISANS WHOTRIED TO REWRITE THE
RULES OF THE ROAD.[CAR HORN HONKS]PAUL: IT IS MADE UP MOSTLY
OF BLACK-AND-WHITE PICTURES,ILLUSTRATING THE STORY OF ST.
LOUIS’S COLORFUL AUTOMOTIVEPAST, WHICH GREW OUT OF
THE CITY’S CYCLING PAST.MOLLY: EVEN THOUGH ST. LOUIS WAS
SMALLER THAN MANY OTHER CITIESIN THE COUNTRY, IT HAD MORE
MILES OF PAVED ROADS WITHIN ITSCITY LIMITS BY 1890 THAN ALMOST
EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE COUNTRY.PAUL: THE BOOK TAKES ITS TITLE
“THEY WILL RUN” FROM AN OLDADVERTISING SLOGAN
USED BY THE“ST. LOUIS MOTOR
CARRIAGE COMPANY”.NOT AS MEMORABLE AS…ARCHIVE NARRATOR 2:
“FORD” HAS A BETTER IDEA.PAUL: BUT WHAT “THEY
WILL RUN” LACKED IN POETRY,IT MADE UP FOR
WITH PRACTICALITY.MOLLY: PEOPLE DIDN’T NECESSARILY
HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THEIRVEHICLES BECAUSE THOSE
VEHICLES HAD NOT YETEARNED THAT CONFIDENCE.IF YOUR RIG RAN FROM YOUR HOUSE
TO YOUR DESTINATION AND BACK,YOU COULD BE EXCITED ABOUT
THAT BECAUSE THAT WAS NOTAN EVERYDAY OCCURRENCE.PAUL: MANY OF ST. LOUIS’S
EARLY CAR MAKERS WERE GERMANIMMIGRANTS WHO KNEW HOW TO BUILD
A WAGON AND LATER LEARNED HOW TOBUILD A CARRIAGE, FIRST
POWERED BY HORSES ANDTHEN BY HORSEPOWER.MOLLY: ALMOST ALL OF THE
ORIGINAL ST. LOUIS AUTO BUILDERSSTARTED BUILDING CARS
AS A SECOND OR THIRD ORFOURTH CAREER STEP.THE SUCCESSFUL COMPANIES WERE
STARTED BY SOMEONE WHO HAD AMECHANICAL BASIS.THE COMPANIES CREATED BY
DREAMERS WHO DIDN’T HAVE THEHANDS-ON KNOWLEDGE OR SKILLS
RARELY SURVIVED AND SOMETIMESDIDN’T EVEN MAKE THAT FIRST CAR.♪♪PAUL: IF YOU INCLUDE ALL THE
NO-HITTERS ALONG WITH THE HEAVYHITTERS, ST. LOUIS’S 30-PLUS CAR
BUILDERS AND SUPPLIERS — ANDTHERE WERE LOTS OF SUPPLIERS —
ACCOUNTED FOR AT LEAST 20% OFTHE CITY’S ECONOMY.MOLLY: THE ZENITH OF THE
INDEPENDENT ST.-LOUIS-BUILTAUTOMOTIVE
MANUFACTURING WAS, I WOULD SAY,FROM ABOUT 1905
UNTIL AROUND 1928,1929, RIGHT ON THE CUSP
OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION.ST. LOUIS WAS
BUILDING FOR QUALITY.DETROIT WAS
BUILDING FOR QUANTITY.ARCHIVE NARRATOR 3: THE BIGGEST
MOTOR PLANT IN THE WORLD ISNEEDED TO MAKE THE MILLION
SIX-CYLINDER ENGINES DEMANDEDANNUALLY BY THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.PAUL: DETROIT HAD THE BIG THREE:
“FORD”, “G.M.” AND “CHRYSLER”.BUT ST. LOUIS HAD ITS OWN
SMALLER BIG THREE: “GARDNER”,“MOON” AND “DORRIS”,
WHICH REALLY WASN’T SO SMALL.MOLLY: AT ONE POINT, “DORRIS”
HAD THREE DIFFERENT PLANTSOPERATING, BUILDING EVERYTHING
FROM THE SPORTS CARS ALL THE WAYUP TO THE COMMERCIAL TRUCKS.TOM EYSSELL: ONE OF THE THINGS
WE LIKE TO SAY IN PRESENTATIONSIS TO USE ONE OF THEIR SLOGANS,
“BUILT UP TO A STANDARD,NOT DOWN TO A PRICE.”MOLLY: THEY OFTEN
COST, BY THE EARLY 1920s,ABOUT TEN TIMES WHAT A
“MODEL T” WOULD COST YOU,SO THEY WERE CERTAINLY BUILT FOR
AND TARGETED TO THE AFFLUENT.PAUL: “MODEL T’s”
WERE MADE IN ST. LOUIS, TOO.THIS APARTMENT BUILDING ON
FOREST PARK AVENUE WAS THECITY’S FIRST “FORD” FACTORY.BUT MOST OF THE CARS COMING
OUT OF ST. LOUIS WERE NOT THOSEMASS-PRODUCED MONOTONIES.THEY WERE ROLLING SCULPTURES
WITH THE SORT OF NAMES USUALLYFOUND ON A HOTEL,
LIKE “THE RUXTON”,“THE WINDSOR WHITE”
AND “THE VICTOR”.THERE WAS EVEN A BUDGET MODEL
AUDACIOUSLY NAMED “THE SUCCESS”.IT FAILED.TOM EYSSELL: MANY OF THESE CARS
WERE ESSENTIALLY HAND-BUILT IN ASENSE THEY WERE NOT BUILT ON
A “FORD” TYPE ASSEMBLY LINE.IT’S ANOTHER REASON THAT
YOU SEE SUCH A SMALL NUMBER,RELATIVELY SPEAKING, PRODUCED.I MEAN, EVEN WHEN WE THINK ABOUT
THE “MOON” BEING ONE OFST. LOUIS’S MOST FAMOUS
VEHICLES, WE’RE TALKING ABOUTANYWHERE FROM 2,000 TO 8,000
CARS A YEAR, WHERE “FORD” WOULDPUT THAT MANY OUT IN A DAY.MOLLY: WHEN YOU CONSIDER BACK IN
THE DAY ARCHITECTS WERE ACTUALLYBROUGHT IN TO
DESIGN MANY OF THE CARS,THEY WERE WORKS OF ART.PAUL: BIG-NAME ARCHITECTS ALSO
DESIGNED MANY OF THE FACTORIESBECAUSE THE BUILDINGS WHERE THE
CARS WERE MADE WERE OFTEN THESAME BUILDINGS WHERE
THE CARS WERE SOLD.THIS BUILDING, NOW “THE CENTER
FOR EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES”,USED TO BE ONE OF THE
“DORRIS” FACTORIES.TOM EYSSELL: ALL OVER THE
CITY, THERE ARE THESE LANDMARKSREMAINING THAT, IF
YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK,YOU CAN FIND THEM.♪♪TOM EYSSELL: IF YOU
GO DOWN ON LOCUST,A BEAUTIFUL FACILITY,
THE “PACKARD LOFTS”,IS THE ORIGINAL
“PACKARD SHOWROOM”,WHICH WAS A GORGEOUS
BUILDING IN ITS DAY AND AVERY EXPENSIVE BUILDING.[MUSIC, TRAFFIC NOISES]DAVE: ALL UP AND DOWN
LOCUST HERE IN THIS GENERAL AREABETWEEN COMPTON AND
JEFFERSON WAS “AUTOMOBILE ROW”,AND THIS PARTICULAR BUILDING
WAS A “FORD MODEL T” SHOWROOM.PAUL: TODAY, SOME OF THOSE
BUILDINGS HAVE MARKERS TELLINGTHEIR BACKSTORY.DAVE: THIS WAS LITERALLY
THE SHOWROOM FLOOR — THIS,LIKE, BEAUTIFUL
HANDLAID HEX TILE.NO ONE LAYS TILE
LIKE THIS ANYMORE.IT WAS A SHOWROOM.IT WAS A PLACE NOT
TO GO AND, LIKE,DRIVE OFF THE LOT.IT WAS A PLACE WHERE YOU WERE
GONNA GO AND YOU WERE GONNAHAVE, YOU KNOW, A CONVERSATION
AND LEARN ABOUT THE CARS ANDTHINGS LIKE THAT.SO, IT WAS SORT OF A
DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.♪♪PAUL: THE GOOD TIMES
LASTED FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS,BUT THE GREAT DEPRESSION
CAUSED THE BUBBLE TO BURST,THOUGH IN THE CASE OF
THE “MOON” COMPANY,IT WAS MORE LIKE A SLOW LEAK.TOM EYSSELL: ULTIMATELY
THE COMPANY FAILED IN 1931.IT REMAINS TO THIS DAY
THE LONGEST CORPORATEBANKRUPTCY ON RECORD.IT WAS NOT SETTLED UNTIL 1966.SO, IF YOU’RE WAITING FOR
YOUR MONEY FROM YOUR “MOON”INVESTMENT, YOU HAD A LONG WAIT.PAUL: THE END OF ST. LOUIS’S
GOLDEN AGE OF CAR BUILDING WASNOT THE END OF THE LINE, JUST A
SHIFT TO MORE ASSEMBLY LINES.BY THE 1950s, ST. LOUIS, KNOWN
FOR BEING FIRST IN SHOES ANDFIRST IN BOOZE, WAS SECOND
ONLY TO DETROIT WHEN IT CAMETO BUILDING CARS.THE BIG THREE ALL HAD
LARGE FACTORIES HERE.TODAY, “G.M. WENTZVILLE” IS
THE ONLY ONE LEFT.ST. LOUIS’S AUTOMOTIVE GLORY
DAYS ARE NOW VISIBLE ONLY IN THEREARVIEW MIRROR, BUT WHAT
GLORIOUS DAYS THEY WERE WHEN ST.LOUIS WAS THE PLACE TO BE IF
YOU WERE A DREAMER HOPING TOREINVENT THE WHEEL.♪♪[CAR HORN HONKS]

Comments 1

  • Interesting to learn about the automobile history in St Louis. Didn't know they made some Model T's there. Wish they were still priced that way. low.

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