Doctor’s buggies, piano-box buggies,coal-box buggies, top buggies... Whatever you call them, millions of theseubiquitous vehicles were made by thousands of companies across the U.S. Don Berkebile, in his book “CarriageTerminology: An Historical Dictionary,” defines a buggy as being a light,4-wheel vehicle with accommodations for one or two people but, in someinstances, may also have room for 3 or 4. The small carriage is typically hung on springs and is known for beingnimble and easy to pull. By the way, ifyou don’t have Mr. Berkebile’s book in your personal library, I’d recommend gettinga copy. You may be able to find it throughthe Carriage Association of America,Ebay, Amazon.com, or other outlets likeWild Horse Books.
While this particular type of lightcarriage isn’t often thought of as being a ‘western vehicle,’ it was a familiar sight in the West. Ranchers, farmers,businessmen, liveries, and even the military utilized them. Their agile, easy operation and relativelylow cost made them an extremely popular set of wheels. Catalog Order Houses like Montgomery Ward,Sears & Roebuck, and others capitalized on their widespread desirability,offering price ranges as low as $25–$40 for a new buggy. So affordable were the rates that buggies becameeven more prevalent and, today, they’re still a common sight.
With so many builders creating buggiesof every style imaginable, it was hard for some manufacturers to compete. Like anything that becomes pervasive, therewas only so much business to go around. Asa result, the selling price could easily become the main focus for consumers shoppingfor these wheels. Some sellersperpetuated the issue – effectively undercutting their own profitability – byengaging in price wars. It’s a tacticthat never works for long. After all,it’s virtually impossible to always have the lowest price and best qualitywhile still selling enough products to pay for employees, supplies, tools, rawmaterials, and other expenses – not to mention the need to grow the business throughsome semblance of profit.
|The Anchor Buggy Company had a lot to be proud of. Helping celebrate its first decade of business, this piece of promotional art showcased several of the different carriages they offered.
So, beyond price, how did manufacturers set themselves apart? Forsome, the answer to success was a blend of craftsmanship, innovation, effectivemarketing, and… location. Real estate andbusiness moguls have long heralded the importance of “location, location,location.” For some of the earliestvehicle makers, the phrase highlighted the advantages of setting up shop nextto a power source (water), shipping company (railroad or waterway), substantialcommunity, or area with plenty of natural resources. To that point, modern day transportation historiansare well aware of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania. Known as “Buggy Town,”the community is said to have produced more horse-drawn vehicles per capitathan anywhere else in the U.S. Even so, otherAmerican cities held equally strong reputations for turning out qualityhorse-drawn vehicles. One of those areaswas Cincinnati, Ohio. Home to at leastsixty carriage and accessory factories, the city produced as many as 250,000vehicles annually. So significant wasthe metropolis that, by 1904, Cincinnati is said to have been the largestcarriage center in the world. †
|This extraordinary print ad demonstrates the very unique and durable qualities of an Anchor brand buggy.
Helping lead the charge in Cincinnatiwas a firm by the name of ‘Anchor Buggy Company.’ Founded between 1886 and 1887 (there are conflicting period reports) and incorporated in 1910, thebusiness was a progressive endeavor with multiple patents to its credit. One of its well-known innovations was a patented fifth wheel and king bolt. According to an 1895 reprint of “Modern Mechanism,” the maindistinctions centered on a full-circle top and bottom (5th) wheel,with the “king bolt forming a part of five different attachments boltedtogether in rear of the axle by a double-head bolt, so that all wear can betaken up.” Should a part break, the gearwould not necessarily drop the body. Rather, it was claimed that at least four breakages had to occur beforethe body would fall. Combined with anultra-flexible reach that Anchor patented in 1907, these buggies wereincredibly resilient.
Before the end of its first decade inbusiness, the Anchor Buggy Company was crafting 18,000 vehicles per year. By 1911, the annual production capacity hadmore than doubled to 45,000 light pleasure vehicles. At the same time, Anchor was home to 350employees.
|This giant piano box buggy was shown throughout the very early 1900’s as part of a huge promotional tour driven by the Anchor Buggy Company.
Like a number of other builders, the leaders at Anchor Buggy knew the power of promotion. While many folks have seen the company’s adsshowing the dramatic flexibility of the Anchor reach system and strength oftheir patented fifth wheel, most have never seen the giant buggy the companybuilt and toured all over the U.S. Sometime back, we were extremely fortunate to discover a period photo showcasingthis special piece. It now resides witha world of rare imagery from yesterday in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives. Reminiscent of the huge, double-sized Moline wagon built for the 1904 World’s Fair, the mammoth Anchor Buggy was making the rounds throughout the country several years before the colossal Molinewagon became a hit on the exposition circuit.
In 1903, the May 30th issueof “Farm Implements” magazine printed another image of this over-sized Anchor vehicle, referring to it as the “Jumbo Buggy.” Signage attached to thecarriage called it the “Largest Buggy in the World.” It is said to have been a full fifteen feetin height with rear wheels in excess of seven feet tall. The rolling mammoth was used in promotions fromMaine to California and Ohio to Florida, stirring the imagination and talk of folks everywhere as it became the centerpiece of fairs, parades, and individual dealer events. As the automobile business continued to take root, the Anchor Buggy Company became interested in transitioningto this mechanized industry. Unfortunately, thecompany’s prominent co-founder and President, AnthonyG. Brunsman, died in 1911. Withhis passing, others in the firm were less than eager to take on such amonumental effort. In the end, the brandleft a bit of a toe in the water – building auto bodies for more established brands. Even so, it was too little, too late. By the time the early 1920’s rolled around, the Anchor Buggy Company hadjoined the fate of thousands of other horse-drawn vehicle makers and was nolonger listed as an active business in period directories. The brand had grown and matured for a littleover three decades. Then, in a moment ofcritical transition, it succumbed to the changes of time and competition.
When we consider all of the vehicle brands and support industries making up America’s first transportation industry, it’s hard to imagine just how much history has disappeared. Like the giant Moline wagon shown at the 1904 World’s Fair, our century-plus-old Anchor buggy photo and the accompanying newspaper image may be all that’s left of this massive show-stopper. That said, if anyone knows more about this piece, we’d love to hear from you.
† “The Carriage Monthly,” December1904
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