Chicago Wagons

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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From the moment the first wheel wasbuilt in America, there was a need in every community for reliabletransportation.  In fact, period recordsfocused on the wagon and carriage trade make it clear that vehicles for personaland business purposes were highly sought after. As it turns out, some of the most legendary wagon makers were originallybased in Chicago, Illinois.  Among themore notable brands are Peter Schuttler, Weber, Louis Palm, and Columbus. Even Henry Mitchell (Mitchell Wagons) who ultimately made Racine, Wisconsin his home, started out inChicago.  Of course, St. Louis oftenreceives accolades as a major center for early transportation and the citycertainly deserves the ‘Gateway to the West’ moniker.  However, Chicago was no stranger to thevehicle industry either, claiming more than 200 wagon and carriage makersduring the heyday of horse-drawn vehicle making. 

With the U.S. economy supporting tens ofthousands of vehicle builders in both the nineteenth and early twentiethcenturies, understanding all there is to know about just one manufacturer canbe tough.  Yet, having an awarenessof who did what, when, where, how, and why is just part of the role of anyhistorian.  For me, it’s also beenhelpful in the evaluation process for vehicle purchases. 

A good deal of information that supportsthis process is contained in the original catalog collection housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  Even so, there are often gaps in trackingbuilders from year-to-year.  Thosehistorians and collectors that do search for period literature know thatfinding wagon-maker brochures from a time just prior to the turn of thetwentieth century can be a challenge. Finding even earlier catalogs published before the 1890’s requires anextra dose of patience.  They are rarelyfound.  Looking even farther back intime, catalogs and promotional literature connected to the days of America’sCentennial or earlier are practically non-existent.  The result is that, when conducting researchduring these eras, we often have to rely on books, newspapers, and otheraccounts printed during the periods.  
To that point, I spend a fair amount oftime rooting out forgotten facts wherever they can be found.  So it was that I recently came across a pre-CivilWar story highlighting wagon makers in Chicago. The article gives us some insights into a number of builders who saw andsupported so much of America’s westward migration.  One example is the Weber Wagon Company.  After only a decade or so in business, itappears that, Henry Weber’s business was still relatively small.  In fact, prior to the1860’s, Weber is said to have employed around 18 workers while finishing 200wagons per year.  Even though the company builtquality products, the earliest production numbers were quite modest, especiallycompared to the growth experienced after International Harvester bought the brand in 1904. 
Certain elements of Weber’s logo design and construction features were changed after the brand was purchased by International Harvester in 1904.
In contrast to Weber, after roughly adecade in business, the Peter Schuttler Wagon Company was a beehive ofactivity.  Its popularity was clear forall to see.  In fact, during this part ofthe 19th century, the brand was producing some 1800 (largely hand-built) wagons per year whileemploying at least a hundred men.  ManySchuttler wagons were sold to Mormons moving West at the time.  From employment to production, by the 1850’s,Schuttler was already more than 5 times larger than Weber.  It’s a point further reinforced by periodaccounts pointing to Schuttler as the largest factory serving the western tradeat the time. (For a look at what they were building during these years, see myarticle on the Steamboat Arabia find in the ‘Article’ section of our website.  Ialso wrote an even more detailed look on this 1856 Schuttler in the January2008 issue of the Carriage Journalmagazine.)
Locating original wagons with large amounts of original paint is an increasingly difficult task.  This Peter Schuttler running gear at is a rare find. 
By the mid 1850’s, the city of Chicagowas just under twenty years old.  Itspopulation had swelled to near 80,000 and it was supported by less than ahundred vehicle builders – many of them of Germans who had yet to learn theEnglish language.  Quality, though, is auniversal language.  As folks saw thecraftsmanship, attention to detail, and dependability of certain makes, theyclamored for more.  The value packed intoso many of these early icons was clear with the result being that, still today,the Peter Schuttler and Weber brands remain highly desirable to early vehiclecollectors.  Even so, it’s difficult tofind a Weber wagon built prior to the company’s purchase by InternationalHarvester.  Nonetheless, from clothing and signage to the vehicles, themselves, collectors continue to scourthe country looking for survivors that started out in Chicago. 
Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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