ResearchingAmerica’s first transportation industry isn’t always an easy task. The whole process can be extremelytime-consuming and exasperating; cold trails running this way and that...hearsay, rumors, misinformation, dead ends and mysteries running rampant. Truth is, so much of what once was commonknowledge has passed into a hard-to-track category so vague, unfamiliar, andfruitless, we often label it as a four-letter word... Lost. It’s a box canyon we’re continually fightingour way through and, along the way, celebrating when another piece of thepuzzle is found.
Oneof the portals offering insights and clues into days-gone-by is that ofobituaries. While it might seem a bit onthe morbid side at first, these period documents can contain life overviews thatare otherwise difficult to find. Insidethose information particulars, it’s not unusual to come across nuggets that helpdefine, date, and even authenticate vehicles. With tens of thousands of carriage and wagon makers dotting the Americanlandscape, we’ll never get to the bottom of the history of each one but, ourultimate goal is to help introduce enough folks to these stories that we saveas much of our past as possible.
|This factory illustration shows the E.D.Clapp factory in the late 1880’s
Tothat point, E.D. Clapp (Emerous Donaldson Clapp) may not be very well-known tomany of today’s early vehicle enthusiasts. Nonetheless, he and his businesses were an important part of America’shorse-drawn vehicle world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From wagon-making to manufacturing carriageand saddlery hardware, hauling coal, and running stage lines, Mr. Clapp was aninstrumental force in our first transportation industry.
Inan effort to share a bit more about this seldom-profiled manufacturer, Ithought we’d take a look at the legacy of the man through the words publishedafter his death in the July 1889 issue of TheHub. The story was originallywritten for The Bulletin in Auburn,New York in that same month...
“The deceasedwas born at Ira, this country, November 12, 1829, and was consequently 60 yearsof age. He was educated at the districtschool and at Falley Seminary, at Fulton. In 1851 he moved to Ira and built a small shop and began the manufactureof farm wagons and other vehicles. Hecontinued doing business in Ira for four years, employing six men and turningout about twenty-five wagons per year, besides a number of lightcarriages. In 1855 he leased his wagonshop and began running a stage line between Oswego and Auburn, carrying a dailymail from that year up to 1880. He wasuncommonly successful in bidding for mail carrying contracts, and until 1865gave the greater share of his attention to carrying out and sub letting thesame.
In 1856, whenAuburn contained only 7,000 inhabitants, he removed here, and has since beenone of the most active and successful businessmen in the community. He carried on a livery business on Garden andState streets, for several years until 1867, when he sold out and concentratedall his energies in the manufacturing business. In 1864, he leased a small shop on Mechanic street, and having a patenton a thill coupling for vehicles he began manufacturing the same. This was the first institution whichmanufactured carriage hardware in Auburn, and, as time progressed it grew to beone of the largest factories of the kind in the United States. The business grew to such proportions that in1867 it was removed to a new factory on Water street, the firm name being Clapp,Fitch & Co. In 1873, Mr. Fitch retired,and the business was continued by Mr. Clapp and F. Van Patten, under the firmname of E.D. Clapp & Co. In 1873 thesite on the corner of Genesee and Division streets, now occupied by the largeshops of the company, was presented to the firm, and sufficient money wassubscribed to build the foundation of the present factory. In 1876 the business was incorporated underthe name of E. D. Clapp Mfg. Co., with a paid up capital of $150,000. In 1880 Mr. Clapp organized the AuburnWrought-Iron Bit and Iron Co., with a capital of $60,000, and in the same yearthe E.D. Clapp Wagon Co. Limited, turning out the first wagon in April1881. The company have also done anextensive business in coal, handling from 15,000 to 20,000 tons a year. The various shops under the management of Mr.Clapp at the time of his death gave employment to about 600 hands...”
|The E.D. Clapp Wagon Company Limitedbuilt its first wagon in 1881. This rare, surviving card was created topromote the brand’s offerings of iron axle and thimble skein wagons.
Filledwith dates and other business details, Mr. Clapp’s obituary provides anabundance of leads, helping fill in the gaps of this part of history. We know from other sources that, in 1876, Mr.Clapp and his business partner, Frederick Van Patten, were awarded anotherpatent for a quiet, non-rattling thill coupling. We also know that the company produced a varietyof vehicles, including farm, freight, coal, lumber, and ice wagons as well asbob sleighs. They ceased building wagonsaround 1890, focusing on the expertise they had gained in the drop forgingindustry. Even so, the same “Auburn” brand and logo was carried on by theAuburn Wagon Company first in Greencastle, Pennsylvania and then moving toMartinsburg, West Virginia, with its charter there issued in March of 1897.
E.D.Clapp’s firm was sold in 1958, marking the first time in more than a century thatit was not owned by a member of the Clapp family. Over the decades, the company had providedhundreds of thousands of hardware parts for buggies built by a host oflegendary builders. Included among thoseparts were fifth wheels, axle clips, king bolts, clevises, shaft couplings,doubletree clevises and staples, spring clips, shaft and pole eyes, and more.
Duringthe Civil War, they provided forgings for guns as well as for wagons. They supplied additional hardware for wagonsin the Spanish-American War. Likewise,during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War they provided forgings for trucks, tanks,planes, warships, torpedoes, and countless other military needs.
Today,too many folks walk by the old wheels of yesterday, passing off the silentsurvivors and never asking what real history they’re connected to or hold. Each is filled with information and thestories they tell help us reassemble the road map to our past. Most of the time, we only scratch the surfacewhen we examine a vehicle’s provenance. Digging a little deeper, though, can add greatly to our appreciation ofthe past while enriching the present and passing along an important heritage tofuture generations.
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