#49 George W. Hoover Wagon Factory in York; Top 50 York County Factories at End of 19th Century
In my post Late 1800s Factory Inspection Reports Assist in Identification of an East Prospect Photo I wrote about finding these reports in the State Library of Pennsylvania. For this series on the Top 50 York County Factories at the end of 19th Century, I’m using data from the 10th Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Factory Inspection.
The 10th Factory Inspection Report is for the Department’s year ending October 31st 1899. I ranked the 479 York County factories by numbers of employees; #50 has 47 employees, on up to #1 with 510 employees. In the coming weeks, on Monday and/or Tuesday, I’ll count down to the top employer in York County at the end of 19th Century.
Within the 1903 map of downtown York I’ve highlighted the location of the wagon factory of George W. Hoover. Later in this post, I’ll show that the front half of this four-story building is still standing on the north side of East Philadelphia Street; across from the York County Judicial Center.
The 10th Factory Inspection Report notes that on March 2nd 1899 the George W. Hoover Wagon Factory in York has 48 employees; all employees are male. Of these 48 employees, 20 are under 21, but over 16-years of age. The 1907 History of York County by George Prowell notes in Volume I, page 765:
The Hoover Wagon Works were founded in 1880 by George W. Hoover, who began the manufacture of buggies and pleasure carriages. Three of his sons were associated with him in the business on East Philadelphia Street. In 1899 [likely after the March 2nd Factory Inspection] the factory and business were purchased by the Hoover Wagon Works when George W. Bacon, was chosen president; Israel K. Ziegler, secretary, and Charles C. Frick, treasurer.
The Hoover Wagon Works built a reputation with their stylish route delivery wagons and had established quite a following with their hearses. In 1913 Hoover was quick to take advantage of an opportunity associated with the Model T Ford.
The Ford Model T offered limited commercial bodies in its early production and Ford ultimately decided to discontinue this option in 1913 to concentrate wholly on mass quantities. Just like the Hoover Wagon Works, many enterprising wagon manufacturers jumped in to fill the void. It was not until 1924 that the first factory-built Ford Model T pick-ups were introduced.
This postcard from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum contains a photograph of a United States Mail Parcel Post vehicle manufactured by the Hoover Wagon Company in York, PA. The Hoover Wagon Works would have purchased a body-less Model T from Ford; onto which they fabricated and installed the commercial body.
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Hoover also continued to cater to the funeral home and furniture store markets; actually many times these were one in the same establishment. Hoover offered a combination motorized funeral coach that easily converted to a furniture delivery truck; all on a stretched Model T Ford chassis. I’ve seen articles noting these were offered as early as 1914.
Hoover continued to manufacture wagons and carriages, however the ever-increasing addition of body manufacturing and body installation on motorized vehicles forced a move from limited space within their factory on East Philadelphia Street. Hoover Wagon Company had previously started an additional factory along Wheatfield Street as early as 1903 (see the 1903 map in this post). Hoover appears to have continued expanding the Wheatfield Street factory until they moved the majority, if not all, of their manufacturing operations there by 1915. The 1916 Industrial Directory of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania notes their new address as Wheatfield Street, adjacent to the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad tracks.
Wagon manufacturing diminished to the point that Hoover Wagon Company modernized its name to Hoover Body Company in 1922. The York Wagon Gear Company was an early supplier to carriage makers in York Pennsylvania that followed the same route.
Prowell’s 1907 History of York County notes, “The York Wagon Gear Company was established at Belvidere Avenue and the Western Maryland Railroad in 1892.” Their biggest customers were Martin Carriage Works, York Carriage Works and Hoover Wagon Works in York. The 10th Factory Inspection Report notes that in 1899 the York Wagon Gear Company in York has 21 employees. Foreseeing the demise of the wagon industry, the York Wagon Gear Company reorganized as the York Body Corporation in 1917, getting into the business of body manufacturing and body installation on motorized vehicles.
The York Body Corporation and the Hoover Body Company merged in 1928, forming the York-Hoover Body Corporation. The new corporation had a capacity of 50,000 auto commercial bodies annually. The expanding growth that initially followed the merger was tempered with the Great Depression. Hoover’s previous close ties with funeral homes launched a new business venture to fill the downturn. The Casket Division was formed in 1932 with manufacturing operations placed at their factory on the corner of Linden and Belvidere Avenues. The Body Division of the York-Hoover Body Corporation was consolidated at their plant on Wheatfield Street.
With entry of the United States into WWII appearing likely, the U. S. Army asked 135 companies for working prototypes of a new four-wheel-drive recon vehicle meeting a stringent set of Army criteria. The schedule the Army demanded was nearly impossible to meet; 49 days! The American Bantam Car Company of Butler, PA was the only company that met the 49-day deadline; delivering their prototype to Camp Holabird, Maryland on September 21st 1940.
How did Bantam do it; when bigger, better-financed companies, such as Ford, could not. It probably helped that Bantam was bankrupt and their plant only had a skeleton crew. It was a desperation move. Bantam used a single freelance designer, Karl Probst, to do the complete design layout in 2-days and relied almost entirely upon off-the-shelf and readily purchased parts.
The two long-lead items had to be a custom four-wheel drivetrain and a body designed and built to Probst’s layout. Spicer designed and produced the custom four-wheel drivetrain within the tight schedule. Likewise, York-Hoover Body Corporation designed and produced the custom body within the tight schedule; they also produced 69 additional bodies for Bantam to complete the contract.
The Army felt that the Bantam Company was not large enough to supply the numbers of vehicles needed. The Army essentially gave the Bantam design to Willys-Overland and Ford, their selected prime supplier and secondary supplier of the Jeep during WWII. It is noteworthy that the bodies of the first Jeeps ever made were produced at the York-Hoover Body Plant on Wheatfield Street in York.
In 1943 the York-Hoover Body Corporation shortened their name to York-Hoover Corporation. In 1958 they decided to sell the truck body division to the Pittman Manufacturing Company; York-Hoover’s surviving business remains their casket division.
What happened to the original Hoover Wagon factory on East Philadelphia Street? In this 1968 aerial photo it is still all there; I’ve shaded the roof of the Hoover Wagon Works yellow.
A more recent aerial photo from Bing.com shows that the front half of the four-story Hoover Wagon Works still stands. The rear half of the factory was torn down to add several parking spaces.
In my count down of the 50 top factories in York County at the end of 19th Century, there are 5 carriage or wagon factories represented. Two of the factories shows up in the top 10. Do any of my readers care to guess the names of these factories?Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts