The Carriage Makers
Travel and transport of goods during the 19th century usually meant riding in a
horse-drawn carriage or wagon. These vehicles came in many styles and sizes, each for a
unique function, such as hauling a small group of people, carrying freight or racing. The
"Carriage Makers" exhibit tells about these ancestors of the automobile.
Most of the Michigan carriage industry was located in seven cities: Detroit, Flint,
Pontiac, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Jackson and Grand Rapids. By the 1890s, Michigan became one
of the national leaders in this industry with over 125 manufacturers and 7,000 workers.
Workers with specialized skills such as blacksmithing and cabinetmaking easily found work
in carriage factories. Machines for turning out wheel spokes in huge quantities increased
The visionary marketing genius William Crapo Durant got his start in the transportation
field by building carriages. He bought the patent and interests of a Coldwater company
making two-wheeled carts that had a leaf spring suspension (which created an especially
comfortable ride). He took on Josiah Dallas Dort as a partner to handle the production
side of the business, and together they created the Flint Road Cart Company. The firm
later evolved into the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, which became a forerunner of General
Motors with Durant as its founder.
Durant-Dort Carriage Company of Flint emerged as a
nationally-leading producer of carriages, with its "Blue Ribbon" line being
especially popular. Visitors can flip through the reproduced pages of a Durant-Dort Flint
Road Cart Company catalogue in the exhibit to see the wide variety of models produced and
their assorted uses.
Other carriage-making firms such as the Flint Wagon Works and the W. A.
Paterson Company and parts suppliers such as the Imperial Wheel Company and Cornwall Whip
Socket Company contributed to making Flint's nickname "The Vehicle City."
Carriages to Cars
During the 20th century, carriage builders became the first builders of bodies for
automobiles. Clark & Company, carriage and wagon makers of Lansing, produced the first
body for R. E. Olds' gasoline-engine horseless carriage. Other parts of the
carriages were quickly adapted for the automobile, especially the wheels and folding tops.
The names of today's automobile styles, such as cabriolet, sedan, and
broughamoriginally names for carriage stylesremind us of the legacy of the carriage
||Anvils were the primary tool of the blacksmith. Hot iron rods or stock were beaten
into a particular shape with a hammer against the anvil.
||Bells often were used on horses for special events, making a festive noise as they
||Used for beating tubular iron into a flared shape
||The square end of the wrench fit over the axle nut that holds the wheel onto the axle
||For attaching the horse to the carriage to pull it.
||Often decorative, cast-iron steps were attached to the sides of the carriage body to
enable the passengers to climb in easily.
||The long spokes and large diameter of the wheels kept the carriage high up off the
ground and made it easier to traverse deep ruts in the poor roads of the era.
|Clamping device for holding spokes in place so that the tenons on the spokes could be
measured and cut to fit into the wheel hubs.
||Tools with blades were often sharpened on a grindstone.
||The blacksmith used the hammer to beat the wrought iron into a particular shape.
|Coaxing a horse to move in the desired direction was accomplished by physically
pulling the horses head into the direction. Blinders on the sides directed the horse's
vision to the intended path and eliminated distractions that might spook the horse.
||Used to keep a horse from kicking or moving away while being worked on.
||Protected the horse's hooves from injury by sharp stones, etc.
||Decorative feature mounted on the horse's head.
||Nippers were used to cut the hot iron in order to produce a shorter piece.
||Sleigh bells were attached to the sleigh for either decoration or for their sound.
||Attached to the anvil, the iron could be beaten or held in a particular way using a
||Tongs were used to hold the hot iron while the blacksmith beat it with a hammer.
||Used for measuring linear feet or inches over a long, flat distance.
||The multiple steps of the wagon jack could lift the axle and body to whatever height
was necessary to replace or repair a broken wheel.
||The multiple slots of the wheel held the spokes in place. The large hole in the middle
of the hub fit onto the axle.
||A wooden container mounted on the dash of a carriage for holding the handle of a whip.