A brief history of the Milburn Electric automobile

George Milburn (1820-1883) was born in Alston, England (June 3, 1820), from where he emigrated to Canada. After but a short residence in Canada, he moved to Goshen, Indiana, in 1835.  Soon after marrying Miss Barbara Stauffer of Goshen on April 8, 1841, they located upon Bone Prairie in Kosciusko County and engaged in farming. In 1846, they moved to a farm in St. Joseph County, about three miles southeast of Mishawaka, Indiana. In 1847, Milburn brought his family to Mishawaka, Indiana. A daughter, Ann, later became the wife of Clement Studebaker.

In 1848, Milburn started George Milburn Co., which owned a prosperous general store at the corner of Main and Vistula Streets. He invested money in the Mishawaka Hydraulic Co. (estab. 1867) whose incorporation was to "keep up the dam, water power, races, banks and other matters connected with the power, and to sell and dispose of water power to other manufactures".  Milburn later secured and bought a one-third interest in James Oliver's first plow company, forming the Mishawaka Wagon Works. On August 23, 1869, the Milburn Wagon Company was incorporated, with a capital of $100,000. Milburn also owned a hotel and a city block, and still had the Joseph County farm land.  Another business started by George Milburn was the Hollow Axle Manufacturing Company (Mar. 4, 1871) incorporated along with William A. Lewis and William Moffitt.

Meanwhile, in 1852, Henry and Clement Studebaker started a blacksmith shop in South Bend and in 1856, Milburn's Mishawaka Wagon Works subcontracted out 100 wagons to the Studebakers to complete

In 1873, George Milburn reported the value of his company at $446.65-Million.  Evidently, Milburn requested that the city of Mishawaka extend RR-tracks from the Lake Shore railway line to the Milburn Factory.  The town resisted and Milburn decided to move the complete operation of the wagon company to Toledo.  Milburn's leaving Mishawaka left a large hole in a town that was already reeling from the devastation of its business district from fire.  Also formed in Mishawaka was the Dodge Manufacturing Company in 1880 by Wallace H. Dodge.  It is not known what relationships there were between the Mishawaka and Niles Indiana Dodges and the Dodges that were involved with the Ohio and Milburn Electric car companies.

After moving to Toledo, the Milburn Wagon factory opened in the spring of 1875 and soon became the largest manufacturer of farm wagons in the world. The Milburn Wagon Works, with its completely mechanized production, required workers only to operate the machines. ((Images of the factory buildings and examples of their horse-drawn wagons.))  A broad variety of wagons were produced, some of which survive to this day, e.g. the 1870's Milburn Drop Front Phaeton noted as being restored at Wood River Carriages.

Before 1910, Milburn was producing bodies for the Ohio Electric car company as well as gas car company bodies. Frederick Holmes (F.H.) Dodge and his brother, Henry P. (H.P.) Dodge were involved with both the Milburn Wagon Co. and Ohio Electric---F.H. Dodge becoming the President.  These Toledo Dodge Brothers were not the same as the Indiana Dodge Brothers that produced gas cars.  In 1910, Milburn and Ohio were in major discussions to merge and produce a single brand electric car.  Those talks fell through and the Dodge Brothers fell on opposite sides of it, with H. P. Dodge staying with Ohio Electric (as Gen. Mgr. until 1915) and F. H. Dodge staying with Milburn as Treasurer until GM Purchased the Milburn factory in 1923.  Milburn, with its vast manufacturing ability and its view that the electric car could be made lighter, lower and cheaper, opted to get into electric car manufacture themselves.

In late September of 1914, the Milburn Wagon Company began the manufacture of their 1915 Milburn Light Electric automobiles, based on a design by Karl Probst, who later designed the Bantam Jeep.  During their eight years of production, from 1915 to 1923, they turned out over 4,000 cars.

The 1915 Milburn Light Electric Coupé (Model 15) sold for $1,485 and the Roadster (Model 151) for $1,285; both were built on the same chassis with a 100-inch wheelbase. The Milburn was the lowest-priced electric of the time and much lighter than its competition. The 1915 Milburn had four forward speeds and two reverse speeds. It had a range of about 50 miles on a charge and could attain a speed of about 15 MPH as a Coupé and about 19 MPH as a Roadster.  Milburn reportedly built some 600 electric cars in 1915.

In 1916, Milburn introduced a Brougham and, in 1917 added a Touring style (advertised as a Limousine or a Town Car) to the line; this style featured an open front driving position and an enclosed rear passenger compartment (also with a driving position, as noted below). Also offered was a Light Delivery truck style for $985 (with various bodies for it starting at $100), discontinued after the 1918 model year.  By May 1916, Milburn reported some 600 men working on its electric cars and forecast 1000 cars would be built that year.  By mid-year 1917, it was reported that 900 men worked at the plant building with a goal of 1500 electric cars produced.  That year, they purchased the Toledo Bending Co. plant and used it as their "Plant#2" with 129ksqft dedicated to "Light Delivery and Custom Bodies".  The main plant on Monroe (with 515ksqft) continued producing "electric cars and taxis".

In 1918, Milburn offered a Sedan that looked more like its gasoline-burning competition and which boasted a top speed of 30 MPH and a range of 100 miles on a charge. Also in 1918, Milburn put the batteries in wheeled boxes to facilitate rapid exchange of spent batteries for charged ones at central power exchanges.

The Coupé or Brougham driver controlled steering and speed by levers (tillers) which hinged down onto the lap of the driver from the left side. The Roadster and the Sedan had steering wheels, and the Limousine had both kinds of steering, a wheel up front and a tiller in the rear.

The Milburn plant was destroyed by fire in 1919, with losses totaling $900,000, including 30 completed electrics and even more automobile bodies. In January, 1920, production continued in a building on the grounds of Toledo University. In 1921, Milburn Wagon Company capitalization was increased to $1 million; at that time, the company's 800-man workforce was comprised of 200 men building cars and 600 building automobile bodies, largely for Oldsmobile.

In 1920, Milburn produced a taxicab (Model 33). These cabs were sold in Chicago and St. Louis (several there---see pic.) and other places.  In 1922, Milburn began to advertise and produce a line of electric trucks -- a ½ ton chassis selling for $1,585 (Model 43) and a 1 ton chassis for $1,985 (Model 40). The buyer could select from a full line of cab and bed styles at various prices to complete the truck according to their needs.  They also produced a 1/4-ton light delivery pickup on the Model 27 chassis, calling it the Model 27D.

In February, 1923, General Motors purchased the Milburn Body Plant for $2 million with Milburn being retaining its right to make electric vehicles under their name.  Milburn workers remained in the body plant for the two months following, finishing up cars and bodies previously under contract. Fisher Body Works was to move into the Milburn Body Works building to be able to handle the expected growth in sales of Buicks and other vehicles.  Evidently, the extra capacity wasn't needed as GM offered the Milburn factory for sale just months after in August of 1923.  Meanwhile, Milburn's remaining operations had moved to one of their smaller locations and evidently continued to produce trucks and on demand and subject to available parts and remaining bodies, their Model 27L Brougham.  Only such vehicle during those days is known to still exist---a Model 27L made on a Model 27D-labeled chassis (and wheels) that has a 1921 body but with 1922 gauges and other features.

The Milburn Electrics were among the most popular and elegant cars of the time and were used by President Woodrow Wilson's secret service men. President Wilson, himself, owned a 1918 Milburn Electric, which he drove around the White House grounds.

1910?-2007 : How Milburn spawned a 94-yr legacy in the Dura Corp: While Milburn Wagon Works or Milburn Light Electric is not known to have existed past 1924 as a company, it deserves mention that Milburn Wagon Works spawned a subsidiary sometime between 1910 and 1913 called "Dura Mechanical Hardware" that at least initially operated out of the Milburn factory.  That company and its series of other names and under other companies' wings grew tremendously over the years and decades.  By 1914 it had created a patented window lift mechanism that appeared in all of Milburn's electric cars and made similar and other mechanisms that were featured in and sold to many early auto makers' cars including Ford, Dodge, Willys-Overland, Packard, Studebaker, Nash, Hupmobile, Hudson, Jordan, Moon and other companies.   

Some evidence shows that Horace Suydam, who was long involved with Milburn (his father Frank having been an early investor and later President of Milburn Wagon Company for years before dying in 1911---after which, Horace succeeded his father as President of the company), was also always involved in Dura Mechanical Hardware from the beginning, or at least since his father's death in 1911 when Horace became VP of Dura Co.  And it appears that Suydam, who continued to produce Milburn Electrics after GM purchased the factory, may have been leader of both Milburn and Dura Mechanical after that.  In April of 1922, Dura Mechanical Hardware changed its name to "The Dura Co".  At least 10 window regulator related patents were filed and issued to Dura thru 1923.

Dura branched out in the mid-late '20's and '30's into a wide range of products including a huge line of art deco lamps, clocks and other products that have become collectible----many of which were patented!    At least 2 dome lamp patents were issued from 1924-1927. Then in 1930, art deco table lamp and clock case patents were issued.  Well known art deco designer Helen Dryden fashion and cover artist for Vogue magazine 1909-1922) is known to have been the art director for Dura at some point (she turned to industrial design after the 1925 Paris Exposition).  Soon after, Helen joined Dura as a highly paid ($35k/yr) designer until the 1929 Stock market crash, when she was replaced by George W. Walker who said he'd work for $200/mo (he later would join Ford and designed the original Ford Thunderbird).  The 1936 Studebaker President car was a Helen Dryden design.  G.A. Soden & Co. of Chicago was a distributor of Dura's deco products typically including bakelite and chrome designs.

Dura continued developing, improving on, patenting and producing automotive lifters and other products for the automotive industry.  Dura changed its name again to "Dura Co." in 1932.  Then in 1935, Dura was issued the patent (#2062807) for what appears to be the famous "lazy Susan" rotary bearing device simply called "Tray Assembly".  In 1936, Dura was purchased and renamed "Detroit Dura Co."  Dura grew tremendously over the years, having locations in Toledo as well as Adrian Michigan.  During WWII, Dura is reported to have made cones for bombs.

In 1980, the Toledo factory for Dura was finally closed.  A U.S. patent filing of December, 1986 for a manually foldable automobile top indicates "Dura Corp." as the filing company.  Meanwhile, a "Dura Convertible Systems Co." made convertible tops for Chrysler Lebaron in 1982 and the Chevrolet Corvette for many years.  Dura Convertible Systems was purchased in 2007 by Magna International's CTS (Car Top Systems) subsidiary, which continues to make the Corvette as well as Mustang and Viper tops.  All the Dura operations were moved to Aguascalientes, Mexico after the Adrian Michigan plant was shuttered prior to Magna purchasing Dura.  Dura supposedly still exists today in the form of Dura Auto, which employs some 10,000 people worldwide. http://www.duraauto.com/