Baker Motor Vehicle Company Baker Motor Vehicle Company - Rauch and Lang Carriage Company Cleveland Ohio

The history of The Baker Motor Vehicle Company begins in 1867, the year its founder, Walter C. Baker, was born and the year his father, George Baker, moved to Cleveland with Thomas W. White to form the White Manufacturing Company. Twenty three years later, in 1890, George Baker left White to organize The Cleveland Machine Screw Company. Walter Baker graduated from Case School of Applied Science the following year and worked in his father's ball-bearing company.

After seeing the automobile displayed at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, Walter built his first electric vehicle, the electrobat. At the same time, Walter Baker's interest in ball-bearing technology led to his founding of The American Ball Bearing Company in 1895 with his brother-in-law Frederick R. White. The company made bearings for automobile and carriage axles as well as for electric motors and steering knuckles. As the company's chief engineer, Baker developed the first full-floating rear axle while conducting ongoing experiments with electric automobiles. In 1898, he produced his first electric runabout. That same year, Baker helped organize The Baker Motor Vehicle Company, with his father-in-law, Rollin White as president; Fred White as treasurer; and himself as vice-president and engineer.

The Baker Motor Vehicle Company produced its first vehicle for sale in 1900. That car weighed 550 pounds, had a 10 cell battery, a rear axle bevel gear, and Baker's patented steering knuckle. Thomas Alva Edison bought Baker's first production model as a show of support for his friend and as a symbolic gesture toward what both men hoped would be a bright future for electric automobiles.

In March, 1900, The Baker Motor Vehicle Company moved to a new plant of Jessie Street (E. 69th Street) north of Central Avenue, Located behind The American Ball Bearing Company's woodframed plant on Clarkwood Avenue, the Baker factory had five floors, 135 feet long and 40 feet wide. Much like the Rauch and Lang plant built that same year, the Baker factory had brick bearing walls, packed wood floors, paired double-hung windows, and an exterior elevator shaft. Next door stood a single-story, wood-frame structure of about the same dimensions.

In November, 1900, Baker exhibited at the first New York Auto Show. Hie runabout attracted much attention, for the automobile was the first shaft-driven vehicle and the first battery-powered vehicle to be publicly shown. In 1901, the Baker runabout won a silver medal for its performance at Buffalo's Pan American Exposition. That same year, Baker built what many consider the first stream-lined car, the Torpedo, successfully racing it until a 1902 crash which killed one person and led to Baker's arrest for homicide. Although later acquited, Baker began, with that crash, a growing sentiment against automobile racing.

In 1903, as both The American Ball Bearing Company and The Baker Motor Vehicle Company prospered, The Corlett Engineering Company prepared plans for a joint plant on a site along the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad tracks near Cleveland's Edgewater Park- Each company had its' own factory, sharing a common rail siding and shipping dock. Although of slightly different size, the two buildings shared the same structural system and architectural treatment.

The American Ball Bearing Company moved into its side of the plant in 1904. The building has a single-story factory area, 200 feet square, and a three-story office building attached to the front, 200 feet long and 40 feet wide. The Baker Motor Vehicle Company factory, completed in the early part of 1906 after a several month delay in the shipment of its yellow pine structural timber, maintains the 1904 factory's dimensions. The factory area stands 200 feet square, containing SO structural bays, 20 foot by 25 foot on center. The basement doubles the number of bays, making them 10 foot by 25 foot on center. There, brick piers with stone capitals support chamfered bolster blocks which, in turn, support one foot-square timber beams. The main factory level has diagonal gongue and groove flooring laid on top of a solid 6 inch wooden sub-flooring. One foot square timber posts support Howe trusses with timber compression and metal tension members. These trusses support continuous saw-tooth skylights which run the entire width of the factory. The end brick bearing walls, containing segmentally-arched double-hung windows, angle in at the factory's northwest corner in response to the curve of the exterior rail siding.

The two story office wing at the front of the property originally had a third story, demolished after a roof-top water tank burst. Timber beams span the structure's 40 foot width. Its facade has segmentally-arched windows and a brick corbelled cornice with a large brick and stone round-arched entrance. Directly behind that central entrance stands a freight elevator which has access to both the offices and factory.

At the rear of the factory, through a segmentallyarched brick wall, stands a 180 foot by 40 foot craneway. This single-story space has a continuous gabled skylight supported by wooden trusses resting on brick corbels. Although the crane no longer exists, the large doorways which gave access to the railsiding on one side of the plant and the lumber storage and drying yards on the other, still stand.

Behind the craneway, through another series of brick arches, stands a second three-story building, 180 feet long and 34 feet wide. Unlike the front office wing, this structure has a central fow of timber columns along its entire length. A central stairway and freight elevator provides access to the upper floors. The building's heavy construction, as well as its location next to the craneway, suggest that it once served as a storage facility for raw materials and parts. At one point, the second floor also contained a drafting room.

As with The Rauch and Lang Carriage Company, the specific manufacturing methods of The Baker Motor Vehicle Company have gone unrecorded, Hie company did double its production level to 800 cars in 1906, not an unexpected increase since the new plant more than doubled the older plant's size. The company also continued to buy most of its parts from suppliers -after 1906, suggesting that the new Baker factory served mainly as an assembly plant for purchased components. The generous amount of storage space in the building's basement and rear wing support that idea. A final reason for the lack of information on the manufacturing methods of Rauch and Lang or of Baker might rest with the electric cars themselves. Electric vehicles were the simplest automobiles to produce. Their battery engines were built almost entirely by outside suppliers while their bodies remained much like carriages in both size and strength. The lack of manufacturing information might simply reflect a lack of interest in Baker's methods, methods that probably differed little from the hand-crafted assembly process used in building carriages.


By 1908, The Baker Motor Vehicle Company had "the largest (factory) in America devoted exclusively to electric carriage manufacture," Its building had "the most modern and approved architecture - light, convenient - (and) equipment of the most modern devices." Yet, the factory proved inadequate in meeting the demand for electric vehicles. The company had a 300% increase in business in 1909, forcing it to keep the plant in operation 24 hours a day.

In 1910, the company began producing Its first electric trucks and in 1912, its first electric patrol wagons. Although both vehicles were immediately popular, their sales gradually declined as owners realized the inconvenience of frequent rechargings and of slow hill-climbing speeds. The Baker Motor Vehicle Company addressed those problems by constructing several recharging stations in the major stations. Its largest opened in 1910 at E. 71st Street and Euclid Avenue, near Cleveland's wealthy ease side. Baker hoped to have recharging stations at every major intersection, an idea scoffed at although eventually realized by the gasoline automobile producers and the oil companies.

In 1912, Baker, like Rauch and Lang, reacted to the growing dominance of medium-priced gasoline cars by emphasizing the elegance and expense of its electric vehicles. That year, Baker began using the Louis XIV style on its car interiors, calling its vehicle "The Aristocrat of Matordom." In 1914, the company went even further, hiring a French fashion designer to make its decorating decisions.

Wisely, The Baker Motor Vehicle Company battled the gasoline automobile producers with mechanical innovations as well. In the 1890's, an inventor named Justin Entz developed an engine which used a gasoline generator to drive an electric motor. Manufactured by the Pope Electric Vehicle Company until its failure in 1907, the Entz engine remained out of production until Walter Baker bought the patent rights in 1912, The R. M. Owen Company in New York City began producing the engine for its Owen Magnetic car under Baker's license. By 1915, The Baker Motor Vehicle Company decided that it needed a new product to give it a competitive edge on gasoline auto companies. As a result, Baker merged with The Rauch and Lang Carriage Company and The R. M. Owen Company to form The Baker R & L Company with a capitalization of $2,500,000. Soon after the Merger, General Electric invested in the company, raising its authorized capitalization to $5,000,000 and placing three General Electric representatives on the Baker R & L board.

Continuing in its manufacture of electric vehicles, the company's first Owen Magnetic cars went into production in December, 1915. The former Baker plant manufactured the engine and chassis for the Owen Magnetic. The former Rauch and Lang plant made Baker R & L electric cars as well as bodies for the Owen Magnetic. The New York Owen plant became a service center for the Owen Magnetic while General Electric's Fort Wayne plant made the car's electric unit.

The Entz engine proved difficult to manufacture, making the Owen Magnetic, in 1918, the third most expensive automobile in the nation. America's entrance into World War I saved The Baker R & L Company from impending failure. The company's war work included the manufacture of electric bomb handlers and lift trucks. Recognizing the potential of the electric lift truck field, The Baker R & L Company ceased its production of the Baker R & L electric and the Owen Magnetic cars in mid-1919. It reorganized later that year as The Baker Raulang Company, manufacturing electric lift trucks at the Baker plant and assembling the truck bodies at the Rauch and Lang plant. The latter plant also continued its production of automobile bodies for other companies.

In 1922, Baker Raulang added a 112 foot by 69 foot machine shop extension at the Rauch and Lang factory. At the Baker plant, the company added a 63 foot by 39 foot brick boiler house in 1923 and a single-story, 191 foot by 54 foot dry kiln in 1924.

Body manufacturing ended at the Rauch and Lang factory in 1943. Baker Raulang probably sold the plant at that time. Many smaller companies now occupy the factory which, except for the replacement of the original machinery and the demolition of one of the original 1889 buildings, remains Intact.

The prosperity of The Baker Raulang Company, both as an independent producer and as a subsidiary of The Otis Elevator Company after 1954, resulted in the addition of several large steel-framed structures east of the original Baker plant. All of the original equipment and machinery has been removed. The factory now contains several smaller manufacturers after the recent departure of The Baker Materials Handling Corporation to more modern facilities.

The history of The Rauch and Lang Carriage Company and The Baker Motor Vehicle Company typifies the history of electric automobile manufacturers genera11s, What makes them unique is their merger and later survival as an electric vehicle producer up to the present.