Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio

Date added: March 28, 2023 Categories: Ohio Industrial Auto Companies
125 Bacon St.; view along railroad tracks looking west; looking SW. (1982)

The Dayton Motor Car Company was Dayton's largest farming implement company between 1875 and 1900. The success of this company helped Dayton rank as one of the top three cities in the state in the 1890s for the production of farm machinery. The company became more important in 1904 when it was reorganized into the city's first automobile manufacturing company. Because the agricultural implement companies had a ready supply of materials such as metals, wood, glass and paint; assembly lines with skilled woodworkers, machinists, repairmen and painters; and a smooth organized management with ample experience and capital, it was not difficult to convert farm machinery companies into automobile manufacturing firms. The company produced complete models until 1912, when it was sold. Then only parts for automobiles were made until a merger in 1925 with one of the large automobile manufacturing corporations signaled the end of the era of small privately owned car companies in Dayton and in the country.

The location of this complex was prime land for commercial and industrial use beginning with the canal era. The Miami Canal which reached Dayton from Cincinnati in 1829 ran adjacent to the district on the west side. When the two early races, the Cooper Hydraulic from 1838, and the Dayton (Upper) Hydraulic from 1845, were completed, the land where this district is located was between them. The area developed early as the city began its industrial expansion. In addition, the railroad from Cincinnati that reached Dayton in 1851, and later that decade stretched north to Michigan, followed alongside the canal route. It eventually became the complex railway system through the city. It was not until the railroad tracks were elevated in 1930 when highways and trucking began replacing rail travel that this part of downtown Dayton became less desirable for industry and business.

The company that became the Dayton Motor Car Company can trace its history to 1856 when John Dodds began as a member of a firm that made hay rakes at a different location in the city. Dodds bought the Smith, Dodds & Co. in 1868, and joined with John W. Stoddard the next year. Stoddard was destined to become a leader in the advancement of Dayton's industrial growth up to the time of the Great Flood of 1913. In 1871, he moved the business to the present location at Third and McDonough Streets, and was instrumental in organizing the Dayton View Railroad Co, When the frame buildings of the agricultural implement company burned in 1873, the two five-story brick buildings (#6a, 6b) were constructed. The company of John W. Stoddard & Co., organized in 1879 when the manufacture of other farm implements began, helped raise Dayton to fifth in the. state in the production of agricultural and machine industry in 1880.

The company made harvesters, grain drills, broadcast seeders, hay rakes and harrows. At the peak of production, there were 335 men employed, and the value of the manufactured implements and machines was worth nearly $400,000. The company incorporated in 1884, and became known as the Stoddard Manufacturing Co. With Stoddard directing his own company and the second largest agricultural firm, The Farmers Friend Manufacturing Co., Dayton rose to third in farm machinery production in the state by the early 1890s. During this period, the company built four more brick buildings (#3, 7a, 7c, 7d) for the foundry, woodworking and assembly shops. Dating from this period is a large two-story warehouse (#2a) which is partially frame with iron cladding and partially brick. Known as the Flaherty & Co. warehouse, it stands next to the canal bed and railroad tracks. According to the articles of incorporation from 1903 when this building became the Union Storage Co., the company was formed "for the purpose of constructing and maintaining warehouses for the storage and transfer of all kinds of merchandise, wares, machinery, implements, household goods, ..." Although this building was not owned by Stoddard and Co. or the Dayton Motor Car Company, it was surely used for storage of their products. When the five-story concrete building (#2b) and a brick loading dock were added in 1913, two large elevators were installed for transporting automobiles.

As the marketplace for agricultural implement companies moved west and the Panic of 1893 struck, the city produced a photorevue booklet, New: Dayton: Illustrated, or the Gem City as seen through a Camera. The buildings (6a 6b, 7a, 7c, 7d) appear in a sketch. The company switched in 1896 to the manufacture of bicycles, an industry promoted by the Wright Brothers who were working in the city on West Third Street at the same time. As the automobile age approached, the company began the manufacture of automobiles in 1903, and the Dayton Motor Car Company was formed in 1904 with John W. Stoddard as president, and C. G. Stoddard as vice-president.

Two new buildings of reinforced concrete (#1, 5) replaced earlier brick structures that were used for farm machinery production. They are important examples of the innovative industrial complexes which allowed for a maximum of light and air for workers. This type of factory building was developed by John Patterson of the National Cash Register Company in Dayton at the turn of the century. Although the Dayton Motor Car Company built twenty different models, the most publicized car was the Stoddard-Dayton, a large expensive luxury touring automobile that sold for $2500, had a 35 hp. motor, a three-speed transmission, and brass and leather trim. It was used as the pace car for the first race at the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, according to some accounts. Other references state that the Stoddard-Dayton, one of the five cars competing, won the race with an average speed of 57.3 miles per hour. Because the car was superbly equipped with headlights, side lamps, radiator frame, nameplate, front bumper, hubcaps, framing for windshield and top, all of shining brass, the two brass foundries (#3,4) were important to the company. A new building (#4) was constructed in 1910 across Bacon Street from the seven-story-reinforced concrete ones. The one-story foundry had office space at the McDonough Street entrance, a clearstory, saw-tooth roof with skylights, and a vehicular entrance to Bacon Street.

The Stoddard father and son ownership of the Dayton Motor Car Company lasted until 1912 when the firm was acquired by the United States Motors Co., a short lived rival of General Motors. This was the first wave of consolidation as corporations sought to buy up small independent automobile companies. U. S. Motors went bankrupt, the Great Flood struck Dayton in 1913, and Maxwell Motor Company emerged the owner of the beleaguered firm. This company discontinued making complete automobiles in Dayton, but parts for the Maxwell automobile of Jack Benny fame were manufactured at the East Third and McDonough Street plant. During the 1920s, Walter F. Chrysler was brought in to reduce the company's indebtedness, and the firm became a part of Chrysler Corporation by 1925. Two buildings (#7a, 7b) reflect this period although it appears that the building (#7a) was originally constructed between 1886-1890.

Chrysler Corporation gradually disposed of all the buildings at East Third Street in Dayton so that by the time of the Great Depression of 1929, this giant company had moved to Detroit, destined to become the automobile capital of the country. The era of the small car manufacturing company ended in Dayton.

Site Description

The Dayton Motor Car Company complex is located about seven blocks east of South Main Street near downtown Dayton. The buildings are primarily along Bainbridge, McDonough and Bacon Streets slightly east of Wayne Street, and less than two blocks north of the established Oregon Historic District. Tucked behind the railroad viaduct on East Third Street, the district contains twelve buildings that range in age from the early 1870s to 1925. The earliest seven structures (#2a, 3, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7c, 72), which vary in height from one to six stories are brick. They represent the period when the Stoddard Manufacturing Company was producing agricultural implements from the 1870s to the 1890s. Two seven-story buildings (#1,5) of reinforced concrete were built soon after the company began manufacturing automobiles in 1903. Another five-story reinforced concrete building (#2b), erected in 1918, was used to store automobiles. The last two buildings (#4, #7b) have concrete walls with brick facing. The-tan brick structure (#4) was built in 1910 for a foundry, and the red one (#70) was built in 1925.

Each building in the district had a separate and distinct purpose, first in the agricultural implement manufacturing industry, and later when the production of automobiles began. Therefore the sizes, shapes, styles and ages of the buildings are not uniform, nor do they display outstanding architectural features which would be more common on commercial structures. The buildings reveal the changes in this company that began as an agricultural implement firm in 1869 when many of the workers and the owners, employed in the farm machinery industry, built their homes in the nearby Oregon Historic District. Since eight of the twelve buildings were once owned by the Dayton Motor Car Company, and all but the Union Storage Company buildings were on the automobile company's property, the district was given its name. After the Chrysler Corporation sold the plant by 1929, and the railroad viaduct was raised from street level, the buildings were utilized by smaller companies for factories and warehousing. The area was bypassed as industrial development moved away from the central core, and the exterior of the buildings have remained relatively unchanged through the years. Even the interiors reveal their early construction and use as manufacturing, assembly and loading rooms. Only one reinforced concrete factory building (#1) has suffered from neglect and is empty.

The individual buildings are described below:

This seven-story square building of reinforced concrete built just after the turn of the century has seven bays to the south and west sides. There are three sets of windows that fill the large spaces between supports, a characteristic introduced in the National Cash Register buildings built at the same time in Dayton. The flat roof of the U-shaped structure with an interior courtyard has a slight overhang. A metal fire escape is centered on the south side of this building that has 80,000 square feet of useable floor space. According to the Sanborn map of 1901, this building was used for the assembly, trimming and painting of automobiles. The north and east sides of the building adjoin buildings #5 and #6b, and therefore are not visible. Although many windows are broken and the concrete walls show some deterioration, the building is structurally sound and available for reuse.

This two-story painted blue warehouse (#2a) has two parts from 1880-1900, and a 1913 addition (#2b) that faces East Fourth Street. The oldest part is believed to be the brick half nearest the alley that runs from Bainbridge to the railroad tracks. It has a stone water table and a segmental-arched industrial doorway to the east. Five windows, now shuttered, and a ground-level doorway are placed irregularly under a slightly sloping roof with overhang. The turn of the century portion is frame that is iron clad with a pressed brick pattern. It has a pair of sheltered entrances with poured concrete steps on the Bainbridge side, but a loading dock stretches along the Bacon Street facade where the canal and street-level railroad tracks and depot were once located.

Across the vacated alley connected by an enclosed loading dock is the 1913 five-story addition (#2b) which is covered with stucco and painted blue. The Fourth Street facade has a modest parapet with insignias that read U. S. Co. (Union Storage Company) Inside are two large elevators with wood interiors. One has a capacity of 5000 pounds, and the other has a limit of 6000 pounds. Attached to this building is a one-story brick loading dock, built in an unusual shape to fit the lot size.

This small one-story yellow brick store building from c. 1880 has a four bay front that has segmental arches over 6/6 double hung sashes on the second level. The first floor facade has been altered with the insertion of a garage door between an original doorway and a window. Iron brackets that once held a sign rem@in on this flat roofed building that once served as a brass foundry. Wood Howe trusses are built inside to support the roof. A clearstory provides light for the interior which still has a brick floor.

The face of this one-story brick building from 1910 is divided into two parts. The office on the corner has a central recessed entrance flanked by display windows. The corner is trimmed with black carrara glass that reads QUALITY STEELS, INC. Additional glass signs mark the bays of the building with names of various steel products. The other half of the building has a garage door entrance. Directly above the entrances on both buildings is a raised parapet highlighted by an extra step on the office half. The plain facade of the McDonough Street side conceals the four sawtooth ridges in the roof. These ridges that run east and west permit light from a northern exposure to illuminate this machine shop. This type of construction was typically installed during the early 1900s in small machine shops before electrical lighting became standard. The building half with the shop entrance has a queenpost and fink trusses to support the roof that has a clearstory. There is another entrance along Bacon Street for vehicles. It also has the sawtooth roof for light.

This seven-story factory building of reinforced concrete is similar to its neighbor (#1), and was probably built about 1908. It was used as a machine shop, tool room and an assembly room for automobiles, with the second floor providing office space. The building with 85,000 square feet of space has five bays to the McDonough Street side and seven bays to the Bacon Street exposure. The bays are massed into trios of multi-paned windows, but the panes of the windows are larger and fewer than those in building #1. Between buildings #1 and #5, there is space for an alley. Between buildings #5 and 63a, there is a car-sized elevator and an abandoned set of railroad tracks that was used by both the agricultural implement company and the car company. Reinforced concrete floors, walls, columns and roof are original. Only on the sixth floor and in the office area of the second floor are hardwood floors found.

Both of these buildings date from the 1870s when the farm machinery company was begun. The five-story buildings have brick walls with post and beam construction. The one that faces McDonough Street has five bays of segmentally arched 6/6 double-hung sashes with central double tays on each floor for a decorative effect. The other building is directly to the west and connected by an elevator shaft. There are sixteen bays in each building on the north side along the elevated railroad lines, The placement of the windows is unusual. In a regular pattern, two windows are placed very close to one another with a spandrel of brick wall for separation while the next two are placed so they touch one another. The wide paneled cornice on both buildings has single bracketing around the entire roofline. In horizontal bands under the top three rows of windows on 2 sides of the buildings are signs that advertise May & Company, Furniture Warehouse, a business that bought these buildings in 1931. Under one part of a three-story sign, on a light-colored filled in space between buildings #6a and #6b, a sketch of the Stoddard-Dayton automobile can be seen from the viaduct along East Third Street. There are also faint sketches of a truck and railway car on the lower levels. The northwest corner of #6b was cut back to accommodate the raised railroad tracks.

These two buildings sit on Stoddard Manufacturing Company property which was purchased in 1883. A building that looks like #7a appears in the 1893 photo revue. By the 1900s, this was the location of a corner building that was used for auto repair and road testing. It has solid brick walls with openings for windows now of concrete block. There is a double arch roof with steel riveted truss and steel columns that may have been installed after a reported fire c. 1929. The face of this building has the stepped gable flat facade, a style that was recreated when a building was constructed in Dayton's Carillon Park to house a restored 1908 Dayton-Stoddard automobile for public viewing. The other building (#7b) was constructed in 1925. This one-story building has a flat facade with display windows. The center portion has a slight peak with the date in a lazy diamond stone insert. These stone inserts are repeated on either side at the roofline, a type of decoration often found on other buildings built for automobile sales at that time. This building has been rehabilitated for office use. The clearstory in the center of the building and the concrete columns with mushroom flaring at the top are reminders of the early manufacturing use.

These two buildings are connected to each other and appear to have both been built about 1886 although they are dissimilar in appearance. The one-story brick building that faces McDonough Street has a gable end. The peak has a trio of arched openings flanked by circular ones. On the first level, there were once four segmental arched 1/1 windows on either side of a central doorway. Now the four windows on the south side of the facade have been replaced with a rectangular opening filled with glass blocks. There were ten pairs of segmental arched windows on the Bacon Street elevation, but now one pair has been covered with aluminum. This building was the steel and iron shed which had a set of railroad tracks that entered from the west. The roof trussing remains in the building, but the clearstory and a smaller building on the north side of the tracks are gone. The six-story building (#7d) was used for storage and machinework. It has eight bays on the Bacon Street side to the south, and thirteen bays on the east where a fire escape reaches to the top floor. An elevator shaft extends one more floor on the northwest corner of the building. This brick building with post and beam construction has a first floor with cast iron capitals for posts. Attached to the nineteenth century building is a one-story brick-faced addition from 1955. It sits upon the vacated north end of Commercial Street.

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio View from McDonough West along Bacon with Downtown Dayton in the background (1983)
View from McDonough West along Bacon with Downtown Dayton in the background (1983)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio Looking southwest toward Oregon District, which is behind the church with spire. Buildings #7a, #4, #3, #2a & b between photographer and church (1983)
Looking southwest toward Oregon District, which is behind the church with spire. Buildings #7a, #4, #3, #2a & b between photographer and church (1983)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio Looking toward Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Oregon District to the right in photo (1983)
Looking toward Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Oregon District to the right in photo (1983)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio In foreground #5, 6a; in background skyline of downtown Dayton with Winters Bank, the tallest building in the center (1983)
In foreground #5, 6a; in background skyline of downtown Dayton with Winters Bank, the tallest building in the center (1983)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio 15 McDonough St.; street view of 15 (L) and 9 (R) McDonough; looking NW. (1982)
15 McDonough St.; street view of 15 (L) and 9 (R) McDonough; looking NW. (1982)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio 15 McDonough St.; upper level interior; looking NE. (1982)
15 McDonough St.; upper level interior; looking NE. (1982)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio 15 McDonough St.; entry door; looking W. (1982)
15 McDonough St.; entry door; looking W. (1982)

Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton Ohio Facade of #6a, #6b, below viaduct level. Looking west. (1982)
Facade of #6a, #6b, below viaduct level. Looking west. (1982)