American Motor Truck Company

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In 1911, following a 300-mile road test of a vehicle prototype topping speeds of 13 miles per hour on bad roads, the owners of the Newark Machine Works decided to change the direction of their company to manufacture direct-drive trucks designed by mechanic Frank M. Blair. Although their company’s location remained at the northwest side of the intersection of S. 21st Street and the railroad tracks, the manufacturing changes prompted them to change the name of their firm to the Blair Manufacturing Company.

Despite having a rather unorthodox appearance and design, most notably, no cab for the driver—only seats on each side of the engine, the unusual vehicle was built with preassembled components—except for the frames and bodies, which were made onsite. The company performed well until after the advent of World War I when improvements in the technology of automobile design again forced more changes.

In 1918, the control of the company was acquired by the R. L. Dollings Company and the American Motor Truck Company was born. Although the new, more traditionally designed vehicle with a cab behind the engine was also manufactured with preassembled units including a four-cylinder engine, it had a new name, the Ace. The Ace trademark resembled the ace of spades. Once again bodies and frames were manufactured in Newark. Unfortunately, the Ace was not manufactured steadily due to a lack of dealer networks. Orders were shipped directly from the factory to the buyer. Again, most of the bodies were built in Newark.

The company suffered from several major problems. Production was unsteady, generally dependent on the orders received directly from customers. At its peak, American Motor Truck Company manufactured up to 250 to 300 vehicles annually. However, layoffs were frequent, prompting rumors of shutdown. Customer financing through the company was based on a buyer’s promise that was often left unfulfilled. Ace trucks were well made with quality components. However, records of which manufacturer’s parts were used in each unit were rare—making repair of the vehicles very difficult. These issues made the truck line less profitable and difficult to sell.

In an effort to improve its position, the company began manufacturing buses. Craftsmen and workers, who recently had vacated the failing Jewett streetcar plant nearby, brought their skills to manufacture the best remembered product of the company.

The buses were sold throughout the eastern United States and in Newark. However, partially due to selling only through the company and not being backed by dealers, the company fell into receivership and later closed in 1927. [1]

K.W.

References

  1. L. Brough, “When Newark Was a Detroit,” The Columbus Dispatch Magazine, January 29, 1978, 14-27.