The history of Jewett dates back to 1892 and John
Seiberling, who then controlled the Akron Street Railway. This
streetcar line began operations in 1888 when it took over the smaller
Akron Street Railway & Herdic Company. The line only served the
city of Akron although it had numerous name changes throughout its
existence until rail services were finally abandoned in 1947. In any
event, at the time Seiberling wished to start his own car manufacturing facility and began building car bodies in one of the street railway's old car
barns in Akron, along with help from John Boyd. Seiberling's idea,
surprisingly, proved to be quite successful and it was not long before a
larger building was needed.
Perhaps in an effort to keep costs down for the new operation while
being centrally located among Ohio's and western West Virginia's
interurban and streetcar systems, Seiberling chose the small community
of Jewett in which to build his new plant. Located about 70 miles south
of Akron, the town quickly jumped at the chance of being home to a new car
builder and without hesitation donated the needed ground. The new
facility, with 17,500 square feet of space, immediately put 100 folks to
work when it opened in May, 1893. Unfortunately, the timing of the
company's opening could not have been worse as the financial panic of
the mid-1890s put Jewett into bankruptcy. With little sales and a
marginal debt it was purchased by a group from Wheeling, West Virginia
Under new ownership, the name of the operation was changed to the Jewett Car Company & Planing Mill. By the end of the 19th century the economy was recovering and with new capital infused into the company an 8,000 square-foot addition to the complex was built to increase production. Around this time the interurban industry was exploding with growth as many saw it as the wave of the future for local travel (remember that this was still 10 to 20 years before the automobile took off) and Jewett's sales likewise took off with sales to lines in West Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.
Like most other car builders, Jewett always relied heavily on street railways and subway lines for sales. As such, sales to streetcar lines came first with interurbans a secondary market although also like most other companies Jewett is best remembered for its interurban designs. In any event, as orders for Jewett's cars outstripped its capacity, a new plant was needed and by 1904 the company had moved to Newark, Ohio which provided 10 acres of space to further increase production. During the first few years of the new century Jewett was producing hundreds of cars for subway and streetcar lines in Chicago, New York, and Pennsylvania. Interestingly, its designs were actually nothing fancy; standard-sized electrically powered cars that somewhat resembled early railroad coaches and featuring doors along with end for patrons to enter and exit.
Jewett's cars, however, were noted for their elegance and high
quality of construction. While the company never had any notable
designs patented to its name such as the St. Louis Car Company's Electroliner
or the J.G. Brills' Brilliners and Bullet cars, Jewett was one of the
first to introduce rolling bearings greatly reducing its cars'
maintenance costs. The downfall of the Jewett Car Company & Planing
Mill follows the trend of the streetcar and interurban industries. As
1920 neared the American public began to invest more heavily into their
own cars and began abandoning local rail services. Because of this car builders began seeing sales slowly erode away.
For Jewett this happened much faster than other companies. The
company missed out on the chance to reap huge profits from the World War
I effort by manufacturing needed materials for the government because
one of its major investors was
German. This also resulted in the company missing further sales
opportunities when the government needed thousands of new main line
railroad cars built, as the United States Railroad Association (USRA)
controlled the national network during that time. As such, by December,
1918 with declining sales and missed opportunities Jewett went into
receivership. A year later the company permanently closed.
If you would like to read more about the history of Jewett you might be interested in the book From Small Town to Downtown: A History of the Jewett Car Company, 1893-1919 by authors Lawrence A. Brough and James H. Graebner. At nearly 300 pages in length the book gives a detailed history of this small, but important car builder and certainly has to be the best single, historical source of the company highlighting its early beginnings from a car barn in Akron to its final days an important car manufacturer based in Newark. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing the book
please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information
Trolleys And Interurbans
Jewett Car Company