based on an article by Richard Bowman,
courtesy of the Chrysler Restorers’ Club.
Maxwell-Briscoe, formed by auto engineer John D. Maxwell and stamping tycoon Benjamin Briscoe, quickly had a booming business: they sold 542 cars in the first half of their first year, 1905. They quickly leased a second factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and a year later, opened a third in Chicago.
A large new factory in New Castle was built to solve their capacity problems for many years. Construction began in early 1907; the plant was dedicated by the Vice-President of the United States, Charles W. Fairbanks, on June 22, 1907, when it was just half completed. Production started before the roof was completely finished, on August 13, 1907.
In 1910, the Briscoe brothers, seeing the success of the new General Motors, created the United States Motor Company. It brought in not just Maxwell-Briscoe, but independents Brush, Dayton Motor Car Co., Courier Car Co., Columbia Motor Car, and Alden Sampson [read about those companies].
New Castle continued to build the popular four-cylinder Maxwell cars until 1911. U.S. Motor, from 1910 to 1912, was dropping some of its money-losing or less-profitable cars and trucks, including Alden Sampson. Car production was moved to underused plants, and New Castle was converted to parts production.
When, in 1912, United States Motor Company was forced into receivership, EMF’s Walter Flanders created a new company, Standard Motor, to take over its assets. This occured on December 31, 1912; by the end of January 1913, Standard has been renamed — to Maxwell Motor Corporation. Maxwell dropped the obsolete Brush, Columbia, Stoddard, and Courier, but kept New Castle busy making parts.
In 1916, the Forge and Hammer Shop was erected to house large steam-operated hammers, and New Castle became the largest automotive forge plant in the country. Maxwell flourished until 1920, when a crashing economy ran into increased production, resulting in 26,000 unsold 1920 Maxwells out of 34,169 made.
The company asked retired turnaround artist Walter P. Chrysler to save the company; leaving out many details, Chrysler not only saved the company, but gained full control of it. Chrysler Corporation purchased Maxwell Motor in 1925, around a year after Maxwell had produced the first Chrysler. Thus, on June 25, 1925, the New Castle plant became one of the original six plants of the new Chrysler Corporation.
By 1934 there was a record setting 6,700 employees working at the New Castle plant. (I had the opportunity to speak with one of those employees, standing outside the plant, and he remembers building Maxwell parts as late as 1935. He had joined Chrysler in 1933.)
In the 1950s, New Castle produced over 150 separate parts for all Chrysler Corporations cars and trucks. There was no Chrysler car or truck built without parts from the New Castle plant. Among the parts produced there were Oriflow shocks, steering gears assemblies, tie rods, truck axles and front end assemblies, transmission parts, and connecting rods.
In 1957, the Chrysler annual report listed New Castle as simply making “forgings and finished machine parts.”
New Castle has kept changing as the Chrysler Corporation has changed, but the plant has soldiered on. In 1987, the plant became part of Accustar, Chrysler's new parts division, but it returned to Chrysler in 1989. The plant remained within the Chrysler fold until 2002, when it became part of a joint venture with Metaldyne, as part of DaimlerChrysler’s selloff plan. Only 220 workers stayed after the sale; 300 retired, and 700 moved, many going 70 miles to Kokomo's transmission plant.
The plant remained active until 2009, when Metaldyn shut it down. In January 2010, the D’Arcinoff Group signed a letter of intent to build wind turbines in the plant, which fell through.
What is amazing in all of this is that the original 1907 factory still stood into the 21st century, and was used for nearly a century. It remained in almost original condition.
The Maxwell centennial celebration at the New Castle plant began as a dream of one man, Paul Niles, five years ago. Celebrate the history of Maxwell, built in his hometown, by members of his family. Paul, his wife Rosemary, and others in his family worked in the New Castle, Indiana plant for more than combined 142 years. And the foundation on which Chrysler Corporation was built by Walter P. Chrysler in the 1920s.
Efforts were made to get as many Maxwells and their owners to come to New Castle as possible, and approximately 90 Maxwells were in attendance. About 750 Maxwells are known to exist today. As you will note from the photographs the majority of the cars present were from the era 1904 to 1915, though Maxwell production continued until 1925 when they became the basis for the four-cylinder Chrysler and the first Plymouths.
We owe a large thank you to Paul for his vision, and to the many volunteers who made this event happen. It will never be repeated again.
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