Chrysler Linen Drawings: Tracing History

by Bob Steele

Some time in 1985, I learned of a decree to clean out old records and “stuff” in our Highland Park Engineering Division. This extended to what we called the “catacombs” beneath the styling clay rooms at the WPC Building where old WWII and earlier engineering drawings were stored; these “catacombs” were the result of concrete pillars holding up the studio floors in the Walter P. Chrysler Building, where the rails for clay models were. These extended down to bedrock to assure good support and stability for extremely heavy clay model armatures above.

Highland Park Chrysler headquarters

Some of us were concerned that much of history would be lost, so after getting access to these forgotten areas, the search for interesting things began. Many old drawings, mostly before WWII, were at the far reaches of those dark and dismal areas; it was scary down there. Thinking it would be cool to find an old drawing with my birth date, I discovered a collection of old drawings extending back to the middle 1920s, these were created on starched linen (made from Flax) and drawn using India ink. Old draftsmen were essentially artists and sometimes poor spellers! 

linen drawings

Look closely below here and see the date of 1925 on this drawing and dimensions all in inch/fractions! The part number is of interest — 53328 — much lower than later drawings extending into the millions. In my early time at Engineering we would often see draftsmen taking these old soiled linen drawings, soak them in water to remove the starch and voila, a day later one had the most wonderful handkerchief!

Al Bosley added:

These five digit number parts became largely “corporate (and later industry) standard parts.” They were catalogued at various times around/between 1950 to 1980, and all old drawings of them (that is, of standard parts) declared redundant. Chrysler used a seven digit system from the “get-go” after they took over Maxwell for regular (Chrysler designed) parts.

This particular drawing has a grand history, starting with its release for production 2-9-29. From then:

  • Until change letter “O” on 12-18-1934, we do not know what was revised;
  • On 6-5-1941 the drawing was traced (probably due to poor condition of original 1928 drawing) and change letter “P” made to separate what must have been a dual part numbered drawing (part #45269);
  • With change “Q” on 8-24-1944, the tang was shortened so that there was only 0.016 in. of metal from the end of the part to the OD of the hole;
  • On 8-26-1944 the part was approved for post war models;
  • On 10-24-1947, change “R”, optional zinc plate was added;
  • On 11-6-1947, change “S”, optional cadmium plating was added (cadmium was widely used to prevent corrosion in the 1930s and 1940s; not until the 1960s was cadmium specifically implicated as a carcinogen.)

In the title block there are initials of the person that drew, checked, and approved the drawing and design, as well as the person in the engineering records department who processed the paperwork. From a list of the members of the Chrysler Engineers Club in 1928, HM was Howard Maynard and J.L.B was John L. Burmett. Probably we will never know who W.A.B or A.J.K since there is no one classified as an engineer with these initials.

Drawings can tell a story!

Linen, as it was used in the 1920s until the 1950s (when it was replaced by velum), was paper made with linen fibers, rather than wood fibers. It had a special treatment to make it a bit stiff and to take ink better. It was very durable and easy to work on, but not dimensionally stable (temperature and humidity – on a hot humid summer day it might grow 0.4 inches over 10 feet).

Velum, on the other hand, was made with long strand (Egyptian) cotton fibers laid up in a criss-cross pattern, burnished to make it more transparent for blueprint reproduction. It was much more dimensionally stable.

I think some of the old-timers were spoofing Bob. Washing a linen drawing (although it could be done – the ink was water soluble) you would get a fine paper napkin.

Also see the first Chrysler cars. Thanks to Burton Bouwkamp for sending this our way.

1922 blueprints

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