Man for the new
At the dawn of the 1900s, W.H. McIntyre made his mark in automobiles, electricity and banking
By BOB BRALEY
- If you live in Butler, Waterloo, Auburn or Garrett, he's the
reason there's current when you flip a switch or water when you
open a tap.
If you live in Auburn, he's the one who lit your furnace or
oven with natural gas.
He had three business careers, as a banker, a carriage maker
and an automobile manufacturer. One of his five factories in Auburn
temporarily housed the DeKalb County Courthouse. He was the president
of two national manufacturing organizations.
His company was, at one time, the largest employer in Auburn,
making some of the most successful and innovative cars in the
United States before Cords and Duesenbergs were built in northeast
His company's last great innovation, the Imp, was named for
a miniature trickster demon. His Imp, a small car introduced the
same year a hellish fire struck one of his plants, gave him seemingly
renewed success for a time, only to be part of his company's downfall.
He is forgotten by many today, but without W.H. McIntyre, much
of what residents take for granted in DeKalb County might have
been very different, if it ever was at all.
William H. McIntyre was gifted with foresight, even in his
days as a banker. In the late 1880s he began investing in enterprises
that would bring resources to the people and businesses of DeKalb
McIntyre was a shareholder in the Auburn Mining Co. when it
was formed March 14, 1887. Its purpose was "to bore for water,
oil and natural gas, and to lay pipes through cities and towns
to distribute the same."
Two years later, McIntyre was party to the amending of the
company charter to include "constructing, maintaining and
operating electric light works and selling electric light and
By 1890 McIntyre had become one of the founders of the Garrett
Electric Light Co.
With those companies he was instrumental in bringing electric power and running water to all three of DeKalb County's cities and Waterloo, and natural gas to the county seat.
Was it foresight that prompted McIntyre to buy the business
of another William H.?
When W.H. Kiblinger died at age 45 in 1894, McIntyre was appointed
personal representative of the estate. On Sept. 7, McIntyre and
Simon C. Snyder incorporated the W.H. Kiblinger company with $75,000
in capital and the business assets they had acquired from Kiblinger's
When the Kiblinger Co. was sold, The Auburn Courier described McIntyre by saying, "For many years he was cashier for the First National Bank of this place, ..." He eventually bought out Snyder's interest in the company.
By 1897 McIntyre was experimenting with automobiles. The cars he built for his own use may have been the first in DeKalb County, according to county historian John Martin Smith.
McIntyre was elected the chairman of the National Carriage Builder's Association at that group's convention in Washington, D.C. At that time he was described as "one of the most successful men in his own state."
As a believer in electricity and automobiles, it is not surprising that McIntyre had one of the first electrically powered facilities in the area. He installed his own generator in one of his plants, where he would later begin building cars.
McIntyre remained in banking even as he worked in the carriage
trade. He organized City National Bank in Auburn in 1902, and
was its president from its founding until 1907.
By 1907 McIntyre was ready to begin making cars for sale. The
first was called the Kiblinger after the company's founder and
"The startling feature connected with the announcement
of the manufacture of auto buggies is that the particular type
of machine that will be built will sell for $250, no more and
no less," said the Kist News Bureau in a Jan. 28, 1907, story
on McIntyre's start in the automotive industry. "This in
itself will revolutionize the automobile business, because the
price will come within reach of all classes."
Delivery wagons would also be made at McIntyre's plants, but
would cost more than $250, the bureau noted. These early trucks
would become the top selling items from his automobile company.
When McIntyre renamed the firm after himself in 1908, the car
was renamed after him as well.
At this time McIntyre had four plants in Auburn. Plant one
was located at the site of the current Masonic Building at Eighth
and Jackson streets. Across Jackson at Seventh Street was plant
two, at the location of the Auburn House Restaurant today.
Plant three was at the site of the Hoham Building on South
Wayne Street by the Vandalia railroad depot. Plant four was on
the southeast corner of Eleventh and Cedar streets.
When the Modern Buggy Co. failed, McIntyre bought it, including
$13,000 worth of buggy parts, for $25,000. That gave him a fifth
plant on West Seventh Street. That building still stands today,
housing Rieke Corp.
The company employed hundreds of people, so many that it had
to bring in labor from outside Auburn. In the days before cars
were commonplace, that meant train travel.
One such man, Walter D. Creager, lived in Columbia City while
he worked for McIntyre in 1909-1910, according to his grandson,
historian Smith. "He traveled between Columbia City and Auburn
on the Interurban and roomed with local residents through the
week," Smith said.
McIntyre continued to sell carriages to be drawn by horses even as he manufactured the horseless kind. His company made autos, trucks and carriages of all sorts. It also "ghost built" cars for the Black Manufacturing Co. of Chicago in 1908-1909 until Black bought the Aurora Motor Works in Illinois.
Thinking ahead, McIntyre had Cal VanAuken lay out a half-mile test track for his cars just south of Auburn in 1909. It was also available for use in auto races.
McIntyre was a key donor in bringing the cannon that sits on
the lawn of the DeKalb County Courthouse to Auburn. It was first
offered to Angola, but that city turned it down because of the
McIntyre donated $50, equivalent to hundreds of dollars today, for the cannon. Frank Eckhart sent $25 from California, and school children donated $1.
McIntyre headed the Auburn Motor Chassis Co. from 1912-1915.
One of its strengths was its line of trucks designed for use by
Under the names Handy Wagon and Auburn Motor Buggy, the latter to avoid confusion with the Auburn Automobile Co., Auburn Motor Chassis sold high wheel delivery wagons. Motor Buggies were sold in air-cooled and water-cooled versions. The company's slogan was, "In all the world, there's no car like this."
In 1913 McIntyre decided to join the craze for cyclecars, small
vehicles that combined features of autos and motorcycles. He introduced
the Imp, a narrow vehicle with two seats, each capable of holding
only one person. It looked more like a race car than a traditional
Cyclecars were the hot thing, and the Imp was one of the best.
Smith called it one of the first compact cars in an article he
wrote for Auburn DeKalb Vanguard in 1969. "In it's day, the
Imp was probably the most successful of all the cars manufactured
in Auburn," Smith wrote.
Sadly for McIntyre, the cyclecars weren't the only things that
were hot. Fire broke out in his Plant One on the night of Feb.
8. The Feb. 19, 1913, issue of The Horseless Age estimated the
loss at $100,000.
DeKalb County lost some records in the blaze as well. The current
courthouse was being built at the time, and the previous one had
been torn down. McIntyre was allowing his Plants One and Two to
be used as a temporary courthouse.
It was only through heroic efforts that any of the county's
records in Plant One were saved.
The Feb. 9, 1913, issue of The (Auburn) Evening Dispatch wrote
of the fire, "The four pumps at the water works plant were
taxed to their fullest capacity, but were wholly unable to cope
with the situation. ... What was the cause of the fire will never
That was one of the last editions of The Evening Dispatch,
thanks to McIntyre, among others. He was a founding stockholder
in the Auburn Printing Co., which published the Auburn Courier,
the Auburn Dispatch and the Evening Dispatch.
The daily edition of the Courier merged with the Dispatches to form The Evening Star on Feb. 20, 1913, less than two weeks after the catastrophic fire.
The cyclecar business did well, although, according to Greg
Buttermore of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, McIntyre still
made more money on delivery wagons.
By 1914 there were 55 cyclecar makers. They organized The American Cyclecar Manufacturers' Association that year, and named McIntyre its first president.
McIntyre had built his automotive line around affordability,
but he was still using assembly methods from the days of wagon
When Henry Ford began selling tougher, more comfortable Model
Ts made on the assembly line for about the same price as McIntyre's
cars, it spelled disaster for W.H. McIntyre Co., Buttermore said.
The man with so much foresight miscalculated when he sold his
truck business to a Fall River, Mass., firm in June 1914. It appears
he was counting on cyclecars to be his company's future.
According to Buttermore, the cyclecar craze ended as suddenly
as it began. "It was truly a fad that died away," he
By January 1915, McIntyre placed the company in the hands of
his creditors. The Imp was discontinued when they took over.
McIntyre never seems to have recovered from the loss of his
company. His sons continued to work in the automobile industry,
but he did not re-enter it.
However, the gifts William H. McIntyre gave to DeKalb County and its communities are still giving to their residents today.