A century ago, many of those people who were “dashing through the snow” were probably doing so in one-horse open sleighs produced by the Lull Carriage Company of Kalamazoo. The company produced more carriages than sleighs, but judging from the number of requests for information that the library receives, it is their sleighs that are still hanging around in barns waiting to be restored. The sleigh catalog which accompanies this sketch shows the great variety of models that were produced and gives specifications for colors and trim styles.
Early roots of the company
The Lull Cariage Company had its roots in several earlier businesses here. Linford C. Lull was born in South Haven in 1856, but he was raised and educated in Kalamazoo. He established the L. C. Lull Company about 1883 with Oscar M. Allen Jr. to manufacture agricultural implements. By 1891 they were also producing vehicles. He was joined that year by Tabor S. Skinner, who had previously been part owner of a dry goods store, and by 1893 they were known as Lull & Skinner Company, advertising "buggies, surreys, phaetons and road wagons," as well as harrows and other farming equipment.
Establishment and capacity
Although Skinner continued to be associated with Lull in other businesses, the Lull Carriage Company was incorporated without him on 19 September 1902 with a capital stock of $75,000. Lull was joined in the new venture by J. F. Beuret and H. Alexander Crawford, both of whom had been in the carriage business in Flint. At the time he moved here, Crawford had also been the youngest mayor ever elected in Flint.
The factory occupied the same large building that Lull & Skinner had, on a three and a half acre site near the corner of South Pitcher and Grace (now Gibson), adjacent to the Grand Rapids & Indiana and the Lake Shore railroads, which easily accommodated the shipment of their products. The plant had the capacity to produce ten thousand wheeled vehicles and five thousand sleighs and cutters per year, and by one account employed about 175 workers in 1906. That figure is probably hype, however, since the highest number of employees given for the company in state factory inspectors reports was 139 in 1912. In most other years, the figure was considerably lower than that. Nevertheless, it was still a medium sized company in the city, larger than most, but smaller than the well known paper mills, Henderson-Ames Company, Kalamazoo Corset Company, or Kalamazoo Stove.
Replaced by automobiles
Lull was not in the best of health, so he moved to Los Angeles about 1905 to take advantage of the mild climate. There he bought a share in the Auto Vehicle Company and became its vice-president and general manager. He maintained his business activities in Michigan, but died unexpectedly in Detroit in 1908, apparently while he was on a business trip. H. Alexander Crawford, who had been the treasurer of Lull Carriage Company, became its president after Lull's death and remained so until the company ceased manufacturing here in 1920. It became clear that automobiles were rapidly replacing carriages and sleighs, so the factory was sold to the Dort Motor Car Company of Flint, which planned to manufacture auto bodies here. Crawford announced his intention of moving the business south, where there was still a market for carriages, although there is no evidence that this was actually done. Instead, he became president of Kalamazoo Motors Corporation and continued his business interests here until 1937, when he returned to Flint. The continued interest in Lull Carriage Company sleighs nearly a century after they stopped being manufactured is a testimony to the high quality of the vehicles that they produced.