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Kalamazoo Motor Company

Groundbreaking Kalamazoo Automobile Dealership


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Kalamazoo Motor Company, 114-116 West Water Street, c.1910. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-1537.

“The twentieth century promises to change the whole appearance of the streets in the great cities of this country. It is the beginning of the horseless age.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 April 1899

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William M. Orrell. Gazette, 11 May 1910

Automobile sales were booming in 1910. More than 25 makes of cars were being sold in Kalamazoo by that time, including several electrics. That’s when a group of Kalamazoo businessmen purchased Edwin J. Dayton’s Burdick Motor Vehicle Livery on West Water Street and established the Kalamazoo Motor Company, a sales and service dealership for Oldsmobile, Detroit Electric, Mitchell, K-R-I-T, and Brush automobiles.

Articles of incorporation were filed in Lansing on February 16th announcing the new firm with $15,000 in capital stock. The company owner and president was Kalamazoo architect and engineer Albert E. Rose, company treasurer was Frederick E. Riley, along with attorney George V. Weimer, and brothers Thomas M. and William M. Orrell. Paul B. Haynes and Myles W. Standish were also involved, both of whom had worked for the local branch of the Cadillac Motor Car Company.

Electric Vehicles

Along with auto sales and service, the Kalamazoo Motor Company specialized in electric vehicles and featured electric charging facilities. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the new company would “care for electric cars and conduct an up-to-date garage… (and was) prepared to maintain them, including charging, washing, delivering and storage, for a fixed monthly rate.”

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Location of Kalamazoo Motor Co., 114-116 West Water Street. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Kalamazoo, MI, 1908. Library of Congress

“Everyman’s Car”

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 March 1910

The firm emphasized the reliability and affordability of the vehicles it sold, especially the Brush Runabout, advertised as “everyman’s car” at $485. Kalamazoo Motor Company ads stated that Brush automobiles could “be maintained for less money than it costs to keep a horse,” that it could “be run for more miles for less money than any other car in the world,” and that it would “do the work of any four cylinder Runabout built” (Gazette). Being both a skilled driver and an expert salesman, William Orrell reportedly shattering all local sales records when he sold more than 70 Brush automobiles during his first few months with the firm. (The photo at the top of the page shows what appears to be a 1910 Brush Runabout parked in front of the dealership with (likely) William Orrell at the wheel and (likely) Thomas Orrell standing behind the car with the dark jacket.) Will Orrell was soon promoted to general manager.

Under Orrell’s guidance, Kalamazoo Motor Company exhibited three of its latest models—a Brush Runabout, a K-R-I-T, and a Detroit Electric—at Kalamazoo’s first automobile show in April 1910. William Orrell himself drove a 1911 Hudson “20,” said to be “one of the classiest and most rakish roadsters in the city” (Gazette). His was the first Hudson to arrive in Kalamazoo and it created quite a stir among the local automobile enthusiasts with its distinctive design and $1,000 price tag.

In many ways the year 1911 was shaping up rather nicely for the Kalamazoo Motor Company. By January, the company already had standing orders for 25 new Hudsons, along with and an Oldsmobile “Autocrat” roadster for former Kalamazoo mayor, Frank Milham. In the firm’s West Water Street showroom, prospective customers could examine an Oldsmobile seven-passenger, 60-horsepower “Autocrat,” an Oldsmobile 40-horsepower, seven-passenger “Special,” a five-passenger Hudson model “33” Touring Car, and a Hudson “Mile-a-Minute” model “33” Roadster.

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1910 Hudson “20” as pictured in “The Hudson ‘Twenty’ 1910 First Announcement” brochure. Hudson Motor Car Co., Detroit, MI.

“There’s a fascination about the automobile game that certainly has ’em all going… Oh, you Hudson!”

—Tom Orrell, Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 February 1911

Midway through the previous year, however, Will Orrell had suffered a stroke and was confined to the hospital for several weeks. Although still associated with the company, Orrell never fully recovered. (A second stroke in August 1911 left him completely paralyzed and ultimately led to his death shortly thereafter.)

In Will Orrell’s absence, Paul Haines was promoted to manager, Miles Standish was in charge of selling and demonstrating, and Thomas Orrell was in control of the mechanical department. Come February 1911, several more changes took place within the company ranks. Miles Standish and Paul Haines left the firm, and Thomas Orrell, “one of the best known automobile salesmen in this part of Michigan” (Gazette), was promoted to general manager. Under Tom Orrell’s leadership, the company looked forward to the second annual Kalamazoo Automobile Show in April with a showing of its latest models, a Hudson “33” Touring Car and a Hudson “33” Pony Tonneau.

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1911 Hudson Model “33” Touring Car. Hudson Motor Car Company, Detroit, MI

Kalamazoo Auto Sales Company

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Harry B. Parker. Local History Room

In August 1911, the business was reorganized as a limited partnership called the Kalamazoo Auto Sales Company and moved to 118 North Edwards Street. Rather than maintain a garage and showroom, the company would instead devote itself completely to the sale of Hudson automobiles and associated repair work. Albert Rose retained ownership of the firm as company president with Thomas Orrell as general manager.

In 1912, Albert Rose sold his shares of the Kalamazoo Auto Sales Company to Harry B. Parker, a former newspaper editor who was by then an agent for Hudson automobiles in Van Buren, St. Joseph, and Kalamazoo counties. Parker, who was also a musician and later a founding member of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, joined lawyer Leo T. Flanders, an agent for Overland cars, and incorporated the firm in September 1912 as the Kalamazoo Auto Sales Company.

Their business grew quickly, necessitating a move to temporary quarters on West Main Street until a larger building could be built at the corner of Main Street (Michigan Avenue) and West Street (South Westnedge Avenue). By 1915, they were selling 1,200 cars per year as one of Kalamazoo’s leading automobile dealerships. Thomas Orrell had left the firm by then and opened his own automobile dealership, Thos. Orrell & Co., selling Franklin, Roamer, and Oakland brand automobiles. Parker remained with the parent firm until his sudden death in 1936.

The automobile brands represented by Kalamazoo Motor Co., Kalamazoo Auto Sales Co., and Thomas Orrell & Co. have all since come and gone. The Brush Motor Car Company (later Brush Runabout) went out of business in 1913, the K-R-I-T Motor Car Company followed in 1916, the Mitchell Motors Company filed for bankruptcy in 1923, and Overland (purchased by Willys) survived until 1926. The Roamer Motor Car Company (Barley Motor Car Co.), with manufacturing facilities in Kalamazoo, ceased production in 1929, and Oakland, acquired by General Motors, was replaced by the Pontiac make in 1931. The Franklin Automobile Company collapsed in 1934, Detroit Electric ceased manufacturing in 1939, and the last Hudson rolled off the line in 1957. The final holdout, Oldsmobile, survived as a division of General Motors until it was dissolved in 2004.

 

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, July 2023. Updated March 2024.

Sources

Books

The Kalamazoo automobilist : 1891-1991
Lyon, David O.
New Issues Press, Western Michigan University, 2002.
Call Number: H 629.2 L991 (CEN)


Articles

“The horseless age”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 April 1899, page 4

“City news in brief”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 February 1910, page 12

“New corporations”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 February 1910, page 1

“Large number of demonstrating cars”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 February 1910, page 5

Display ad (full page)
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 March 1910, page 9

“Will hold an auto show”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 March 1910, page 1

“Automobile show edition. Kalamazoo’s great motor display”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 April 1910, pages 1-12 (a full 12-page auto show edition)

“All in readiness for the auto show”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 April 1910, page 2

Display ad
Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 April 1910, page 3

“Orrell makes record sale of Brush cars”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 May 1910, page 4

“Machines to start from Gazette office”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 June 1910, page 6

“Among the motorists”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 August 1910, page 2

“Accidents and record time feature automobile races”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 September 1910, page 1

“Olds’ Autocrat will soon be received by Kalamazoo Motor Co.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 January 1911, page 5

“Kalamazoo Motor Co. has 25 Hudson cars contracted for; F.H. Milham buys an Autocrat”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 February 1911, page 25

“Snappy interviews with hustling auto dealers”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 February 1911, page 12

“Thomas Orrell made general manager of Kalamazoo Motor Co.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 February 1911, page 10

“Great interest is aroused in local dealers auto show”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 April 1911, page 7

Display ad
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 April 1911, page 9

“Is now Auto Sales Company”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 August 1911, page 4

“Stroke of apoplexy siezes[sic] William Orrell”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 August 1911, page 3

“William Orrell dies after short illness”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 August 1911, page 3

“The men behind the third annual automobile show”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 February 1912, page 8

“Harry Parker buys up all interests of Auto Sales Co.”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 June 1912, page 6

“The largest and best equipped garage in Western Michigan”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 February 1916, pages 6-7

“Auto Sales Company gets high mark among concerns of kind in United States”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 January 1921, page 4

“Harry B. Parker dies suddenly after heart attack”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 March 1936, page 1


Local History Room Files

History Room Photo File: P-1537

History Room Subject File: Automobiles

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