Columbus was once the buggy capital of the world
Columbus is a city that prides itself on its diversity.
The city is not only the state capital; it is also the seat of the largest university in the state.
And Columbus’ economy is diverse too, with people working in commerce, commerce, education, and utilities, with only about one in five workers in manufacturing.
This has not always been the case. By the late 1800s, Columbus had made an offer to become a major manufacturing center. And the product to be manufactured was the buggy.
Making horse-drawn strollers from local materials was not new to Columbus. The city, founded to be the state capital in 1812, was home to a number of local car makers in the years following the arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and National Highway in the city in the early years. 1830. But the vehicles were made individually by local blacksmiths and carpenters and not in large numbers or at modest expense.
That all changed in the 1850s, and some of the people who could best see the possibilities were the Peters brothers.
George and Oscar Peters’ father came to Columbus in the 1830s and established his family in a tannery on the ravine carrying a town creek of a certain size immediately south of the county courthouse. Over time, the Peters Tannery and its rather smelly business gave the creek the new name of Peters Run. It was along the creek that the Peters brothers had grown up to become rather experts in making leather goods from the products of the tannery. These goods included leather trunks and leather dashboards for cars.
Unlike the rest of the family who just wanted to stay in the tannery, George and Oscar took business classes at local schools and worked for various businesses and businesses. In the mid-1850s the brothers realized that Columbus was a good place to make things and in the 1860s they opened a business manufacturing strollers.
The business has had modest success. Reserves of coal, iron, and timber were available, and the arrival of railways in the 1850s made it possible to ship finished products economically. By 1870 they had sold around 100 buggies at auction but were looking for new opportunities. They found them in two ways – with a person and a plan.
It was Clinton D. Firestone, a Canton native who had operated a railroad in Iowa but turned to Ohio for a fortune. He met the Peters brothers, and the three decided to get into the buggy business. Their plan centered on the success of the newly completed Hocking Valley Railroad, which could supply immense quantities of lumber, iron, and coal to industries in Columbus at very low prices.
Their first business was called Iron Buggy Co. and in 1870 it was in a cheap 2 story frame building in High Street and Hickory Alley. A single frame design combined with inexpensive labor created a buggy that could be sold for $ 150. In their first year, they sold 237 strollers.
The factory building burned down in 1874 but was quickly rebuilt by the brothers. In 1875, perhaps intending to try something a little different from the iron buggies, they sold the business to HK Tuller of the Buckeye Buggy Co. In 1875 Firestone and the Peters brothers founded the Columbus Buggy Co. with an initial capital of $ 20,000.
Using inexpensive materials and a simplified version of what today would be called an assembly line, the company was very successful. In 1878, the company employed 250 people and manufactured 100 strollers per week. In 1883, the company employed 1,000 people and manufactured 25,000 strollers per year. In 1888, the company buildings occupied an entire block between High Street and Wall Street.
A relative of CD Firestone, Harvey Firestone worked for Columbus Buggy for a while and took the lessons he learned in Columbus to form his own company, Firestone Rubber, in Akron, making solid rubber tires for cars. .
Oscar Firestone died in 1894, followed by George Firestone in 1897, but Clinton Firestone and the managers they appointed continued. In 1903, the company entered the automobile industry with an electric car. In 1908, they contracted car designer Lee Frayer to create a gasoline-powered car. His name was Firestone-Columbus, and his test pilot was a local boy named Eddie Rickenbacker.
Unable to compete with even more economical producers like Henry Ford with his Model T and devastated by the damage caused by the flood of 1913, Columbus Buggy was closed in 1914. CD Firestone died that year.
At its peak, Columbus Buggy was one of more than 22 Columbus-based buggy companies. One in six cars made anywhere has been made in Columbus.
Soon all of these businesses were gone. A few of the Columbus Buggy factory buildings have survived as commercial structures, and one is a residential unit called Buggyworks. It keeps alive a bit of the memory of a once great industry.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for This week’s community news and The Columbus Dispatch.