Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Koppel Industrial Car & Equipment Company

Arthur Koppel began in the light railway business at Berlin, Germany, in partnership with Benno Orenstein 1 April 1876, doing general manufacturing as Orenstein & Koppel.

About 1885 the partners somehow divided the company—whether physically, or simply into two divisions we don’t know—with the Orenstein & Koppel firm continuing with the German market, while the Arthur Koppel Company concentrated on development of overseas business.

Although the Arthur Koppel Company built and supplied track and rolling stock, it did not build locomotives, but subcontracted them through other manufacturers including, of course, Orenstein & Koppel.

In 1905 or 1906, the Arthur Koppel Company purchased 558 acres of land above the Beaver River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and began constructing a plant and a company town. The plant appears to have built primarily—if not exclusively—industrial type cars such as dump cars and service cars for steam and electric railways, largely of narrow gauge. It is known that they built some 45 ft. 4-motor electric cars for the Chicago Railways Company in 1910. The firm had several sales offices, including one in Chicago.

Arthur Koppel died in 1908, shortly after the Pennsylvania plant was built, and the two companies re-integrated, doing business for some time under an awkward combination of names such as Orenstein & Koppel & Arthur Koppel Co. or Orenstein-Arthur Koppel Co. (sources differ). Eventually the name was simplified to the original Orenstein & Koppel, under which the German company still does business today, though they have not manufactured railroad cars since 1981.

(Railway Age Gazette, 14 February 1913)

In 1917, as the United States entered the European war that would become the 1st World War, the U.S. government arrested many of the company’s German managers and confiscated the company’s assets, including the Orenstein & Koppel properties in Pennsylvania. The assets were sold to the Koppel Industrial Car & Equipment Company, a newly established, wholly-owned subsidiary of the Pressed Steel Car Company.

True to its name, the company focused on industrial cars for standard gauge railways, rather than the narrow gauge market, which had largely died away. The company was crippled by the Great Depression and closed in 1937. Its assets were sold at public auction in 1938.

The German firm of Orenstein & Koppel is still going strong in Europe, advertising on their website the manufacture of wheeled excavators, crawler excavators, wheel loaders, motor graders, rollers, and articulated dump trucks. There is quite a bit of information on this firm online, if you read German!

11 April 2006

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