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

McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Company

McGuire Manufacturing Company
Cummings Car & Coach Company

The Mc-Guire-Cummings Manufacturing Company had its beginnings in Chicago, Illinois, possibly as far back as 1870, when William McGuire began a manufacturing business. We don’t know yet whether this business initially took on the name of the McGuire Manufacturing Company, or whether that name came a little later. We do know it had that name by 1893.

One of McGuire’s first products, if not his first, was a power truck for streetcars and interurbans. It appears McGuire made his first electric trucks in 1888, the very year in which Frank Sprague built the first fully successful electric streetcar line (in Richmond, Virginia). The McGuire firm may therefore be the first in the United States to manufacture these essential components of trolley cars. But by 1893, it was not the only one. An article in the Chicago Tribune of 5 February 1893 tells how the McGuire Manufacturing Company, “the largest electric truck manufacturers in the world,” had beaten out “every truck manufacturer in America” for a contract to build 75 trucks for an electric road being built along the Niagara River from Niagara Falls to Queenstop [sic], Ontario. The article states that McGuire won the contract based on “the ground of general superiority.”

But electric trucks were not the only thing thing McGuire was building by 1893. On 25 June 1889, William McGuire was awarded a U.S. Patent (No. 406,002) for a grain car door, and McGuire’s door was awarded the only prize given for grain doors by the World’s Columbian Exposition. This area of McGuire’s business would be sold off in 1899 to the newly-formed American Railway Equipment Company.

Patent Drawing of McGuire Grain Door
Patent drawing of grain door designed by William McGuire. The top panel folds forward and down, then the door raises like a garage door to a storage position against the roof of the car.

We can’t be sure just when McGuire expanded into the construction of complete cars, including snowplows and sweepers. The McGuire snow sweeper was a patented design with an angular wooden body mounted high above the track on a rigid steel frame. An extra motor drove the broom(s) by means of a sprocket and chain. The sweeper also had extendable side plows to push the snow clear of the tracks. These side plows were folded back against the car sides when not in use. McGuire claimed its car was “guaranteed to remove eighteen inches of snow from any tramway track.” (We have searched in vain for McGuire’s patent. If you have this information, please share it with us.)

McGuire Snow Sweeper
Cornwall Street Railway #3 at Cornwall, Ontario, 22 July 1948. (John M. Mills photo courtesy of Dons Rail Photos)

In 1896, McGuire experienced the curse of all builders of wooden cars: fire. On 10 September 1896, half its Chicago plant, located at 127-135 North Sangamon Street, was destroyed. The loss on electrical appliances in stock was estimated at $25,000; the loss on the building at $5,000. Unusual in the least, all losses were covered by insurance.

The article in the Chicago Tribune for 10 September 1896 that reported the fire also told a bit about the McGuire plant. It was situated midway between Austin Avenue and Kinzie Street, and extended through the block from Sangamon to Morgan. It consisted of two three-story buildings separated by an alley. It was the building fronting on Morgan that was destroyed. This building was approximately 100' x 300' square.

By 1902 McGuire had built a subsidiary plant at downstate Paris, Illinois (in the east central part of the state, close to Terre Haute, Indiana), and was building freight and passenger cars for steam railroads as well as electric cars. It would be interesting to know the story behind the establishment of this plant, but we haven’t yet been able to uncover it.

McGuire-Cummings Mfg. Co, Paris Plant ca. 1910
Portion of a postcard from about 1910 (Author’s collection)

Another story we haven’t yet uncovered is just how the McGuire Manufacturing Company became McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Company. We do know it came about on 1 January 1904, and that William McGuire died just three months later. John J. Cummings of Chicago was President of the new concern. It appears that John Cummings may have had his own company, the Chicago Car Company from about 1887 to 1890, and perhaps as late as 1905. We know that it went into “assignment” (bankruptcy) in August of 1890, but that is all we have been able to find out.


11 April 2006

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