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

American Car Company (St. Louis)

The American Car Company was organized at St. Louis in 1891 with William Sutton as President and Emil Alexander as Secretary. Both had previously been with the Laclede Car Company, which they had helped found in 1883.

By 1901, American had production of more than $1 million worth of cars per year. {182} But it had persistent financial problems, and on 12 September 1902, after extended negotiations, it was acquired by the J.G. Brill Company as part of its expansion plans. It became that company’s outlet to systems in the West and Southwest (of Ohio), but was operated under its own name until 1931.

American Car Co. 1903 advertisement 1903 advertisement. Click pic to read text.

Americans most notable contributions to car construction before becoming a unit of J.G. Brill were the roughly 350 single-truck cars built to the design of engineering firm Ford, Bacon & Davis. These cars were initially built for the Canal & Claibourne Railroad in New Orleans, beginning about 1896. They were clearly distinguishable by the wide clerestory of their steel-framed roofs. Some of these cars ran until the 1930s. One is still in use. Built in 1898, it is used by NOPSI (New Orleans Public Service, Inc.) as a rail grinder, track sander, and leaf vacuum.

American constructed an experimental car for Charles O. Birney in 1915: the first lightweight street car. The wobbly-riding four-wheel Birney Safety Cars went into production in 1916 and proved very popular with both the riding public and the companies. The public enjoyed new equipment and seemingly renewed transit company interest in marginal neighborhood lines, while the companies appreciated their economy and the reduced headways made by the purchase of more Birneys than would have been possible with regular cars.  They were also the first cars to be designed for one-man operation, having a unique deadman type controller that stopped the car if anything happen to the operator.

Birney "Safety Car" Typical Birney “Safety Car.”

Though American was not the only builder of Birney cars, it produced most of those sold in the United States, and almost 2,000 of the 6,000 in service worldwide by 1930.

The depression that began in 1929 hit the trolley industry hard, and the American Car Company was reorganized as J.G. Brill of Missouri 1 February 1931, but closed just four months later.

For More Information

Cox, Harold E. The Birney Car. Wilkes-Barre, PA: Byrne Printing Co., circa 1965.

Characteristics of a Birney car, lightweight car manufacturers (St Louis Car Co., Brill, American Car Co, Wason Mfg. Co., Cincinnati Car Co., Southern Car Co., G.C. Kuhlman Car Co., McGuire-Cummings Mfg. Co., and others), a listing for the trolley lines in the U.S. and Canada showing the Birney cars that they used with manufacturer data and some notes about the cars. Includes a number of photos and some scale drawings. 118 - 9¾" x 12" pages, comb bound.

09 April 2006

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