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

Barney & Smith Mfg. Co. - Page 2

Barney & Smith was reportedly the largest car builder in the nation until Pullman opened his big plant near Chicago in 1881. In that year Barney & Smith employed more than 1,500 workers. In 1882, capital stock in the company was increased to $1 million to support further growth of the firm.

Drawing Car "America" Interior

Drawing Room Car “America.” One of six 68-foot, 12-wheel parlors built by Barney & Smith in 1879-1881 that included luxury of individual upholstered footstools. Used on the Milwaukee Road’s Pioneer Limited, between Chicago and St. Paul.

Drawing Room Car "America"

By 1890, Barney & Smith employed more than 2,000 workers. It entered the electric traction field and its cars were widely used in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The company grew to be a major supplier of freight and passenger cars in the later half of the 19th century, producing almost 6% of the nations total car production.

But Barney & Smith had begun to stagnate. Its craftsmanship was superb, its reputation impeccable. But it lacked the inventive resourcefulness to be on the leading edge of the emerging technology of the railroad industry.

They held practically no patents as a business and only two minor ones were held by employees. Through the year 1872 only three railway patents were granted to Dayton inventors and none of them was employed by the Car Works. Pullman was very much in the forefront of the railway passenger car patent race. Almost every type of freight car in existence through 1880 held some patent yet none of them were assigned to Barney & Smith or their employees. {20}

Although Eliam Barneys sons had taken an active part in the management of the company, in 1892 the Barney family sold its interest and the firm became publicly traded as the Barney & Smith Car Company, capitalized at $3.4 million.

Barney & Smith Advertisement

(Click for larger pic.)


But the new owners of Barney & Smith saw their visions of large profits evaporate quickly. The panic of 1893 struck the company with full fury. Railroads everywhere were going into receivership—even the mighty Union Pacific—and car builders had almost no orders. During 1893 six competitors were closed the entire year and four others from June to December. Barney & Smith paid a common stock dividend, but it was the last for 13 years.

In 1894, management decided to turn to the only railroad equipment being ordered: electric street railway and interurban cars. Much of the demand for these cars was in the midwest. Barney & Smith was strategically located to do well, and it did.

Lake Shore Electric Interurban Car

Wooden interurban car built 1903 for the Lake Shore Electric Railway of Ohio. Barney & Smith built the electric motor trucks as well as the car body.

By the end of 1897 all the freight car builders were experiencing increases in orders, especially those who quickly got equipped to produce the new steel cars. When Barney & Smith first discussed the idea of steel car production in 1896 it was at the forefront of the emerging technology. But by the time it acted, in 1905, 75% of the steel car surge was over, having been supplied by its competition.

By 1912 the interurban market had virtually dried up, the narrow gauge market was gone, and Barney & Smith management was drifting and directionless. Then on 25 March 1913 the Dayton plant was badly damaged by a tremendous flood. The company went into receivership and struggled on.

It came out of receivership in 1915, but orders simply drifted off to virtually nothing. The Government seizure of the railroads in 1917 was the beginning of the end. There was business to be had, but only to the lowest bidder, which Barney couldnt be. Then the post-war depression cut even what orders there were. The gates were closed in February 1921. The entire complex, 47 acres, 76 buildings, machinery, plant locomotives and materials was liquidated 12 June 1924 in a two-day auction that netted just $476,257 against indebtedness of almost $2 million.

The firm begun by an ex-teacher and an ex-minister, which had grown to have more than 3,500 workers in a plant covering 59 acres, closed its doors and went out of business after 73 years as a quality car builder.

For More Information

Cincinnati Historical Society Bulletin, Spring 1973.

Estabrook, Harry M. A History of the Barney & Smith Car Company of Dayton Ohio. Dayton, OH: J.W. Johnson, c. 1911; Reprint, Dayton, OH: Curt Dalton, 1997.

Reminiscences of some interesting events in the history of the company, with short biographical sketches of some of the men prominently connected with the company.

Taylor, Wilma Rugh and Norman Thomas Taylor. This Train Is Bound For Glory: The Story of America’s Chapel Cars. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1999.

The story of 13 churches-on-rails that followed the railroads west from 1890 to the 1940s and brought the gospel and the sacraments to the people living along the tracks. Most of these cars were built by (Baptists) Barney & Smith.

Trostel, Scott D. The Barney & Smith Car Co. Fletcher, OH: Cam-Tech Publishing, 1993.

History of the Dayton car builder including a business history and details of the production which included timber sawing, milling, assembly shops, iron and brass foundries. 232 pages, illustrated by photographs, graphs, rosters, engineering drawings. Goes through each department in the shops and tells what it did in manufacturing a car.

On-line —

The Mid-Continent Railway Museum has quite a bit to say about Barney & Smith in its articles on the restoration of Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western First Class Coach #63.

Back to page 1

09 April 2006

Home/Bldr. Index Bibliography Links Car-Bldr. Dictionary All-time Bldr. List C&S Rolling-stock