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

G. C. Kuhlman Car Company

G.C. Kuhlman Company

The G.C. Kuhlman Car Company had its beginnings at Cleveland, Ohio, in the custom-carpentry business of Gustav C. Kuhlman (c.1859-1915), his father and three brothers. The family did the beautiful hardwood interiors we now so much admire in upscale houses and offices of the nineteenth century. In the 1880 U.S. Census for Ohio, we find 21-year-old Gustave, born in Baden (State), Germany, residing in the home of his father Frederick, declaring his occupation as “sawyer.”

As did many firms and individuals of the time that did fine carpentry, the family started building horse cars during the 1880s.

In 1892, Gustav started his own firm, the G.C. Kuhlman Company, specializing in street railway and interurban vehicles. The business soon outgrew the family shops and into two former car barns at Broadway and Aetna.

Rochester Railway open streetcar #31 poses for the camera sometime between 1905 and 1910. This car was built in 1904 by the G.C. Kuhlman Car Company. (Charles R. Lowe collection)

The G.C. Kuhlman Car Company was incorporated in 1901, and built a new plant where E. 140th Avenue (now Adams Street) crossed the New York Central railroad tracks in the suburb of Collinwood.

In 1904, the G.C. Kuhlman Car Company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the J.G. Brill Company, another firm concentrating on electrified cars, but cars continued to be built under the Kuhlman name. Gustav Kuhlman remained briefly as General Manager, and continued to keep his hand in at the plant until his death in 1915.

In 1906, Kuhlman produced one of the earliest gasoline-powered railcars. It was a 43'-9" eight-wheeled car powered by a 220-hp Chase engine. Built for the New York Central, it reportedly attained speeds as high as 65 mph.

"Arrow Car" by G.C. Kuhlman Sorry, this is not Kuhlman's gasoline-powered railcar. It's a “windsplitter” interurban car, evolved from 1904 Louisiana tests. Its parabolic front gave this steel car a formidable appearance, but it was no faster than conventional cars, and few were built.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History says

“Kuhlman ultimately built over 5,000 electric railway vehicles, most of which were streetcars. Only about fifteen percent of Kuhlman’s output consisted of interurban cars. Railways in Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Illinois accounted for most of Kuhlman’s orders, with Cleveland and Detroit being the two largest city customers. During the early 1920s the firm branched into bus body construction, becoming one of the first manufacturers to build bus bodies entirely of steel. Cleveland’s White Motor Corp. was a major customer.”

By the time of the 1st World War, the automobile was making inroads on city and interurban railways, and this trend accelerated even through the Great Depression. Orders became fewer and fewer, and Kuhlman/Brill had to look for other markets. Besides bus bodies, between 1927 and 1932 Brill/Kuhlman built steel diners (as distinct from dining cars). Doors on both ends of their façades gave the Brill Steel diners a streetcar look.

Brill Diner at Lynn, MA Brill Steel diner at Lynn, Massachusetts, date unknown.


On 1 February 1931 the G.C. Kuhlman Car Company was reorganized as J.G. Brill of Ohio, but the company couldn’t survive the Great Depression, and was closed 15 April 1932.

11 April 2006

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