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

Missouri Car & Foundry Company

Madison Car Company
Madison Car Works

The Missouri Car & Foundry Company was established about 1876 at St. Louis, Missouri, by William McMillan, a brother of James McMillan, co-founder of the Michigan Car Company. Capitalized at $100,000 by a mixture of St. Louis and Detroit investors, it was apparently intended to be a branch of the Michigan Car Company. (James’ obituary in the New York Times even goes so far as to say he bought it “in order to make a good place for his brother.”) But other than a good working relationship, there is nothing to suggest Missouri Car & Foundry was in any way tied to Michigan Car & Foundry. William McMillan became Treasurer and General Manager of the company.

Business was begun in a plant covering five acres at Dickson and Main Streets. Five years later the increasing business of the firm necessitated an enlargement of its facilities, and they were moved across the Mississippi River to East St. Louis, Illinois. This plant was destroyed by fire about 1880 and the company returned to St. Louis, where it built new facilities on the line of the Iron Mountain Railroad between Anna and Dorcas Streets.

Sometime about 1879/80, McMillan bought out his business partners, and increased both the business capital and the size of its plant.

White suggests that in 1884 Missouri Car bought the Indiana Car Company at Cambridge City, Indiana. What they did with that company is not mentioned, {245} but the name of the Indiana Car Company is included in the list of Car Builders in the 1887 edition of Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials.

We don’t know how the depression years of 1884/85 effected Missouri Car & Foundry, but one can imagine they were tough times. Then in 1886, the works was almost completely destroyed by fire. The loss was estimated as between $150,000 and $200,000 [$3 - 4 million in today’s buying power), and only partially covered by insurance.

One source says that in 1891 Missouri Car & Foundry erected a plant across the Mississippi River from St. Louis at Madison, Illinois, and that each facility produced 900 - 1,000 freight cars monthly, in addition to castings and general foundry output. Though this dovetails with what we know of the Madison Car Company, at this point we have no evidence that firm was indeed begun by Missouri Car & Foundry.

In 1893, Missouri Car & Foundry produced two of the largest wood-framed boxcars ever produced. They were 60' long and 9'-2" high on the inside (this in a day when a typical boxcar was 30-35' long and 7'-6" high inside at the most). These early Hi-Cube cars were built for the St. Louis firm of Mansur & Tebbetts to ship buggies. They were too large to travel the eastern railroads, with critical clearance restrictions, so were used exclusively in the west. The side of the cars were painted as giant billboards to advertise the buggy manufacturer. {48}

In 1899, its then President, William Keeny Bixby, decided to expand Missouri Car & Foundry by merger and acquisition. On 6 March 1899, he purchased at auction the Madison Car Company across the Mississippi River from St. Louis at Madison, IL. {41} He then engineered a consolidation with the Michigan-Peninsular Car Company of Detroit, followed by 12 other independent car builders to become the American Car & Foundry Company, of which he was the first President, serving from 1899 to 1901. He thereafter became Chairman of the Board, then retired in 1905.

The Madison Car Company was founded at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1890.

A news item in the Davenport, Iowa, Morning Tribune for 4 October 1890 says, “The Madison Car Company’s works of St. Louis, Mo., will be located on the east side of the river, near the approach to the Merchant’s bridge.” [In an area then known as Madison Landing, and later as just Madison.]

By October 1891, Madison was turning out 300 box cars a month, working on an order of 1,000 for the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad. All were being equipped with Westinghouse air brakes. {121}

But apparently Madison was one of the casualties of the 1893 stock market crash that ultimately took down 15,000 commercial firms, 600 banks and 74 railroads. Just a month later it was in bankruptcy. Its assignee, Paul Fusz was applying to the courts for an order to run the works to complete contracts, and as this would require some two months, it would allow at least that much time to make arrangements “for the permanent settlement of present difficulties.” {122}

An article in the Decatur (Illinois) Weekly Republican two days later expands on the situation, saying assets are $918,000 while liabilities are $1,223,000. It also points out that the company had built a large new plant, “and has endeavored to build up a city similar to Pullman.” It further pointed out the company had been in “straitened [sic] circumstances” for some time, and that the company had employed 600.

Apparently the company came through this period all right, because by 1895 it is known to have split an order of 2,000 cars by the MKT Railroad with the Missouri Car & Foundry, with the latter building 800 while Madison built 1200. Note was made that it was “the biggest order given here in many years.” {123}

But though Madison survived the 1893 crash, it apparently did so by selling bonds secured by a mortgage on its properties. And in January of 1897, it was unable to pay the interest on those bonds. The St. Louis Trust Company, holder of the bonds forced a sale, which was to be held on 12 July 1897.

In an article describing the situation, the New York Times for 5 June 1897 calls the Madison plant “one of the most extensive and elaborately equipped in the country.” The works covered 11 acres, and it was said to have cost more than $1 million for the  plant and real estate.

We can't be sure just who bought the property at auction, or whether the auction was ever actually held. An article in the 27 November 1897 Newark (OH) Daily Advocate says the Madison Car Company had been “absorbed” by Missouri Car & Foundry Company. An article in the 27 November 1897 Chicago Tribune says much the same thing, but adds, “The East Side car works, which have been idle a year, will be reopened as soon as possible, giving employment to 2,000 men. The works will be operated as part of the Missouri Car & Foundry company”

But a news item in the local Edwardsville (Illinois) Intelligencer for 15 December 1897 says, “The plant of the Madison Car Company has been leased to the Missouri Car & Foundry Company, of St. Louis, for a term of five years. The foundry is now in use and the full plant will be in operation by January 1.”

We don’t see any further news of Madison until 1908, when the Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review reported that a representative of the Madison Car company had been in Decatur (in central Illinois about 110 miles above Madison) looking over condemned cars owned by the Wabash Railroad with an eye to buying 80 - 100 to be “repaired, repainted, and sold to interurban and small steam railroad lines.”

During the 2nd World War, the Madison plant built military items such as boat sections for invasion craft, dry dock sections, box and flat cars for overseas military railroads. Kaminski/American says they built no less than 6,500 42-inch gauge railroad cars for Army and export purposes.

Kaminsky says the Madison plant was closed by ACF in 1950, but another source says production of railcars continued after the war. And during the car shortages of the late 1970s, the Madison plant built thousands of box cars of the “railbox” design, as well as Coalveyer “bathtub” coal cars for public utilities, and flatcars for the Trailer Train Company and for various railroads. There followed a severe downturn in car purchases in the 1980s and the plant was closed in 1982.

Cast of Characters

William McMillan (1841-1901) was born at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. At age 16 he became a clerk in a hardware store. Six years later he moved to Ingersoll, Ontario, where he opened a hardware store of his own. Four years later he sold that enterprise and moved to Detroit, Michigan. There, with four special partners, he opened the wholesale hardware house of William McMillan & Company. Two years later, he withdrew from that business and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he founded the Missouri Car & Foundry Company.

McMillan became the Chairman of the Board of Directors (of MC&F or of AC&F?). He was also a benefactor of Washington University of St. Louis.

11 April 2006

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