When the automobile industry was just getting started, every major city in the United States had at least one manufacturer. In Omaha, there were several including the Ottomobile, Ford trucks, and the Omaha Car, which lasted for just over a year between 1912 and 1913. This is a history of the Omaha Motor Car Company in North Omaha.
In early 1912, a designer named David W. Henry designed the Omaha 30 car. After learning the craft of automotive design and manufacturing over a decade with the Columbia Automobile Company in Connecticut, Henry established a company in Muskogen, Michigan in 1910, and another in Mason City, Iowa in 1911. After Henry secured a group of Omaha businessmen to invest in his idea, in February 1912 the Omaha Motor Car Company was incorporated. Investors in the company included local businessman Walter Moise, W. L. Huffman Automobile Company and the State Bank of Omaha, and the company was organized with $1,000,000 in stock. E. E. Howell was the president of the board of directors.
Within a month, Henry released plans for a two-story factory at 4311 North 20th Street in the Saratoga neighborhood‘s manufacturing district along the Belt Line Railroad, and planned to have their first car finished by April 10, 1912. The first model was a touring car called the Omaha 30. It was a four cylinder car that was nine feet, 10 inches long.
In the meanwhile the company needed space to build their products, so they leased room in the newly constructed Stroud Company factory located immediately south. Stroud made road construction equipment and had extra room in their plant. Henry speculated that the company would build 1,000 cars between May 1912 and May 1913.
A Turn for the Worse
By July 1913, the company had problems. Henry was trying to eject W. A. Gordon and W. L. Huffman from the board of directors. The W. L. Huffman Automobile Company sold Hupmobiles from a showroom on Farnam. The companies competed with each other for resources, with more than one switching from the Omaha Motor Car Company to Huffman Automobile Company and vice versa.
Gordon, who also owned stock in Omaha Motor Car Company, took Henry to court for “obtaining money under a false pretense.” Apparently, Henry wrote a bad check to Gordon. Meanwhile, Gordon held onto stock for the company after verbally telling Henry he sold it, which he hadn’t reported to the company officially. Meanwhile, Henry was owed $2,000 and Gordon disclaimed any responsibility because he didn’t own stock any longer, according to his word.
By October 1913, the company declared bankruptcy. The company claimed $10,140 in assets, including six finished cars, several unfinished cars, tools and office furniture. It owed approximately $42,000 in debt to creditors.
W. L. Huffman petitioned federal courts to intervene in the liquidation of the completed cars, and in late October an auction was stopped so he could claim the property. It wasn’t until May 1914 that the courts awarded him custody of the cars. According to an announcement in the Omaha World-Herald, Huffman immediately sold them on the market.
Another auction was held early in November, and soon after W. H. Miles announced he bought the Omaha Motor Car Company factory and sought to hire apprentices. However, in early December, Miles announced the sale of “the complete stock of the Omaha Motor Co.,” including “chassis, bodies, fenders, hoods, radiators, springs, wheels, lamps, electric horns, coils, batteries, shock absorbers, rear axles, gears; also a lot of small parts that any repair man can use to good advantage.”
Today, there’s no sign that the Omaha Motor Car Company ever existed. There is no historic marker, plaque or other signage on the location, and history books have largely forgotten the involvement of David W. Henry in the city’s history.
In 1916, Henry was reportedly organizing a new multi-million dollar company to build a four-wheel drive.
Built in 1916, the W. L. Huffman Automobile Company’s Hupmobile building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1914, and declared an Omaha Landmark in 1916. For all intents and purposes he won any contest he had with Henry.
You Might Like…
- “The Omaha 30 Underslung Fails in the Gateway to the West” from theoldmotor.com on June 13, 2015.