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Birmingham Motors - Jamestown, New York and Birmingham, Alabama - 1922
Beautiful certificate from the Birmingham Motors
issued in 1922. This historic document was printed by Goes and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an eagle. This item has the signatures of the Company's President, Samuel Carlson and Secretary, Harlan Van Wynch and is over 84 years old.
The Birmingham (1921-1923) was a 55 hp Continental-engined six on a 124-inch wheelbase with standard components used throughout but a most unusual flexible suspension system. Three transverse springs and an independent rear axle were combined with two transverse springs in front that made for a four-wheel independent suspension and the "easiest riding car ever put on the market," as advertising said. Alas, getting the Birmingham on the market was the hard part.
Because the suspension system was similar to that which had appeared on the Cornelian built by the Blood Brothers in Kalamazoo, Cyrus E. Weaver, the designer of the Birmingham, purchased all relevant patents held by the Blood Brothers. This was perhaps the only aspect of the Birmingham venture that went right.
The first Birmingham prototype sedan was completed and tested in Detroit in May of 1921, but already Jamestown, New York, had been selected as the factory site. The mayor of Jamestown, Samuel A. Carlson, agreed to serve as president of Birmingham Motors Corporation, accepting no salary for the position. Because he believed Birmingham would do for Jamestown what Franklin had done for Syracuse (and even, grandiosely, what Ford had done for Detroit), Carlson asked only for out-of-pocket expenses for promoting this new industry for his community.
Demonstrations of the new Birmingham were set up in numerous towns in Upstate New York and elsewhere, with an office opened in each for the sale of stock. Five cars were assembled in nearby Falconer by early 1922, these joined the two further cars previously put together in Detroit, and this fleet of demonstrators had soon hit as many as 50 cities. One of them was New York City for the National Automobile Show
in January 1922.
In March James B. Mansfield (a noted automotive engineer
and president of Mansfield Steel Corporation, Mansfield Truck Company, and Detroit Trailer Company) had been hired as consulting engineer, and Charles
A. Towne (who had served in both houses of the U.S. Congress and who had
run for the vice-presidency of the United States with Williams Jennings Bryan) came aboard as counsel. Stock was selling like hotcakes. But Mayor Carlson soon fell victim to his political enemies. Already a defamatory article about the company had appeared in the stock market publication, U.S. Investor.
Initially it was thought this malicious piece of journalism could be turned to
Birmingham's advantage. But in August 1922 the AP wire service buzzed
with the news that a Federal grand jury in Washington had filed a presentment following a 10-month investigation by the U.S. Post Office. The charge was
fraudulent use of the mails to sell more than $300,000 of worthless stock, and among the 18 Birmingham men named was Mayor Samuel Carlson.
Newspapers not friendly to Carlson had a heyday.
During the next two months Birmingham assembled 26 cars and chassis to prove its viability. But a stock holders meeting in October ended in bedlam, with one local stock salesman
stabbed to death. A Birmingham official smashed his way through a plate- glass window to escape. In June of 1923, the indictment against Birmingham
officials was dismissed in court. But the exoneration came far too late for Birmingham Motors. A valiant attempt was made to generate favorable publicity with a Duesenberg-engined special-built Birmingham race car to compete
in the 1923 Indianapolis 500, but the money ran out before it could be
completed. In December mortgage foreclosure arrived. In 1924 there was an attempt to revive the Birmingham as a new car to be called the Wright for the Canadian market.
This plan fell apart quickly. As many as 50 Birminghams
may have been built during the contentious short life of the company. None of the cars are believed to exist today.
Samuel A. Carlson was Mayor of Jamestown, N.Y. in 1909-10, 1916, 1933-37.
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