BY JIM MERCIER
In last month’s issue, we learned that Racine was once considered to be a formidable automobile manufacturing center, with several companies involved in producing Racine-made automobiles. We also learned that the Mitchell Motor Co. (who got its start as a wagon manufacturer) was the largest and best-known Racine automaker.
Historians estimate that over 2,000 makes of automobiles were sold in the U.S. throughout the heyday of domestic production, and Racine can be proud to have claimed a few of them.
One of the earliest automakers was the Pierce Engine Company. This firm first made gasoline engines, but began building the Pierce-Racine automobile in 1904.
Arrangements were made with the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company to market the car, and by 1910, Case bought the company and began to build their own CASE automobile. They proved to be very popular, and were even entered in numerous races at Indy. Case automobiles were made until 1927, when the company decided to manufacture farm machinery exclusively. The huge three-story building is still standing on the northwest corner of Clark and 23rd streets.
The Maibohm Motor Company began making a small, two-seater automobile in 1916 at 1500 Clark St. Three years later, their plant burned down and the company moved to Ohio. The president of the company was Peter Maibohm, a former blacksmith and wagonmaker.
The Piggins brothers, Charles and Fred, made an automobile for about one year in 1909, but turned instead to commercial truck manufacturing in 1911. The company operated until 1916.
Another automobile made in Racine from 1914 to 1916 was the LPC, named after the company founders: Lewis, Petard, and Cram. They were known for developing the first electric gear shift. The company was located in the old Racine Industrial Plant (now, Racine Business Center) on 16th Street.
Racine’s automobile legacy actually contributed to the formation of many automobile accessory plants here as well, some which are still in business. Tires, jacks, radiators, exhaust systems, and many other accessories were all made here, thanks to these automobile makers. As a side note, it was said that 95 percent of all the parts used on the Mitchells were either sourced locally, or manufactured in their own plants.
Only a few old buildings remain that link Racine to the glory years as an automobile manufacturing center.
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia and displays some of his collection in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneurs exhibit.