Many have compared the early days of the US automobile industry as being much like the technology boom of the 1990s; such was the rapidity of growth and change. Automotive executives in the early twentieth century regularly switched companies and launched spinoffs and start-ups, and this culture of cross-pollination spread innovative manufacturing and design ideas among the manufacturers. It also established an early pattern of constant bankruptcies, recapitalizations and the discovery of its charlatans and frauds.
Like many automobiles of this period, Checker’s roots go back further than its original offering in the market of 1922 and is perhaps linked to one of the early charlatans.
With regard to charlatans, I’ll let you be the judge as we lay out the Checker story. Most historian take Checker’s roots back to 1908, but the man behind the enterprise that would be become Checker Motor Corporation was known in the industry well before 1908.
It all started with the incorporation of a company called The Autocarrette Company in Alexandria, Virginia. Eight Washington business men with no actual experience in producing vehicles set out to produce and operate automobiles and taxicabs to be used in Washington D.C. In April of 1900. Shortly after organizing the company, the leaders of Autocarrette: O. G. Stables and W.E Schnieder decided that they could not manufacture the vehicles but would focus on operating the bus/taxi service. The new directions would have its own inherent problems, vehicles were not readily available in 1900, the decision required that Autocarrette would have to find a
partner to produce cars and taxis required to operate the business.
Management found just the man: William A. Schaum, president of the Schaum Automobile and Manufacturing Company of Baltimore, Md. Now this sounds like a great plan, but the reality was the Mr. Schaum had never produced any cars in a commercial sense. Schaum’s business was essentially a warehouse and auto repair shop.
|1902 Schwam motorized buggy produced in Baltimore|
Schaum was contracted to produce ten jitneys for $40,000. Each vehicle was to be able to carry 20 passengers, ironic as the word autocarrette was defined as small car, but the actual Autocarrette taxi was a large vehicle.
As soon a as the big electric taxi buses were delivered the problems began. The vehicles required constant service, the issues so significant that the entire service would temporarily shut down in September 1901 when the majority of electric motors in the vehicles needed to be replaced.
In February on 1901 the city of Washington was flooded with complaints from DC residents. A report issued by the district summed up the problems: the vehicles were “unsightly in the extreme” and generated an “unholy din” in the neighborhood.
What would ultimately become a chronic problem for Schaum: litigation ensued, it was initiated against him for repayment of the $40,000.00 for his horrible in-operables taxis.
By 1902 Autocarrette was no longer in business but Schaum did continue to produce automobiles. Schaum produced 16 runabouts, equipped with a one cylinder engines operated with a chain drive. Probably the most interesting feature of Schaum’s runanbout was that the vehicle were not equipped with brakes. More interesting, yet never explained was Schaum’s claim that the runabout would be able to stop without brakes!. By 1903 Schaum would close his business and move out of town leaving behind many angry customer and investors.
Mr. Schaum would drop off the auto scene for several years, but he would remerge in Buffalo in 1908 and form his second company. In Buffalo there was change, his name: William A. Schuam was now William Andrew De Schaum. More a con man than a manufacturer, in 1908 he claimed that he was formerly with C. Rossier Manufacturing, where he was credited with creating a successful high wheeler automobile; essentially a traditional four-wheeled buggy with a motor.
In 1908 Motor World Magazine would describe De Schaum as follows: “Mr. De Schaum is a prolific smoker of cigarettes, De Schaum claims to have built a car in 1895 and to have completed in the first automobile race in this country: also claims to have originated the spark plug and several other things of moment”. Great claims but with a little research the claims will prove out as false.
De Schaum introduced a high wheeler, named the “Seven LittleBuffaloes”, but unfortunately the high wheeler auto genre was already falling out of grace in the marketplace when compared to more innovative designs of the 1908.
The De Schaum high wheeler was a two-cylinder, air-cooled, 10-horsepower open air carriage that would travel 15 mph. The wheelbase was 74 inches with 38-inch wheels. It had cable drive and a friction transmission at a price of $600. Unlike the 1901 Schaum runabout his 1908 car would actually have brakes. Additionally De Schaum introduced a surrey with a wheel base of 84 inches that sold for $700. With only 36 units produced, it was a total failure. De Schaum would close down this company and move on to his next project.
Records indicate DeSchaum incorporated his third company in New York State with $150,000 capital. This venture went nowhere, not ever producing a single car! Records show that, after fighting with contractors and business leaders he produced conflict and chaos as opposed to automobiles. Apparently the Hornell business leaders discovered that DeSchaum was broke, not having a single dime. The $150,000 of capital was a mirage, as con men do when discovered De Schaum left Hornell, never to return.
As many young men did back in the early part of the twentieth century, he headed west: to Michigan. By the end of 1910, De Schaum was back in business. In September of 1910 De Schaum latest project would be displayed in Detroit. It was reported in The Automobile magazine “The Suburban Limited will be produced here (Detroit) by the DeSchaum Motor Car Company, made its appearance on the streets last week and affected considerable
attraction. It is a light car, all parts are Hecla steel and practically all under the hood. It will sell for $900.00 to $1000.00. The company is comprised of 10 Detroit business men including W. Andrew DeSchaum designer of the car, they expect to sell 500 cars next year”. It’s not clear that there was 10 actual living breathing business men involved other than DeSchaum. Also note that again De Schaum now goes by the name W. Andrew DeSchaum, his third name change and fourth car company.
|“A light car, all parts are Hecla steel and practically all under the hood. It will sell for $900.00 to $1000.00”|
DeSchaum soon engaged in dialogue with the bigwigs of two Michigan cities: Wyandotte and Encorse in order to find a new place to settle and build the new cars, not in Detroit as reported earlier in 1910. The DeSchaum Motor Car Co. was reorganized in September 1911 with the same officers, into a new company, Suburban Motor Car Co. DeSchaum fifth attempt at a car company, the new concern now had ambitious plans beyond just producing cars, the new plans called for the development of a new industrial community on acreage in nearby Ecorse. , De Schaum secured capital from various Encorse investors including 230 acers of land.
According to press announcements in the New York Times as well as many automotive journals at the time, the new Suburban Motor Car Co. was designed to be an impressive complex of factory buildings with direct access, via the Ecorse River, to the Detroit River and to the railroad lines that ran through to the city from the south — with an adjacent model ‘garden village’ where the employees of the Suburban would live.
The Suburban Motor Car Company’s Model A-4 roadster, produced in Detroit, heavily promoted, De Schaum toured in would tale this vehicle across the country in several endurance run.
At the same time, the officers separately formed the Suburban City Co. real estate firm, which shared Suburban’s Whitney Building offices in downtown Encorse. The real estate enterprise was established to promote the planned development of the 240 acres at Ecorse into the model village to be known as Suburban City. Suburban’s scheme for a ‘garden village’ was described in the trade journal, Parks and Cemeteries and Landscape Gardening, of November, 1912. Designed by noted landscape architect T. Glenn Phillips; the complex was planned to straddling the Ecorse River with acreage extending south of St. Cosme Line extending west to Fort Street.
It was an ambitious development project to be sure, possibly the first of its kind in the nation. The fact that architect T. Glenn Phillips, was involved in creating the design added significantly to the hoped-for distinction and success of their plans. Phillips was also known for his landscaping of the Henry Ford home on Edison in Detroit, and later designing the campus of Michigan Agricultural College in Lansing. The Suburban Motor Company was however, a failed enterprise almost from the start. With a lack of capital and accused of mismanagement.
In the May 30th 1912 issue of Motor World Magazine another figure from Suburban motors enters the fray, O. B. Bachman of the Western Securities Company of New York.. According to Motor World Bachman was soliciting investors on behalf of Suburban. Bachman claimed he had absolute proof that investors would gain 20 to 30 percent of their investments into Suburban. We went further to explain that investor could even consider returns of 60 to 1000 percent! Clearly by the summer of 1912 Suburban was running out of cash. Bachman
was retained to infuse the company with more dollars.
the check he tendered for $150, 000.00 as capitalization had never cleared the bank nor was it deposited, if just sat endorced sitting in a desk drawer, DeSchaum was actually broke. The Board determined that since the check was never deposited, De Schaum never actually had an investment in Suburban Motor Cars. He resigned in disgrace on November 12, 1912.
More troubling for the investors of Suburban Motor Cars was the discovery that a disgruntled employees had destroyed all the company finance records.
Fortunately for Checker fans, The Suburban Motor Car Company was reorganized. Once the dust had settled and auditors were able to understand the complex financial workings, the company was reorganized. Suburban carried on as a real estate company and the various plots of land set up for Suburban City were sold off to buyers. $3000.00 of liabilities sat on the balance sheet for a small company named the Palmer Motor Co.
Randall A. Palmer of Pontiac, Michigan and former organizer of the Cartercar Company along with other interested parties leveraged that $3000.00 of debt and took over the Suburban Motor Car Company the plan was to start the real business of building automobiles.
|R A Palmer Center picture with his leadership team after Suburban takeover|
You would think after no fewer that four failed attempts to build a viable automobile company DeSchaum would give up, but no DeSchuam was not done, at the end of 1912 he was ready to move on to his next auto promotion and sixth car company. De Schuam started to explore the “cycle car” fad of 1913. Just three months after leaving Suburban Motor Cars he was in trouble again. According to the January 22nd 1913 issue of “Motor World” headlines read: De Schaum’s Cyclecar project in Court. According to Motor World:
“W. Andrew De Schaum, who has promoted many things in many place and like many others of his inclination is now “full of Cyclecars” is in trouble again. The most recent creation of the De Schaum brain is the Automobile Cyclecar Co. In order to float it, money was necessary and to obtain the money De Schaum resorted to the not unusual procedure of selling paper. He sold 300 shares to Joseph Kopitzke, who purchase stock at $10.00 shares paying $500.00 down. When the company failed to set sail on the sea of dollars, Kopitzke became so impatient that last week he instituted action to recover the $500.00 which he had paid in”
De Schaum’s cycle car project would fail too and there would be more litigation. Two years later DeSchaum would die of pneumonia never to build a car or scam an investor again. There were many unkind obituaries, in the end it was clear that De Schuam was really just a promoter conning investors out of there hard earned dollars. That said despite his failure there were still enough assets and solid prototypes to cobble together a car company.
Stay tuned for more chapters regarding Checker’s humble beginnings.
Special thanks to the Encorse Public Liabrary