THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE HENRY FORD MUSEUM
WILLOUGHBY COMPANY RECORDS
Records, 1900-1939 (Predominantly, 1929-1939)3.33 linear feet 5 oversize boxes 2 tubes of rolled material
The Willoughby Company, a custom design automobile body firm, originated in Rome, New York in the late nineteenth century. The first owner, R.M. Bingham, specialized in custom sleighs and carriages. When the Bingham factory was destroyed by fire in 1897, the company moved to Utica, New York where they took over the facilities of the Utica Carriage Company. Bingham's son-in-law, Edward Willoughby, served as president. With partner William H. Owen, Edward Willoughby formed Willoughby-Owen & Co. and received contracts from the Columbia Automobile Company to produce bodies for electric cars in 1899. From 1901-1902 they produced an electric car of their own, but subsequently evolved into a custom body design and production firm. In 1903, the company was incorporated as the Willoughby Company. When Edward Willoughby died in 1913, his son, Francis Willoughby, carried on the business as the Willoughby Body Works.
Francis Willoughby was born in Rome, New York on April 30, 1887 and graduated from Hamilton College in 1909. For 25 years he operated one of the leading American custom design firms, building bodies for many luxury automobiles. Willoughby coachwork enjoyed a reputation for high quality workmanship, advanced ideas in styling and engineering, the finest of materials and elegant detail. The Willoughby Company employed from 100 to 300 employees, with an average payroll around $10,000 per week during peak production periods.
One of Willoughby's largest clients was Ford Motor Company, for whom they built many custom Lincoln body styles. The company also produced custom bodies for Packard, Pierce Arrow, Rolls Royce, Lozier, Reo, Marmon, Cadillac, LaSalle, and Duesenberg. Willoughby clientele included many prominent individuals such as New York mayor Jimmy Walker, boxing champion Joe Louis, Horace E. Dodge, and the Rockefeller family. Willoughby built two presidential cars for Calvin Coolidge and three for Herbert Hoover.
The Depression dramatically reduced the demand for limousines and luxury automobiles. In July 1938, Willoughby produced their last car and the company was liquidated after three generations of successful operation. The machinery and materials were auctioned off in February 1939 for a fraction of their value. A portion of the plant itself was then leased to a mushroom farmer.
With the dissolution of the company, Francis Willoughby joined the ranks of the unemployed. His job search is heavily documented in the collection and took him both in and out of his field. Despite his credentials and extensive business experience, he was unable to secure a position in the automobile industry. He eventually took a position with the Utica Mutual Insurance Company where he worked until his death on August 13, 1955.
The collection was donated to the Research Center in 1991 by Henry Austin Clark, Jr.
Hamilton College in Clinton, New York holds a small collection of college memorabilia relating to Francis Willoughby's graduating class of 1909.