Peerless Motor Car Company, Cleveland Ohio
The Peerless Motor Car Company remains something of an enigma in the Cleveland automobile industry. While the peerless car ranked among the nation's most expensive, its production outlasted moat of Cleveland's medium-priced automobiles. While the Peerless factory "foreshadowed the best in modern architectural trends," the plant's manufacturing methods were twenty years behind the times when the company folded in 1931.
The Peerless Motor Car Company began in 1869 as The Peerless Wringer and Manufacturing Company. It became The Peerless Manufacturing Company in 1891 when it added bicycles to its line of wringer washing machines. The plant on Lisbon Street, adjacent to the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad tracks, had a rectangular, two-story office. The Cleveland Rubber Company, whose general manager L. K. McClymonds presided over The Peerless Manufacturing Company, stood next door.
In the early part of 1900, The Peerless Manufacturing Company became a parts supplier for the DeDion-Bouton Matoretta, a French automobile manufactured in Brooklyn, New York. When that company ceased production late in 1900, Peerless began manufacturing its own Motorette automobile as well as offering general machining and brass foundry services.
In 1902, the company reorganized as The Peerless Motor Car Company with a capitalization of $600,000. The company maintained L.K. McClyraonds as president and appointed Lewis H. Kittredge as its general manager and Lewis D. Mooers as its mechanical engineer. Mooers "designed a range of cars which were very advanced for their time," with shaft drive, bevel gears, and pressed steel-frame construction.
The Peerless Motor Car Company produced 90 automobiles in 1902, raising that total to 400 in 1903. The company manufactured many of its own components, becoming one of the first Cleveland automobile plants to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency. That self-sufficiency did not lower the cost of the company's automobiles. Ranging in price from $2,800 to $11,000, the peerless was, in 1903, "the most costly touring car built in America."
Yet, Peerless automobiles sold well. By 1906, the company had outgrown its Lisbon Street facility. It purchased, as a site for a new plant, a former farm at the corner of Quincy Avenue and Oakdale Street (E. 93rd Street) abutting the New York and St. Louis Railroad tracks. That same year, 1906, Lewis Kittredge became president; Edwin Parkhurst, vice-president; and Charles Schmidt, chief engineer.
The Peerless Motor Car Company hired the Cleveland engineer, Ernest McGeorge, to design its new factory. With the Winton plant as a possible model, McGeorge housed Peerless' various departments in two-story gable-roof buildings, arranged in three parallel rows, and separated by 30 foot roadways. A 1906 company brochure describes the "entirely new plant." The plant comprises a group of four buildings, containing about 90,000 square feet of floor space and covering almost 5 1/2 acres of ground. In the large assembly building (270 feet by 100 feet) the motor parts and the cars are assembled, and the bodies are painted, trimmed, and finished. Another building (430 feet by 50 feet) contains the machine shop, power plant, stock room, experimental room, pattern shop, drafting room, and office. The foundry and blacksmith shop occupy a building (150 feet by 40 feet), while the motor testing, nickelplating, and repairing are done inaa fourth building (270 feet by 30 feet,)" The factory employed a unified architectural vocabulary. Most of the buildings had wooden double-hung windows, brick buttresses with a corbeled cornice, stepped brick parapets used as sign-boards, and gabled roofs with central skylights and clerestory spaces. The plant also had a common structural system with concrete floors, steel columns and girders, brick bearing walls, and wooden-truss roofs. The steel-framed, iron-clad foundry at the rear of the site remained the only exception to that system. Although not specified in the 1906 brochure, the manufacturing methods of the new plant probably used sawhorses for the stationary assembly process, standard belt-driven equipment in the machining of parts, and much hand labor in the moving of materials on carts among the various buildings.