Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Electric Wheel Company - The Next Generation

The majority of what I’ve written in my blog posts over the last few years has dealt with what took place while wagon and western vehicle manufacturers were still building and selling wooden wagons.  That said, not all of these companies ceased doing business when the market for these products finally ran its course.  Of those that survived, some evolved into the furniture business.  Others began building trailers.  Some went into the auto body and accessory trade.  Still others went back to their roots.

Such is the case with a company still headquartered in the city where it began nearly 125 years ago.  Known for building a host of agricultural equipment during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Electric Wheel Company (EWC) of Quincy, Illinois carved out a broad product line and rich history after its incorporation in April of 1890.  Beginning with a capital stock of $25,000 to manufacture steel wheels†, the firm has grown well beyond its enthusiastic beginnings.  While the name – Electric Wheel – may sound strange today, when the business was started, electricity as a welding source was cutting edge technology.  The term had a similar impact as words/phrases like ‘digital’, ‘LED’, ‘touch screen’, and ‘wireless' often have today.  Hence, the use of the name ‘Electric’ drew attention to the firm as an innovative and trusted leader known for its commitment to quality.  As you’ll see, it’s a legacy deeply rooted in this organization.

This rare, circa 1900 image shows a very early “Handy” wagon from EWC.  The company's early literature shared their role as the originators of this type of vehicle.  It was lower to the ground, making it more stable and easier to work off of than wagons with high wheels.  

From their earliest days through the 1950’s, the company patented and produced a wide variety of products.  Included within that list are steel wheels, tractors, wagons, truck bodies, crawlers, trailers, front end loaders, semi-trailer fifth wheels, house movers, circular saws, surge brakes, scoop boards, short-turning trailers, and much more.  The company was also involved in fulfilling military contracts during World War II.  In 1957, the business was acquired by Firestone and the product line shifted a bit to include recreational trailers for products like snowmobiles and boats. 

Today, the firm is known as Titan International of Quincy, Illinois.  While under a different name, incredibly, the business is still focused on the product categories that gave it its start in 1890.  After building so many metal wheels, wagons, tractors, crawlers, and other equipment in its early days, the business has significantly grown; taking on a worldwide leadership role in the manufacture of tires and wheels for the most demanding of industries.  In fact, as shared on their website, Titan is the only company who designs, tests and manufactures both wheels and tires for agriculture, construction, forestry and mining.  Building tires and wheels for well-known mega-brands like John Deere, Case, New Holland, Kubota, AGCO, and Goodyear farm tires, Titan also makes trailer components like brakes, hubs, couplers, and actuators for numerous other manufacturers.

Our Wheels That Won The West® collection of materials related to the Electric Wheel Company spans almost three-quarters of a century.

Recently, our extensive collection of early EWC literature and history was tapped by Titan to help share the rich heritage of the firm.  Celebrating their 125th anniversary in 2015, Titan International is making plans for an interpretive center with highlights of early products, innovations, and promotional efforts.  Individually and collectively, the pieces outline their legendary and innovative role in the manufacture of quality tires and wheels.  So, the next time you run across an “Electric” wagon, gear, or other product, consider the rarity of the piece as well as the foundation it laid for one of today’s most recognized leaders at the farm, forest, field, trail, and mine. Their slogan, ‘Titan Moves The World’ is reinforced by the video link below. 

† “The Electric World”, Vol 15, no. 18, p.306, April 26, 1890