Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Peter Schuttler & Christoph Hotz

I never cease to be amazed at the complexity, sophistication, and competitive drive possessed by those in America’s early transportation industry.  With thousands of horse drawn vehicle makers to measure up against, deciding to open up a wagon shop in those days was not a suitable choice for folks lacking finances, marketing savvy, manufacturing prowess, or just plain guts.  With so much competition in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it clearly took more than a strong work ethic to be successful.  Ultimately, some didn’t last more than a few months and others never produced more than a handful of vehicles per year.  A few beat the odds, not only surviving but manufacturing tens of thousands of wagons and western vehicles annually.

One of the most revered of those early brands is Peter Schuttler.  Founded in 1843 in Chicago, the company’s two and four-wheeled products were well known on the western plains and trails as well as remote mountains and towns.  From freighting and ranching to farming and mining, the name ‘Schuttler’ carried a strong reputation.  It was a preeminent brand delivering exceptional quality, strength, style, and innovation.  During the late 1860’s, the company was looking to grow its competitive edge and a young German emigrant, newly-arrived in America, was destined to fill the bill.  His name was Christoph Hotz.  An talented engineer and machinist by trade, it didn’t hurt that Peter Schuttler II was his brother-in-law.  The founder and patriarch of the firm, Peter Schuttler I, had passed away just a few years earlier and this new partnership with Christoph Hotz was destined to underscore the Schuttler brand as an even more impressive western icon.  

Beyond the family relationship, what really set Mr. Hotz apart was his inventive genius.  He was full of ideas and instantly took to the wagon trade.  Patents began to flow out of the Chicago firm and continued from the 1870’s until the time of his death in 1904.  Among the inspirations credited to Hotz were new concepts for wagon axles, end gates, standards, gears, tongues, and more.  The concepts just kept coming, with some destined to reappear well into the twentieth century. 

To that point, many wagon enthusiasts are likely aware of a swivel reach offered on Weber brand wagons and patented in 1922 by parent company, International Harvester Corporation (see above).  A similar patent awarded to Christoph Hotz and Schuttler more than four decades earlier is less known.  Nevertheless, it helped pave the way for future designs of this type.  From the 1800’s through the early 1900’s, the rugged terrain created constant problems for wagon travel.  The racking, rocking, knocking, and twisting of the wagon wreaked havoc on every part of a gear – especially the reach or coupling pole.  In the 1880 Schuttler patent (see below), Hotz engineered his own nineteenth century version of a rotating reach, allowing wagons to overcome challenges inherent in the roughest country.  Effectively, the design reduced pressure on the reach, hounds, and other parts.  To date, I’m not aware of any surviving examples of this configuration from Schuttler, but just maybe, this blog post may help us find one someday.

Just as a point of reference, by 1904, the Peter Schuttler Wagon Company is reported to have employed some 600 workers, turning out 20,000 wagons per year†.  By all accounts, the firm was a formidable foe but like so many others, the clock was ticking and within two more decades, the doors were closed in Chicago.

American Machinist, January 28, 1904