Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Anchor Buggy Company – A Real Giant

Doctor’s buggies, piano-box buggies, coal-box buggies, top buggies... Whatever you call them, millions of these ubiquitous vehicles were made by thousands of companies across the U.S.  Don Berkebile, in his book “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary,” defines a buggy as being a light, 4-wheel vehicle with accommodations for one or two people but, in some instances, may also have room for 3 or 4.  The small carriage is typically hung on springs and is known for being nimble and easy to pull.  By the way, if you don’t have Mr. Berkebile’s book in your personal library, I’d recommend getting a copy.  You may be able to find it through the Carriage Association of America, Ebay,, or other outlets like Wild Horse Books

While this particular type of light carriage isn’t often thought of as being a ‘western vehicle,’ it was a familiar sight in the West.  Ranchers, farmers, businessmen, liveries, and even the military utilized them.  Their agile, easy operation and relatively low cost made them an extremely popular set of wheels.  Catalog Order Houses like Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, and others capitalized on their widespread desirability, offering price ranges as low as $25–$40 for a new buggy.  So affordable were the rates that buggies became even more prevalent and, today, they’re still a common sight.

With so many builders creating buggies of every style imaginable, it was hard for some manufacturers to compete.  Like anything that becomes pervasive, there was only so much business to go around.  As a result, the selling price could easily become the main focus for consumers shopping for these wheels.  Some sellers perpetuated the issue – effectively undercutting their own profitability – by engaging in price wars.  It’s a tactic that never works for long.  After all, it’s virtually impossible to always have the lowest price and best quality while still selling enough products to pay for employees, supplies, tools, raw materials, and other expenses – not to mention the need to grow the business through some semblance of profit.

The Anchor Buggy Company had a lot to be proud of.  Helping celebrate its first decade of business, this piece of promotional art showcased several of the different carriages they offered.

So, beyond price, how did manufacturers set themselves apart?  For some, the answer to success was a blend of craftsmanship, innovation, effective marketing, and… location.  Real estate and business moguls have long heralded the importance of “location, location, location.”  For some of the earliest vehicle makers, the phrase highlighted the advantages of setting up shop next to a power source (water), shipping company (railroad or waterway), substantial community, or area with plenty of natural resources.  To that point, modern day transportation historians are well aware of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania.  Known as “Buggy Town,” the community is said to have produced more horse-drawn vehicles per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.  Even so, other American cities held equally strong reputations for turning out quality horse-drawn vehicles.  One of those areas was Cincinnati, Ohio.  Home to at least sixty carriage and accessory factories, the city produced as many as 250,000 vehicles annually.  So significant was the metropolis that, by 1904, Cincinnati is said to have been the largest carriage center in the world.

This extraordinary print ad demonstrates the very unique and durable qualities of an Anchor brand buggy.

Helping lead the charge in Cincinnati was a firm by the name of ‘Anchor Buggy Company.’  Founded between 1886 and 1887 (there are conflicting period reports) and incorporated in 1910, the business was a progressive endeavor with multiple patents to its credit.  One of its well-known innovations was a patented fifth wheel and king bolt.  According to an 1895 reprint of “Modern Mechanism,” the main distinctions centered on a full-circle top and bottom (5th) wheel, with the “king bolt forming a part of five different attachments bolted together in rear of the axle by a double-head bolt, so that all wear can be taken up.”  Should a part break, the gear would not necessarily drop the body.  Rather, it was claimed that at least four breakages had to occur before the body would fall.  Combined with an ultra-flexible reach that Anchor patented in 1907, these buggies were incredibly resilient. 

Before the end of its first decade in business, the Anchor Buggy Company was crafting 18,000 vehicles per year.  By 1911, the annual production capacity had more than doubled to 45,000 light pleasure vehicles.  At the same time, Anchor was home to 350 employees.

This giant piano box buggy was shown throughout the very early 1900’s as part of a huge promotional tour driven by the Anchor Buggy Company. 

Like a number of other builders, the leaders at Anchor Buggy knew the power of promotion.  While many folks have seen the company’s ads showing the dramatic flexibility of the Anchor reach system and strength of their patented fifth wheel, most have never seen the giant buggy the company built and toured all over the U.S.  Some time back, we were extremely fortunate to discover a period photo showcasing this special piece.  It now resides with a world of rare imagery from yesterday in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  Reminiscent of the huge, double-sized Moline wagon built for the 1904 World’s Fair, the mammoth Anchor Buggy was making the rounds throughout the country several years before the colossal Moline wagon became a hit on the exposition circuit.  

In 1903, the May 30th issue of “Farm Implements” magazine printed another image of this over-sized Anchor vehicle, referring to it as the “Jumbo Buggy.”  Signage attached to the carriage called it the “Largest Buggy in the World.”    It is said to have been a full fifteen feet in height with rear wheels in excess of seven feet tall.  The rolling mammoth was used in promotions from Maine to California and Ohio to Florida, stirring the imagination and talk of folks everywhere as it became the centerpiece of fairs, parades, and individual dealer events.   

As the automobile business continued to take root, the Anchor Buggy Company became interested in transitioning to this mechanized industry.  Unfortunately, the company’s prominent co-founder and President, Anthony G. Brunsman, died in 1911.  With his passing, others in the firm were less than eager to take on such a monumental effort.  In the end, the brand left a bit of a toe in the water – building auto bodies for more established brands.  Even so, it was too little, too late.  By the time the early 1920’s rolled around, the Anchor Buggy Company had joined the fate of thousands of other horse-drawn vehicle makers and was no longer listed as an active business in period directories.  The brand had grown and matured for a little over three decades.  Then, in a moment of critical transition, it succumbed to the changes of time and competition.  

When we consider all of the vehicle brands and support industries making up America’s first transportation industry, it’s hard to imagine just how much history has disappeared.  Like the giant Moline wagon shown at the 1904 World’s Fair, our century-plus-old Anchor buggy photo and the accompanying newspaper image may be all that’s left of this massive show-stopper.  That said, if anyone knows more about this piece, we’d love to hear from you. 

  “The Carriage Monthly,”  December 1904

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