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Holcker; Holcker-Elberg
Holcker Brothers Carriage Co., 1860s-1919; Crestline, Ohio; Louis Holcker & Co., 1888-1902; Holcker-Elberg Manufacturing Co., 1902-1916; Holcker Mfg Co., 1916-1933; John Elberg Body Co., 1916-1930s; Kansas City, Missouri
Associated Builders
Duco Mid-West Corp. 1933-1940s; Kansas City, Mo., 1916-1920s; Holcker-Elberg Manufacturing Co.,  1909-1916, Dallas, Texas; Holcker Sales Corp., Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1925-1940s.

The Holcker Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, Missouri can trace its history to the Holcker Bros. Buggy Co. of Crestline, Ohio a firm started by three German brothers, Charles, Jacob and Louis Holcker.

The Holcker brothers were born in the town of Alsenz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany where they learned the carriage trade as apprentices in their father’s carriage shop. Their father, Philip, encouraged them to emigrate to the United States and establish their own carriage works, which was established just after the end of the Civil War. 

It soon became apparent to the eldest brother, Louis Holcker, born on October 6, 1842, that in order to support his growing family, he needed more money than could be generated in the small town of Crestline, and consequently he needed to establish a works of his own in a much larger marketplace.  

He chose Kansas City, Missouri and in 1888 established his own works in an abandoned church at the northwest corner of Eighth St. and Grand Ave. Within two years the business had progressed to where it relocated larger quarters two blocks away at the corner of Tenth St. and Grand Ave.

His two brothers, Charles and Jacob remained in Crestline running their buggy works which remained active until a 1919 fire destroyed the plant and they retired from business. The Holcker Bros. had also been early automobile dealers, and were listed as an Auburn Automobile distributor in 1908.

Louis married married his wife Julia (Linn) on October 6, 1870 and the union produced two sons, Otto, born on May 24, 1876 and Clyde, born December 31, 1883. After a public education both Otto and Clyde joined their father’s business which by the turn of the century had become Kansas City’s second largest carriage manufacturer. By that time the carriage works had relocated to the corner of Fourteenth and Campbell Sts.

Louis Holcker retired in 1906 and his eldest son, Otto L. Holcker, became president. Soon afterwards the Holckers took on a partner, John R. Elberg, and reorganized the firm as the Holcker-Elberg Manufacturing Company; Otto. L. Holcker, president and John R. Elberg, vice-president and treasurer.

John R. Elberg was an early Kansas City automobilist, having built his own electric vehicle in 1894 with Dr. H.C. Baker. Called the Baker & Elberg after its inventors, Kimes & Clark report that only a single example was built. Elberg was also an early automobile salesman, and Holcker-Elberg became the Kansas City distributors of the Peerless automobile and Federal truck.

In addition to building carriages and early automobile bodies, Holcker-Elberg distributed Goodyear tires and Clyde W. Holcker took a job with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. as a salesman, becoming the manager of its Detroit sales office in 1912.

In 1908 they built a new 3-story brick factory at the northeast corner of Sixteenth and McGee Sts. where they established an auto top and refinishing dept. Their listing in the 1913 Kansas City directory made no mention of carriages as by that time they were producing bodies, tops and windscreens for automobiles exclusively.

A 1908 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal announced:

“Holcker-Elberg Tops, Bodies and Windshields: The Holcker-Elberg Carriage & Rubber Co., 1422-1428 McGee Street, Kansas City, Mo., long known as makers of high grade carriage bodies, tops. Etc., are now doing considerable work in the motor car trade maintaining in the newer field the enviable reputation they enjoyed in the old.”

Holcker-Elberg established a satellite branch in Dallas, Texas at 443-45 Commerce Street, in early 1910. The December 8th, 1909 issue of the Horseless Age reported:

“Dallas, Tex.—The Holcker-Elberg Company, of Kansas City, Mo., will establish a branch here. A three-story brick building will be erected on Commerce St., between Pearl and Harwood Sts., which will be supplied with electric elevators and all modern improvements. The cost will be about $15,000.”

Today’s driver’s may find it hard to believe that an Interstate Highway system was only a dream in 1913. To help the burgeoning road building movement, Holcker-Elberg placed the following announcement in the August 2nd, 1913 Kansas City Star:

“The Rent Road Day Spirit!

“To the Star: To help boost the governor’s good roads days we are glad to offer the use of a 3-ton Peerless truck with driver for such a time as the county court elect and for whatever purpose it can be used to the best advantage.

“We will also furnish as many workmen from our plant as can be spared from their regular duties.

“We believe that the work accomplished on these two days will be of immense value, not only as an immediated improvement, but an opening wedge for future road improvement of large scope. Holcker-Elberg Mfg. Co., Otto Holcker”

Although it was not their main line of work, the firm built a small number of buses during the teens and twenties as evidenced by a February, 18th 1915 article in the Kansas City Star:

“Eleven Busses Are Building

“One of the New Passenger Vehicles Will Seat Twenty Persons.

“Eleven new busses are now in the course of construction at two of the shops prepared to build homemade bodies. The Hesse Carriage Works, Seventeenth and Oak Streets, is at work on eight of the new carriers and the Holcker-Elberg Manufacturing Company, Sixteenth and McGee Streets, is building three of them. One of them is to have a seating capacity of twenty passengers. The roof is high enough for passengers to stand and they will hang on straps in the rush hours.

“The bus bodies are to be on new chassis of different types according to the preference of the several owners for the respective kinds of engine and chassis construction.

“We expect a new kind of transportation to be evolved from the jitneys,” Mr Holcker said.”

A 1916 issue of the American Motorist included an article on the Eldberg patent door curtain carrier:

“The Elberg door curtain carrier is manufactured by the Holcker-Elberg Mfg.Co., Kansas City. It is described as being extremely simple in construction, more practical and easier to install than any similar device.”

Despite it successes in the PR department, Holcker-Elberg’s 1910 expansion had heavily mortgaged the firm and in 1916 the firm filed for bankruptcy. Otto and Louis Holcker reorganized the firm as the Holcker Manufacturing Co.

A few years later John R. Elberg established the John Elberg Body Co., a small producer of buses and commercial bodies. The firm survived into the early thirties when it became another coachbuilding victim of the Depression.

Although the Holckers lost their Dallas satellite facility in the bankruptcy, they retained their Kansas City factory at 16th and McGee Sts. By 1916 the motor hearse was beginning to become popular and the firm began the manufacture of small numbers of coaches for regional Kansas City liveries and funeral homes.

Some early Holcker coaches were built on long wheelbase Peerless chassis as they remained an authorized distributor into the early twenties. At the time older chassis were often converted into hearses as evidenced by a classified ad which ran in a 1921 issue of the Kansas City Star:

“Packard Limousine body for the third series; excellent condition; must be sold at once; make us an offer. See Mr. Butterfield, Holcker Mfg. Co. 16th and McGee.”

Holcker eventually became distributors for Dodge and Graham Bros light truck chassis and in 1922 offered a distinctive two-tone gray 8-column funeral coach built on a Dodge chassis to the funeral trade. Their bus and funeral car business grew more profitable and in 1923 they expanded as reported by the July 29th, 1923 issue of the Kansas City Star:

“Leases At A.J. Stephens Plant. Helcker Company will pay $5,000 a Year for East Wing.

“The east wing of the A.J. Stephens Company’s rubber plant at Fourteenth street and Chestnut avenue, a building 100x150 feet, containing thirty thousand square feet of floor space, was leased last week to the Holcker Manufacturing Company for ten years at $5,000 a year. The Holcker company, manufacturing motor car and motor bus bodies and funeral equipment, will occupy the leased quarters this week. The structure will be remodeled to provide rooms for painting and drying and a dark room. The building will also be equipped with a ramp to replace elevators.

“The new quarters will enable the company to double its capacity, which is said to be warranted by the increase in motor transportation in this district.”

Holcker started advertising to the funeral trade in Casket & Sunnyside and the American Funeral Directorin the early twenties. The July and September, 1925 issues of the latter contained advertisements for the “Holcker Cortege Coach, a stately limousine-style hearse.”

Fully enclosed tops were also popular at the time and the firm manufactured their own line which was advertised in the October 25th, 1925 issue of the Kansas City Star:

“Don’t Freeze in an open car this winter. Holcker Mfg. Co., 312 E 17th, feature winter enclosures that are wind, snow and storm proof for as low as $55 for a roadster and $85 for a touring car. A Holcker enclosure makes your car like a sedan.”

Holcker Mfg. Co. became the Midwest distributor for Dupont’s new DUCO lacquer which had been introduced in 1924. The Holcker Sales Corp of Minneapolis, Minnesota was organized at the same time to distribute DUCO products in the Northwest.

The February 14th, 1926 issue of the Kansas City Star included a description of the firm’s Kansas City Auto Show display:

“If cars have feelings, some of the gorgeous beauties at the Motor Show last night must have felt dreadfully slighted at the feminine enthusiasm aroused over the “Ducoed” furniture displayed by the Holcker Mfg. Co., 312 E. 17th. Certainly, this creates a new era in furniture finishing. The sleek Duco finish, on the finest motors, which was the wonder of the 1925 motor show, has proved its absolute defiance of the element last year. Neither heat nor cold can cause it to crack or peel, nor can water spot it. Think how absolutely permanent such a finish would be on furniture! Holcker’s can Duco your old pieces of furniture, that are useless in the present dilapidated condition, for little more than it costs to varnish them; and Duco comes in all the exquisite bedroom tints, or rich lacquer red, orange, etc.”

A 1926 Holcker advertisement featured an attractive landau-style Graham Brothers hearse. Although Holcker preferred to equippe their hearses and ambulances on Dodge and Graham Bros. chassis, they are also known to have built on Buick, Hudson and Studebaker.

The firm’s founder Louis Holcker, passed away on December 22, 1926, and control of the firm was assumed by his two heirs, Otto and Clyde. Holcker continued to produce a small number of professional cars into the late twenties when they streamlined their operations in order to concentrate on the more profitable business of DUCO paint distribution.

For a number of years Holcker had been manufacturing a small number of high-pressure air and hydraulic tanks for airplane manufacturers. Clyde W. Holcker was in charge of distributing the tanks and in 1930 the tank division was sold to the Aircraft Products Corp. of Detroit. Michigan. Clyde relocated to Detroit in order to supervise the integration of Holcker’s tank division into the Aircraft Products plant.

Aircraft Products was a manufacturer of landing gear, wheels, brakes, axles, wing tips, and pontoons for airplanes and flying boats. In 1928 they had been purchased by the Warner Aircraft Corporation, the manufacturer of the popular air-cooled Scarab and Super Scarab radial aircraft engines.

By 1933 Clyde Holcker had rejoined his brother in Kansas City and on November 16th, 1933 the two brothers reorganized the firm as the Duco Mid-West Corporation. In 1935 the brothers introduced their own line of automobile upholstery dye which was called Dyanize. According to a Dyanize press release:

“Those involved in the retail sales of used automobiles have long been faced with the problem of how to recondition the upholstery. Rebuilding shops and used car dealers will be glad to learn this problem has been solved. The answer is Dyanize, a new metallic dye which is applied to the fabric with an ordinary paint spray gun. This upholstery dye restores, brightens and enriches the luster of any fabric.

“It sets in any type of material such as mohair, broadcloth, woolens, etc. and is sold in sixteen standard shades. On the average job the upholstery can be dyed in from twenty minutes to one hour. Exclusive national distribution of Dyanize is being made by the Duco Mid-West Corporation, 312 East Seventeenth Street, Kansas City, Missouri.”

Both Holcker Brothers passed away within 18 month of each other, Clyde on May 27, 1940, and Otto on September 13, 1941. Their DUCO distribution business was left to Otto’s wife, Doris Hanson Holcker, and daughter, Olive Ann Holcker as Clyde was divorced and had no children. 

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






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