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Keystone Vehicle Company
Keystone Vehicle Company, 1914-1930; Columbus, Ohio
Associated Builders


The Keystone Vehicle Company was founded by a group of Columbus, Ohio businessmen and attorneys in order to facilitate the sale and eventually the manufacture of automobiles, in particular motor hearses, which had recently become popular, especially in the Midwest, where a number of firms were already engaged in their manufacture.

Articles of Incorporation for the Keystone Vehicle Company of Columbus were filed with the Ohio Secretary of State on January 12, 1914, with a capitalization of $15,000, the incorporators of record being: Howard E. Sullivan, Earl C. Bates, Seth L. McMillin, Will H. Bates, and Washington D. Sullivan. The stated purpose was the sale and manufacture of motor vehicles.

It doesn’t appear that any of the incorporators had experience in the funeral or coach building trades, in fact two of the investors were attorneys, one an insurance salesman, the other a father and son team engaged in the construction business.  

Other Columbus manufacturers producing bodies at the time included: Armstrong-Johnson Manufacturing Co.; Geo. Bishop; John Immel & Sons; Pausch-Selbach Wagon and Auto Company; and the Excelsior Seat Company.

Short biographical sketches of the original partners follow:

Contractor Washington D. Sullivan (b. April 9, 1864-d.Aug 15 1937) was born in Meigs Co.,​ Ohio on April 9, 1864 to William and Rachel (Springer) Sullivan. Howard E. Sullivan (b. 1888) was the eldest of four children who also included 3 daughters: Goldie (b.1896); Aubria (b.1899) and Leona (b.1902).

Columbus Attorney Seth Linton McMillan (b. Feb. 15, 1863-d. Dec. 11, 1929) was born in Wilmington, Clinton County, Ohio on February 15, 1863 to Isaac C. and Nancy L. Linton.

Born in Adams Township, Clinton County, Ohio Earl C. Bates (b. Feb. 1887-d. 1918) and his brother William H. Bates (b. Nov. 1889) were the children of Horace G. (b. Nov. 1858) and Cora B. Bates (b. Sep. 1860) who were married in 1886. The eldest Bates brother, Earl C. , was a Columbus Attorney who also dabbled in insurance, his younger brother William H. aka Will H. Bates was the Columbus, Ohio agent of the Fidelity and Deposit (Insurance) Co. of Baltimore, Md.

January 28, 1914 Horseless Age:

“Motor Hearse Plant at Columbus.— The Keystone Vehicle Co., of Columbus, O., which was incorporated recently with a capital stock of $15,000, will open a factory in North Columbus for the manufacture of gasoline hearses within a few months. The concern will also do repairing on all kinds of cars. According to the charter, the concern is empowered to manufacture all kinds of vehicles, both motor-driven and horse-drawn.”

The January 29, 1914 issue of Motor Age announced the firm’s creation to the trade:

“Columbus, O.—Keystone Vehicle Co., capital stock, $15,000: to manufacture and deal In motor driven vehicles; incorporators, H. E. Sullivan, W. D. Sullivan, E. C. Bates, S. L. McMillan, W. H. Bates.”

February 5, 1914 Motor Age:

“Plan to Make Motor Hearses—The Keystone Vehicle Co., of Columbus, O., which was Incorporated recently with a capital of $15,000, will locate a plant on a leased site In the northern part of Columbus. It is planned to do repair work at first and later to manufacture gasoline hearses. According to the charter the company can make all kinds of vehicles.”

February 12, 1914 The Automobile:

“Keystone Plant in Columbus—The Keystone Veh. Co., Columbus, O., which was recently incorporated with a capital of $15,000, will locate a plant on a leased site in the northern part of Columbus. It is planned to do repair work at first and later to manufacture gasoline hearses. According to the charter the company can make all kinds of vehicles.”

Shortly after the firm’s incorporation Howard E. Sullivan was appointed manager and set about finding suitable property on which to establish the new garage and hearse manufactory.

The May 7, 1914 issue of Motor Age reveled the firm had leased property in North Columbus:

“Columbus, O.—Howard E. Sullivan, manager of the Keystone Vehicle Co. of Columbus, recently incorporated, has located a repair shop at 36-38 West Swan street.”

The firm’s W. Swan St. garage was located in the city block located just to the west of where the Greater Columbus Convention Center resides today. Coincidentally its next facility, located at the corner of Goodale and Fourth Sts., was located one block east of the Convention Center.

The April 1916 issue of The Hub announced the firm:

“The Keystone Vehicle Co. has leased a building at Fourth and Goodale streets, Columbus, O. This company was incorporated in 1914 for $15,000. The company will increase its capitalization now to $25,000. Hearse, ambulance and limousine bodies form the basis of their product and the company has been turning away business for the past six months. The officers are C.H. Myers president; E.L. Hoffman vice president; and Howard E. Sullivan secretary treasurer and general manager.”

The April 6, 1916 Iron Age announced a capital increase of $25,000:

“The Keystone Vehicle Company, Columbus, Ohio, will increase its capital stock to $40,000. It has leased a building at Fourth and Goodale streets that will be fitted up for the manufacture of automobile bodies.

A third figure, supplied by the Ohio Secretary of State’s 1916 annual report, indicated the firm’s actual recapitalization totaled $75,000, a $60,000 increase from its founding in 1914:

“The Keystone Vehicle Co., Columbus, $15,000 to $75,000.”

The June 9, 1916 Lancaster (OH) Daily Gazette announced the completion of a Buick-chassised combination hearse and ambulance:


“B.L. Linville Has New Equipment

“Buick Model 55 Has Latest Thing In Combination Ambulance and Hearse Bodies Built Upon It, and Result is a Work of Art.

“VISITOR B. L. Linville, undertaker of Rushville, was in the city calling upon L. E. Huddle, Buick agent today to receive his new Buick 55 combination hearse and ambulance. The motor, engine, etc., except the body were taken to the Keystone Vehicle company of Columbus, and the wheel base was lengthened 26 inches, making the conveyance now measure 156 inches from the front to the rear wheels and the latest design of combination bodies placed  upon the frame. The result is a work of art and said to be one of the best in the state. Both Mr. Linville and Mr. Huddle are justly proud of the equipment.”

Upon final approval of their 1916 Keystone carved-panel funeral coach Columbus’ Egan Funeral Home received a preproduction drawing of their newly ordered coach (chassis unknown).

By 1918 Keystone was producing a wide range of professional car bodies on Dodge or Ford light-truck chassis as well as occasional one-off coaches on customer-supplied automobile chassis.

In many smaller communities, the funeral director served many functions in addition to his primary undertaking duties. It is well known that many funeral homes also served as temporary hospitals, places used to stabilize accident victims before they could be transported to a nearby hospital. Additionally they commonly had purpose-built combination hearses which also could be used as an ambulance with minor alterations.

A little-known fact is that in small towns funeral home owners typically owned the local furniture store as well. In very small communities some funeral parlors did double-duty, operating as a furniture store Monday through Friday and as a funeral home when the need arose.

Keystone was one early firm which catered to the funeral home/ furniture store marketplace. Starting in the late Teens they offered a combination motorized funeral coach, furniture delivery car using a stretched Model T or Dodge chassis. This utilitarian vehicle would prove popular in the early years of motorized coaches and numerous manufactures soon offered similar models.  These early multi-purpose vehicles look much like the flower cars that would become popular starting in the late 1930s and some big-city funeral directors used them for transporting floral tributes in large corteges.

Numerous persons involved in the coach-building trade made sacrifices during America’s involvement in the First World War, including the Keystone Vehicle Company, which lost once of its founders as reported by the September 1918 issue of Law Notes:

“Died In The Service.—Earl C. Bates, aged 31, former well-known Columbus attorney and more recently connected with the National City Bank of New York, is dead in France as a result of wounds received in action.”

For 1919 a smart-looking limousine built on a Dodge passenger car chassis was marketed by Keystone to the funeral trade as a mourners car. For 1920, Dodge chassis predominated. Each and every Keystone combination coach included a removable flower rack (fits on top of the coffin), a removable casket table, a gurney, and two removable attendant seats.

A display ad from the May 1921 issue of Hospital Management indicated the firm had relocated to 1914 (actually 1410-1450) S. Parson Ave., Columbus:



“Your Hospital Would Profit by Ambulance Service. Let Us Talk It Over with You.

“The Keystone Vehicle Co. 1414 S. PARSONS AVE. COLUMBUS, OHIO

“Builders of "QUALITY PLUS" Motor Ambulance Equipment and High Class Closed Bodies.”

For 1922 the Keystone catalog showed a black lacquered casket wagon on a Dodge chassis whose rear deck had a solid removable top and could be used to transport chairs, altars, and supplies to the cemetery grounds. This useful vehicle could also be used as a first call car, a vehicle that contained a casket, cooling table, embalming pump and all the supplies needed to prepare the body of the deceased in the home.

Also pictured in the 1922 catalog was a smart-looking Cadillac-chassised side-loading limousine-style combination coach/ambulance that featured a contemporary two-tone paint scheme and tiny coach lights.

The National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas once housed a black 1925 limousine-style Keystone hearse on a Dodge Bros. chassis equipped with body-colored disc wheels. The body is unusual in that it has four identical windows per side trimmed in natural oak. Almost all hearses of the era were painted, so it’s more than likely the natural finish was added when the coach was restored by a previous owner.

Walter M.P. McCall’s 80 Years of Cadillac-LaSalle shows a 1926 Keystone Vehicle Co.-bodied Cadillac 6-door airport limousine on pp108.

In the late Twenties Keystone shared their S. Parsons Ave facility with the Columbus Kissel distributor. Addresses from the 1930 Columbus phone directory follow:

“Keystone Vehicle Co., 1436 S. Parsons Avenue, Columbus, O.

“Kissel Motor Car Co., 1410-1450 S. Parsons Ave., Columbus, O.

Kissel withdrew from business in 1930 and no further Keystone coaches are known to have been built after that time.

© 2011 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Thomas A. McPherson








The Professional Car, Issue #69 Third Quarter 1993

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional Car Society)

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Walter M.P. McCall - 80 YEars of Cadillac LaSalle

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