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C.P. Kimball Co.
C.P. Kimball & Company, 1847-1876; Portland, Maine; C.P. Kimball Co., 1877-1929; Chicago, Illinois
Associated Builders
Brewster & Co.

While the Brewsters are often credited as being America’s first family of coach builders, if one looks at the facts, the title clearly belongs to another New England family, the Kimballs. From 1634 to 1929, nine generations of the Kimball family were involved in some aspect of the industry, from Richard Kimball’s humble beginnings as a wheelwright to C.F. Kimball’s triumphs as a custom automobile body builder.

Richard Kimball, a wheelwright and British-born citizen arrived in America on the ship "Elizabeth" on April 30th, 1634. He and his family first settled in the Boston suburb of Watertown, then moved to Ipswich in 1637 were he became the town’s wheelwright. Richard’s son, Thomas Kimball, also became a wheelwright and moved to Bradford, Massachusetts, a small town on the border with New Hampshire on the Merrimac River, in 1666. For the next hundred years successive generations of the Kimballs served as Bradford’s resident wheelwrights and blacksmiths.

Francis Kimball, the great grandson of Thomas Kimball, was born in Bradford in 1742 and he and his son Peter both worked in the family’s wheelwright and blacksmith shop. Peter’s son, also named Peter, had twin sons, named Peter and Porter Kimball, who decided to leave Bradford and ply their trade 125 miles to the northeast in Hamlin’s Gore, Maine, a small plantation 60 miles northwest of Portland.

 All six of Peter Kimball’s sons worked for their father at his Bridgton, Maine factory. C.P Kimball is covered in great detail below as his was the only firm that survived long enough to build automobile bodies, however a number of them established well-known and respected carriage manufactories.

Peter’s eldest son, James M. Kimball, was born in 1817, and worked in his father’s carriage factory in Bridgton, Maine until 1852, when he entered into a partnership with a Portland, builder named Edward Clement at 307 Congress St., Portland, Maine. James M. Kimball’s younger brother, John C., joined him a few years later and with another partner, Zenas Thompson, Jr., formed their own carriage business. James M. Kimball retired in 1871, and passed away in 1892.

George Franklin Kimball established the Boston, Massachusetts firm of Kimball Bros. in 1864 which employed his younger brothers James M., and Edwin Nelson at various times. It survived until 1915

Hannibal Ingalls Kimball and John Calvin Kimball established a carriage parts and wood carving factory in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1854. Hannibal later became a partner in G. & D. Cook Co. which was bought out by Henry Hooker and James Brewster after the Civil War. Both Hannibal and John ended up in Atlanta, Georgia but did not continue in the carriage business.

Peter Kimball’s second oldest son, Charles Porter Kimball, was born in 1825 and at the age of 18 joined the family’s Bridgton carriage works. In 1847, He opened up his own carriage business 17 miles away in Norway, Maine with a $1,000 loan from a local doctor named Theodore Ingalls. By 1850, the business had grown substantially, and a new three-story shop was constructed with 3,200 sq. ft. per floor. It was soon discovered that his carriages were in high demand in the city of Portland, and in 1852, he opened a repository there. In 1854 it was decided to concentrate all of C.P. Kimball’s efforts in Portland and a factory was established in downtown Portland at the corner of Congress and Preble Sts. C.P. Kimball is often credited with the Portland Cutter, a simple open sleigh that was built in large numbers by many carriage builders across the country. However, it’s basic design should be credited to his brother, James M. Kimball who first designed a “Portland Sleigh” in 1859.

Although the Kimball factory was large compared to the local competition, it was fairly small when compared to firms such as Brewster and Cunningham, and employed only 30 to 40 hands. Business continued to prosper and in 1872, Charles P. Kimball was elected the first president of the Carriage Builder’s National Association, an industry group formed by Clem Studebaker, John W. Britton of Brewster & Co., John Green and Albany, N.Y.’s James Goold.

C.P. Kimball was keenly interested in the Portland community and was a city alderman and president of the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association, a group that surveyed the ports of Falmouth and Portland. He was a staunch Democrat and ran for governor of Maine twice, and was narrowly defeated in the 1875 gubernatorial election by the Republican candidate, Seldon Connor.

An announcement in the October, 1875 issue of the Hub may have surprised a number of his fellow manufacturers:


“Messrs. Brewster & Company, of Broome-Street, are putting up about two hundred and fifty sleighs, both two and four passenger, all of the Kimball pattern.  They will be known as the ‘Kimball-Brewsters,’ and a new circular, published in Mr. C. P. Kimball's name, says of them:

“Having removed from Maine to New-York and joined Messrs. Brewster & Company, of Broome-street, I beg to inform my friends and the public generally that I am now prepared to build my well-known sleighs at the factory, Broadway and. 47th street, under my own supervision, with all the facilities and advantages of the largest and best organized carriage manufactory in the United States.  I have no hesitancy in assuring the public that in all respects I shall build sleighs, here, superior to any I have ever before produced, at prices the same as heretofore charged by me.  I shall continue to use my several patented improvements, including the patent concave shoe and post clip, that I have used during past years with great success, giving to my sleighs a superiority in lightness, strength, and general excellence.

“The public will bear in mind that no Kimball sleighs are now made in Maine, and that hereafter the genuine articles will all be made here, and be known as the Kimball-Brewster sleighs, and will bear the name-plate of Brewster & Co. in addition to my own.

“We are kindly permitted by Mr. Kimball to publish the above representation of a two-passenger A Kimball-Brewster." The styles of painting will be various, but generally in dark colors.

Although he remained in New York for only a couple of months, C.P. Kimball was invited by New York’s Governor Samuel J. Tilden to display a Kimball-Brewster sleigh at the 1876 Philadelphia exhibition and was appointed the State’s Centennial Commissioner for the event.

In January of 1877, Kimball took over what remained of the Coan & Ten Brocke Mfg. Co. of Chicago, Illinois. At one time Coan & Ten Brocke was the largest carriage builder west of the Allegheny Mountains, and had repositories in several mid-western cities. They were the successor to the C. & L. B. Manufacturing Co., and were the first Chicago builder to engage in the manufacture of heavy carriages, but by the mid 1870s the firm was in disarray, and the city was happy to have the well-respected firm, of C.P. Kimball & Co take over the troubled 5-story manufactory of Coan & Ten Brocke on Wabash Ave. near Harrison St.

After attending Bowodin College, C.P. Kimball’s son, Charles Frederick Kimball, studied law at Columbia College, graduating in 1876. However when his father decided to establish a new firm in Chicago, he gave up his legal career and joined him in the new enterprise.

In three years their business had increased so rapidly that a larger building was necessary, and in May, 1881, they moved into a much larger building located down the street at the northwest corner of Wabash Ave. and Harrison St.

By the late 1880s, business had increased to the point where an even larger factory was needed, so in 1892 a new 7-story factory was erected for Kimball at the southwest corner of Michigan Boulevard and Harmon Court (39th St.) in downtown Chicago. It was a fireproof structure built with a steel framework covered by granite, brick and terra cotta and included an 140 foot high clock tower and three separate elevators.

Throughout his life Kimball remained an active member of the Democratic Party and was considering a run for Mayor of Chicago when he was appointed the US Consulate for the Kingdom of Wurtemberg, Stuttgart US Consul to Stuttgart, Germany by President Grover Cleveland in 1886, a post which he held until 1888 when he suffered a major stroke. He returned to the United States and spent the next two years convalescing at the Brevoort House in New York City, finally succumbing to heart failure in March of 1891. He was succeeded in the presidency of the C. P. Kimball Company by his son, Charles F. Kimball. Two years later, C.F. Kimball, was elected to the presidency of the Carriage Builders' National Association, a post held by his father 20 years previous.

At the time of C.P Kimball’s death, the firm employed 240 hands and had sales of over $700,000. During 1892, $250,000 was budgeted for raw materials and $160,000 for wages. The remainder goes to capital expenses such as mortgage and insurance payments as well as for medium grade carriages, which the purchase, already finished, from other manufacturers as only high-grade vehicles were made at the Kimball plant.

The March 1905 issue of the Bit and Spur contained the following article:

“Enlargement of the Kimball Carriage Company

“The many friends and patrons of the well known coach builders, C. P. Kimball & Co., were surprised to learn on January 15 that two prominent Chicagoans, A. A. Carpenter. Jr., and James R. Walker, had been admitted to the firm. The new corporation consists of the following officers: President, Charles F. Kimball; vice president. A. A. Carpenter, Jr.: treasurer, James R. Walker: secretary, Louis E. Burr; assistant secretary. F. A. B. Smith.

”Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Walker belong to two of the oldest families in Chicago and are men of wealth and social position. Mr. Carpenter has been engaged in the lumber business for years, and is still connected with the Ayer & Lord Tie Company. Mr. Walker is a capitalist. who has been occupied by his large real estate holdings, the principal item of which is the Taconaa Building.

Both Messrs. Carpenter and Walker have more or less interest in the carriage industry through their own private stables. Mr. Walker especially having kept up in past years an extensive establishment in Chicago and also at his country home at Pittsfield, Mass. Mr. Carpenter, in addition to being a lover of horses, is an enthusiastic automobilist.

”The business standing of the two partners is additional surety that Kimball Quality, the recognized standard for half a century, will always be maintained.

”The addition to the firm's roster started the rumor that Mr. C. F. Kimball would retire. This is absolutely incorrect as Mr. Kimball is still president of the firm and will, as heretofore, give his best personal efforts towards increasing the volume of the business and its already enviable prestige.
”Louis E. Burr and F. A. B. Smith, who have been with the firm since boyhood, and who have contributed in no small degree to the success of the business, will, of course continue in their old positions.

”The sudden growth of the automobile business has opened a new field for the coach builder-furnishing bodies and tops for the chassis - and it is on this account particularly that Mr. Kimball consented to the admission of the two new partners, so that the business might be enlarged very materially in this new line. The manufacture and sale of fine carriages and harness, however, will still form the basis of the business, and there will be no change in the policy that has prevailed since the founding of the house in 1815.

“The Bit & Spur takes this occasion of extending to C. P. Kimball & Co their heartiest wishes for continued success.

Unfortunately Charles F. Kimball passed away from heart disease on January 7, 1909 and his younger half-brother, Charles Porter Kimball II, assumed the presidency of the firm. A Yale graduate, Kimball, entered the family business following his graduation in 1907, and in the next two years, served in the firms accounting and drafting departments. Although he is was only 24 years old, he was well prepared to take over as the firm’s president and treasurer following his brother’s untimely passing.

The March 1909 issue of the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal reported on Kimball’s display at the Chicago Auto Show: 

“C. P. Kimball & Co., 315 Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill., exhibited a complete line of automobiles bodies on Berliet and Peerless chassis. The bodies shown were full limousine with French cab panels, and finished in golden brown, striped with a broad line of gold leaf, price $1,900, finished in French broadcloth.
A special town brougham body is also shown, finished in Yale blue, and upholstered in broadcloth showing an introduction of scarlet harmonizing with the striping. This body is fitted with extra side panels, and extra doors. The phaeton can easily be converted into a limousine. This body sells for $2,100.

A 1910 issue of Carriage Monthly also had a small piece on Kimball:

“The C. P. Kimball Co., carriage and automobile manufacturers, have purchased from Stewart B. Andrews, property on Michigan Avenue 300 feet south of Thirty-ninth Street, Chicago, Ill. The lot is 100 X 161 feet, and completes the company's purchase of 400 feet on the avenue at that point. The purchase price of the property bought was $17,500, the price of the entire 400 feet being $77,000, the entire property will be used for a new building costing $500,000, for which plans already have been drawn. The new structure, when completed, will be devoted to the automobile department of the company's business.

As did the January 26, 1911 issue of Motor Age:

“Kimball Makes a Limousine.

“Although the C.P. Kimball Co., of Chicago, is known primarily as a body making concern, still it finds time to manufacture electric pleasure cars, mostly to order. In line with this one of its offerings for the present season is what is termed a station wagon, but which in reality is an electric limousine in that it carries an enclosed body with a capacity of six - four in the tonneau and two on the front seats. This limousine is fitted with solid tires, and wheel steer and a wheelbase of 100 inches. The motive power is derived from a forty-two cell thirteen-plate battery. Another Kimball is an inside-drive coupe with either wheel or lever steer and solid tires, while novelty is a George IV. phaeton, the body on which is constructed along novel lines.

As indicated above, Kimball manufactured their own electric car, the Kimball Electric, between 1910-1912. Earlier production is probable, however a standard line-up was not advertised until 1910. The Kimball featured a double-chain final drive, cushion tires and a left-hand drive steering. In May of 1912 Kimball announced that production from then on would be by custom order only. Automobile body building now involved more than 50% of Kimball’s resources and they built on many of the luxury chassis available in Chicago at that time including: Berliet, Cadillac, Crane-Simplex, Marmon, Packard, Peerless, Simplex and Stanley chassis.

Kimball also built production bodies for a number of regional manufacturers, however the work was not publicized as they preferred to be known as a custom house. One incredible body was featured on a Fageol chassis at the 1917 Chicago Salon on a Fageol chassis. It featured ivory door handles and cost in excess of $15,000. Unfortunately only 3 examples of the Oakland, California-built luxury car were produced.

Thomas L. Hibbard, the founder of Hibbard & Darrin as well as LeBaron, worked for a short period of time at C.P. Kimball & Co. Although he was only 18 years old, Hibbard was already a designer at the Leon Rubay Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. Charles F. Kimball lured him away with the promise of a higher salary and the post of chief designer. Hibbard worked for Kimball for about a year, designing all of their bodies as well as representing the firm as their regional salesman. However the pressure to join the escalating War in Europe became too great for him and he quit and enlisted in the US Army Signal Corps. Upon his return from duty in France, he elected to take a job offer from Brewster & Co, rather than return to Chicago and try to get his job back.

Another famous automobile designer received some career guidance from another one of Kimball’s designers. Mason City, Illinois native Gordon Buehrig befriended Kimball’s chief designer, Clarence Wexelburg, while Buehrig was working at the Yellow Cab Co. in Chicago. Wexelburg suggested that Buehrig attend Peoria, Illinois’ Bradley Polytechnic Institute, directing him to take classes in drafting, art and wood and metal fabrication. Wexelburg’s guidance paid off as Buehrig was hired by the Gotfredson Body Co. in Wayne, Michigan in November 1924, following his graduation from Bradley and went on to bigger and better things.

Following the Armistice, Kimball closed down much of their huge factory, although they continued to manufacture a few production bodies as well as an occasional full custom. One LaSalle is known to have had a custom C.P. Kimball body, but by 1927, most of their business involved refinishing existing coachwork. They closed their doors in 1929.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






C. P. Kimball & Co. -  The Automobile, May 13, 1905

C. P. Kimball & Co. - The Horseless Age, October 20, 1909, p. 448.

C. P. Kimball & Co. - Motor Life, Feb. 1912, p.52.

C. P. Kimball & Co. - Motor Life, August 1918, p. 60

C. P. Kimball & Co. - Motor Life, January 1919, p.44

C. P. Kimball & Co. - Vantiy Fair, Sept. 1921, p. 89

C. P. Kimball & Co. -  Vantiy Fair, August, 1923

C. P. Kimball & Co. Vantiy Fair, December, 1923

Kimball Company Buys Another Site - The Horseless Age. January 1. 1910, p. 88

Kimball Electric Pleasure Cars - Automobile Trade Journal, March 1912, p.201

Kimball Electric Pleasure Cars - Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal, March 1910, p. 210

Kimball Makes a Limousine - Motor Age, January 26, 1911, p. 49

Kimball Town Car or Limousine - Motor Age, January 26, 1911, p.45

Motor Progress in Accessories and New Bodies - Vanity Fair, September 1921, p.72

New Custom Cars Show Beauty In Every Line - Vanity Fair, November 1920, p. 84

Well Illustrated In The Chicago Show - Motor Age, January 26, 1911

History of Chicago Vol. II p.434-435  

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Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark Jr. - Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Marc Ralston - Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - There Is No Mistaking a Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

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Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Thomas E. Bonsall - The Lincoln Motorcar: Sixty Years of Excellence

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Arthur W. Soutter - The American Rolls-Royce

John Webb De Campi - Rolls-Royce in America

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

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Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

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George H. Dammann - 90 Years of Ford

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Maurice D. Hendry - Cadillac, Standard of the World: The complete seventy-year history

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