Kunkel Carriage Works - 1875-1926 - Galion, Ohio

    The Kunkel Carriage Works specialized in hearse coachwork on various chassis, including a few on its own assembled chassis between 1914 and 1916. Funeral cars on Cadillac and other high quality chassis were produced through 1925, although their most popular coach was built on a lengthened Ford Model T chassis.

For 1922 Kunkel offered their traditional carved-panel coach as well as a number of limousine-style combination coaches and ambulances. An ambulance pictured in their 1922 catalog was painted in contrasting black & white and featured leaded-glass rear windows as well as the now-commonplace emergency warning bell mounted on the scuttle.

A 1924 Kungel catalog included an unusual light-grey limousine-style landau hearse with a small verticle leaded-glass window just in front of the landau bar.  Their attractive greenhouse-windowed limousine-style hearses and ambulances continued to attract customers through 1926, their final year of funeral car production.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com


KUNKEL (US) 1915-1916 Kunkel Carriage Works, Galion, Ohio

Kunkel were specialists in hearse bodywork whose coaches appeared on numerous makes of chassis, from Ford to Cadillac, and were still being offered in the mid-­1920s. They also produced a few hearses on their own assembled chassis. MCS



By Thomas A. McPherson – The Professional Car – Issue #83 First Quarter 1997 pp17-25

Since 1900, well over 160 different manufacturers have at one time or another engaged in the production and sale of funeral cars and ambulances. While the histories of some of these firms are well known and documented, many others were relatively small operations which served local markets and never achieved nation­wide recognition. As such, little documentation is available on the majority of them. Naturally, some of these small companies made enterprising attempts to market their products on a national scale but with strong competition from larger, more prominent nameplates these small firms were generally unsuccessful and quietly slipped into obscurity with their contributions to the industry overlooked or forgotten by historians.

Such is the case with the Kunkel Carriage Works, one of the diminutive but enterprising pioneers of the modern professional vehicle industry. Situated in the central part of the state, Galion, Ohio was a carriage-building hotbed in the mid-1800s and is where the dynamic Isaac K. Kunkel first entered the coach building trade by establishing the Kunkel Carriage Works in 1875. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Kunkel formed the Kunkel, Schupp and Helfrick partnership later known as the Central Ohio Buggy Co., in which he actively participated until 1884. At that time Mr. Kunkel formed a new partnership with A. Biebighauser in a former blacksmith shop and two years later left this partnership to re­establish his Kunkel Carriage Works at 221 North Market Street in Galion.

The Kunkel Carriage Works produced a wide variety of custom­ crafted horse-drawn vehicles including surreys, phaetons, broughams, piano-box buggies and spring buggies. For heavier hauling, drays and delivery wagons were built and sold. For recreational use, a wagon with three rows of seats called a Tally-Ho (comparable to be modern minivan) was made. The Tally-Ho was used chiefly as a vehicle for picnics and group outings and featured an enclosure under the high seats where food, picnic supplies and bedding could be stored. The oak or ash chassis and bodies of Kunkel's horse-drawn vehicles were hand-crafted and custom built to suit the needs of the customer. In addition to this wide range of products, Kunkel produced horse-drawn fire apparatus for the Galion Fire Department and custom-made hearses to fill the requirements of area undertakers.

Due to ill health, Isaac Kunkel retired from active partici­pation in the firm in 1890 and died in 1893. Following Isaac's death, the company was reorganized by his sons William, Joseph, Lester and Clyde and continued to serve Galion and Central Ohio with custom-crafted carriages and buggies under the name of Kunkel Brothers, Inc.

As the motor car began to displace the horse and the buggy business began to wane, the Kunkel Brothers concentrated their coachbuilding talents on producing custom-crafted funeral cars and ambulances and expanded their operation to include bodies for motorized, commercially manufactured automobile chassis. These new bodies were constructed in the company's two-story wooden frame factory alongside their range of horse-drawn vehicles which were offered into the early 'teens.

The Kunkel Carriage Works produced what was claimed to have been the first custom-built motor hearse for an Ohio funeral director in 1906.

The bodies Kunkel crafted for motorized chassis supplied by the customer followed the typical pattern of the day. They were constructed entirely of wood with styling that was greatly influenced by their horse-drawn predecessors. The exterior appearance of these vehicles offered a modified version of mosque deck styling coupled with heavily carved, elaborately decorated side panels. Both of these features were directly carried over from horse-drawn vehicles. Interiors were paneled with mahogany or plywood and metal casket rollers were mounted in the floor of the rear compartment. Like many coachbuilders during the early motorized era, Kunkel produced bodies built specifically for mounting on the popular Model "T" Ford chassis. Kunkel's Model 155 was an economical, fully enclosed rather boxy-looking funeral car body which retailed for $600 complete with draperies and large brass carriage lamps. When mounted on a Model "T" chassis, the Kunkel Model 155 sold as a complete unit for $1,725.

In 1912, Kunkel became one of the very first professional vehicle manufacturers to offer vehicles with a fully enclosed driver's compartment. Through the 'teens and into the 1920s, Kunkel offered a complete line of hand-crafted professional vehicle bodies which they offered to mount on any chassis the funeral director desired. In 1916, Kunkel offered its Model 143­ 1/2 Funeral Car Body mounted on any chassis supplied by the customer for $2,475.00. Limousine or sedan-type styling was added to Kunkel's selection of body types in the early 'twenties, and an early type of side-servicing was available on Kunkel funeral cars beginning with the 1924 models. Although small, the firm kept abreast of the industry's innovations and styling changes and continued to offer a complete range of professional vehicle types and styles through the 1926 model year.

The demand for and production of Kunkel funeral cars and ambulances reached its peak during the automotive sales boom that followed the end of the First World War. As funeral directors retired their horse-drawn vehicles for once and for all, demand for new motor vehicles increased. Kunkel sold professional cars of all types and styles throughout Ohio and enjoyed modest demand from adjoining states as well.

The company advertised handsomely carved funeral cars, efficient ambulances and versatile service cars on a national basis through the major funeral trade publications in modest quarter-page ads and, while some vehicles were sold outside Ohio, the company's strength remained generally restricted to the local market. Despite the fact that the company constructed a quality product, Kunkel was never able to create a large national following like some of their more recently established competitors. At this time the professional vehicle industry was crowded with manufacturers, all competing for a share of a market estimated at approximately 3,000 new vehicles a year. Some, like Kunkel, were old and well established firms, while others were newcomers to the industry. As competition became increasingly ferocious there was little room for bantam manufacturers without a wide national sales base which were forced to sell their products at higher prices than their large competitors due to the lower volumes sold and built.

By 1926 the handwriting was on the wall and after 51 years Kunkel abandoned coachbuilding, but not the professional car business. Although they were no longer designing and building their own bodies, Kunkel continued to supply their loyal customers with vehicles as sales agents for, and under, a special arrangement with the A.J. Miller Company of Bellefontaine, Ohio. During 1927 and 1928, Miller-Built Nash and Packard professional cars sold by the Kunkel Brothers were re-badged and delivered wearing Kunkel nameplates. Thus ended Kunkel's association with the professional vehicle industry.

Shortly after abandoning their coachbuilding business and severing their ties with the professional vehicle industry, the Kunkel Brothers became Galion dealers for Maxwell and Grant automobiles. Later they became franchised dealers for Graham, DeSoto and Plymouth cars.

In retrospect, Kunkel was typical of many of the small coachbuilders of their era. With deep roots in the carriage building trade, Kunkel successfully managed the transition from horse-drawn vehicles to the motor car. The company followed established fashion, introduced no revolutionary concepts and blazed no new territory in the industry but became an integral component in the mosaic which comprised the American professional vehicle's pioneering era. Kunkel was also a company that managed to forge a reputation for quality and integrity which enabled them to build a short but fiercely loyal customer list.

Unfortunately, no examples of Kunkel's craftsmanship are known to survive for us to appreciate today.


    For more information please read:

Thomas A. McPherson – The Kunkel Carriage Works 1875-1928 - The Professional Car – Issue #83 First Quarter 1997

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

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

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

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Gunter-Michael Koch - Bestattungswagen im Wandel der Zeit

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Thomas A. McPherson - Eureka: The Eureka Company: a complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Superior: The complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Flxible: The Complete History

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

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

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

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Automobile Manufacturers Worldwide Registry

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

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

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999


© 2004 Coachbuilt.com, Inc. | Index | Disclaimer | Privacy