Builders For The Carriage Trade


“Willie had one last chance,” said Henry Brewster Hobson, his cousin and former chief engineer, recently. “He had the offer before Fisher to build bodies for General Motors on a production basis, but he just couldn’t do it. A body to him was not something that could be stamped out; it had to be felt, shaped and fashioned by human hands and carry some imprint of artistic creativeness with it and not be the predictable and inevitable outcome of an automatic machine. When Willie turned down the G.M. offer we were all secretly pleased that there was no compromising of his integrity.”

The end of the carriage era left Willie a little bitter but proud and unwilling to compromise. In 1925 Rolls Royce bought out the faltering Brewster Company. An engineering firm had been installed about this time to modernize and step up production, and, although he was asked to stay on as nominal head of the company, Willie disagreed with the new methods profoundly. His letter of resignation, written in 1927, is more than a protest. It is a stand for an era and a way of doing things.

“I once discharged four of our best workmen,” he wrote, “simply because they would not say good morning to me on my rounds and seemed to be generally grouchy.… Many years ago I let our chief man in the office go, not because he was incompetent, but because he always expressed such sordid mean views in any discussion that came up that he took the joy out of living … When you come to the customers … in a few instances when we found it impossible to please them, I have requested them to take their trade elsewhere as we never seemed able to have a transaction without annoyance.… Half our conscious time is spent in business, and I always considered that there was no reason why it could not be made a pleasure as well as a livelihood.…

“For the forty-five years that I have been in business, I have never built a thing that I did not think was based on the proper conception of the use to which the carriage or the automobile was to be put, and now that I am sixty-one years old I think I am entitled to keep to my old ideals.”