While much of Brewster & Copmany's history would merge and be overshadowed by its partnership with Rolls-Royce, the company would live on in the memories of peoples' minds mostly because of its most memorable feature—its grille designs.
By no means does the story of Brewster & Company begin with automobiles, but its impeccable quality construction of coachwork would inevitably cause it to take its place in the days of luxurious hand-built coaches that would grace so many of the automobiles around the turn of the 20th century.
James Brewster's family history would extend all the way back to an ancestor aboard the Mayflower. Nearly 170 years later, James Brewster would be born in Preston, Connecticut and would begin the journey of becoming known as the 'first coachmaker with a competency'.
Brewster & Company's history begins all the way back in 1810 when James Brewster opened Brewster Carriage Co. James Brewster actually was an apprentice carriage builder to Colonel Charles Chapman when he was just 16 years old. He had served as a Lieutenant in the Northampton militia and considered a life in the military before deciding on making a living as a coachmaker.
After a time working for John Cook in New Haven, Connecticut, Brewster founded his own company and soon would become known for his quality and good treatment of his employees.
Brewster produced specialized four-wheeled light carriages that worked well in the larger cities like New Haven. As a result, by the end of the war of 1812, he would produce hundreds of what would become known as 'Brewster Wagons'. Production of these light carriages continued to grow because of their popularity in the cities, and therefore, would soon lead James to open a showroom and warehouse on Broad Street in New York City. In time, James' sons would come on board their father's business, at which time it would become known as Brewster & Co. Demand would make it so that Brewster & Co. wouldn't just be one branch. The company would be in such demand that a number of branches would open throughout the region of New York and Connecticut. And while they would most likely have different names surrounding 'Brewster', it would still have a connection with the carriage-builder establish by James Brewster.
In 1878, Brewster & Co. would go up against the best carriage-builders in Europe and the world taking part in the Paris Exposition with a number of carriage configurations. They would stun everyone by taking the Gold Award, which was the highest honor. Henry Brewster would even be accorded the Legion of Honor by the leader of France. The accolades and honors would continue to come to Brewster & Co. before the end of the 19th century. At the Chicago's World's Fair in 1893, the company won numerous prizes and medals that only added to its reputation for quality and luxurious design.
By the turn of the 20th century, it was obvious the new automobile, or horseless carriage, would be the future for the coachbuilding industry. Recognizing this fact, Brewster & Co. looked to build automotive bodies. The company would start out by making coaches for electrically-powered automobiles, but it soon became apparent the internal-combustion engine would be the way of the future.
As a response, the company would look for only the most desirable automobiles of the time. At the time, Delauney-Belleville was the most desirable of French cars. Thus, Brewster & Co. would become importers for the French mark and began building bodies for them. These automobiles would be built in a new 420,000 sq. ft. facility just over the 59th Street/Queensboro Bridge. The first automobile to be produced by the company would be in 1905.
While the company would start out as an importer for Delaunay-Belleville chassis, the company would build coaches for a myriad of automobile manufacturers like Mercedes and Rolls-Royce. This would set the stage for Brewster & Co. to become a sales agent for Rolls-Royce in 1914. However, with its large facility, and extensive experience, Brewster & Co. would venture into the realm of complete automobile production by 1915.
The venture into total automobile manufacturing wouldn't necessarily be Brewster & Co.'s idea. Brewster & Co. didn't just focus on building coach bodies, they insisted on making complete cars. This meant chassis built for custom-built coaches would be what the company needed in order to continue production. The company had been utilizing Delaunay-Belleville chassis, as well as, Rolls-Royce. However, shipments from Europe would cease with the outbreak of World War I, and especially with the sinking of the Lusitania. This left Brewster & Co. with exquisite coaches, but no chassis upon which to put them. They needed a solution, and the solution would be to make complete cars themselves.
The company had earned vast experience building coaches for chassis and had had the good fortune of building coaches for some of the best chassis of the time period. Therefore, the company would set out to manufacturer all of the parts they didn't normally do. And with their new huge facility, they would certainly have the room to do.
Of course, Brewster had the coach bodies taken care of, the question was the rest of the car. However, the company would soon offer a wide variety of models including the Model 41. And while the company already had an impeccable reputation for its quality-built coach-bodies that were for the affluent of society, they would quickly become known for their own line of cars as well.
Aided by a three-speed manual transmission , solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, a live rear axle and two-wheel mechanical drum brakes, Brewster's line of automobiles, though luxurious and expensive, would become an excellent value, even almost very practical. And practical and luxurious were certainly strange bedfellows at the time. The reason for the inherent value and practicality of the Brewster automobiles came down to its ease of operation and the quality of the workmanship.
One of the examples of Brewster's quality and workmanship would be its model 41. Complete with its sleeved Knight four-cylinder engine, the car offered performance and reliability. As with the rest of the Brewster line of cars, the Model 41 would sport a feature for which Brewster would become most synonymous.
The early Brewster-Knight models would boast of oval-shaped grille designs that blended into an oval-shaped engine compartment. But not all Brewster-Knights models would have the oval nose.
During the early 1920s, the First World War had been over for a few years and Europe was rebuilding. Business, as they say was, 'booming'. Therefore, Rolls-Royce was keen to renew its relationship with Brewster and gain a portion of the market in the United States. To take full advantage of this opportunity Rolls-Royce of America would be formed in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1919, and by 1925, would purchase Brewster & Co. in order to have it as the primary body builder for the company. This would be all fine and good until the market crashed in 1929 and the 'Great Depression' came and gripped the United States and the world. People could not afford, or were not willing to pay for, a Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce in America would disappear and Brewster & Co. would be back.
Under J.S. Inskip, the company would try and make one last go of things with Ford chassis. A completely new body would be designed for the car and four new models would be offered. These models would come with the most intriguing, and yet, radical feature of all—the heart-shaped grille. This wasn't just a plain heart shape. The tip of the heart protruded forward and blended with splashing front fenders. The V-shaped splashing front fender rose dramatically out and over the wheels, a design that would be immediately associated as a Brewster.
Unfortunately, with a price tag in excess of $3,000 and essentially a Ford chassis from nose to tail, the car would not prove to be very popular. And in August of 1937, Brewster & Co would have a public auction to sell its assets. One of the finest and most talented coach makers in the United States and the world would virtually disappear overnight.
Thankfully, much of Brewster & Co.'s coachwork for Rolls-Royce and other companies still survive. But it is something truly wonderful that some of the company's own models still exist and one of their Model 41s would make its way to Arizona in 2012 to be part of the RM Auction.
In 1915, chassis number 41042 would be completed. Brewster-Knight Model 41 Landaulet by Brewster would come with a Knight inline four-cylinder sleeve-valve engine. Charles Yale Knight had designed and built an internal combustion engine that used sleeve valves instead of the more common poppet. The advantage of the sleeve valve design was that it allowed for a more central positioning of the spark plugs into the cylinder heads. The central location made for more even ignition of the fuel/air mixture. Burning of the mixture evenly made the engine much more efficient, but, it also made it more powerful. One other welcome byproduct of the engine was ease of operation as it was quite quiet and needed very little attention. The Knight engine in the Model 41, which measured 276.5 cu. in. produced 40 hp. When combined with the three-speed transmission and the famous luxury of Brewster's coaches it is very easy to imagine the car having been a stunner in its day. Even now, with its landaulet carriage with its fine wood design, it is easy to surmise the quality of Brewster & Co. work and a golden age of American coachbuilding.
This particular model, which is likely to have been produced in 1916, was initially purchased by Richard M. Hoe of 11 East 71st Street in New York City. This gentleman was a banker and was believed to be the son of Richard M. Hoe an inventor of a revolutionary printing-press. From that point onwards the car's history is very vague, virtually unknown.
What is known is that the car was sold in 1999 in New York and was restored prior to its showing at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2004. Part of the James C. Leake collection, the car would be purchased in 2006.
. Just one look at this and any Brewster-made car or coach body and it would be easy to understand Cole Porter's line from You're the Top, 'You're the top! You're a Ritz hot toddy. You're the top! You're a Brewster body.'
With only 13 known Brewsters to exist today this Brewster-Knight Model 41 Landaulet is certainly something very rare. And it is a little piece of proof confirming Brewster's hand in automotive manufacturing. Truly, a special car in design, and, in heritage.
Sources: 'Feature Lots: Lot No. 146: 1915 Brewster-Knight Model 41 Landaulet by Brewster', (http://www.rmauctions.com/featurecars.cfm?SaleCode=AZ12&CarID=r167&fc=0). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/featurecars.cfm?SaleCode=AZ12&CarID=r167&fc=0. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
'Brewster Society: The Heart Shaped Brewster Cars', (http://dons-neatstuff.com/brewster2.htm). Brewster Society. http://dons-neatstuff.com/brewster2.htm. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
'Brewster & Co.', (http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/b/brewster/brewster.htm). Coachbuilt. http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/b/brewster/brewster.htm. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Brewster & Co.', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 October 2011, 10:57 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Brewster_%26_Co.&oldid=456962850 accessed 6 January 2012
Wikipedia contributors, 'Knight Engine', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 December 2011, 08:42 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Knight_Engine&oldid=465607255 accessed 6 January 2012