The Waterhouse Coachbuilding Company was formed by four men with diverse backgrounds but all had a love of automobiles. Amongst the group was a taxicab body manufacturer who had gone bankrupt, a stock broker who had studied at Harvard, an accountant who was unemployed at the time, and a body repair foreman working for Cadillac. The genesis of the Waterhouse Company was one that had a slow and rough start and would stay in existence for only a few years, but during that time the work would become legendary and appreciated for generations.
Roger Clapp and S. Roberts Dunham had been roommates during college. Clapp had a degree from Harvard Business School and was working for a brokerage house in Boston when he and Dunham reconnected. Dunham had been living in California and just returned to Boston. Soon after, they pursued their dream of owning their own business.
Charles Waterhouse got wind of the news that two individuals were opening a coachbuilding business and offered to provide financial backing. Waterhouse and his son L. Osborne Waterhouse were descendants of a vehicle body manufacturer and both wanted to continue their family tradition. They had expertise in the business of coachbuilding as well as some capital to invest, though not enough to start their own business. The decision was made to bid on materials, equipment, and machinery from the recently bankrupt Woonsocket Company. Osborne had worked as a superintendent at the Woonsocket Manufacturing Company prior to it going bankrupt. The company's business involved building bodies for taxicabs and was based in Providence, RI. The bankruptcy had left the newly formed Waterhouse Company, named to pay homage to the Waterhouse family, with an excellent opportunity to get the equipment at a reasonable price. After they won the bid, they began searching for a suitable factory which they found in Webster, MA. By January of 1928, the Waterhouse Company was incorporated and ready to begin building custom bodies.
Charles Waterhouse and Roger Clapp retained their jobs and provided extra financial stability while Bob Dunham and Osborne moved to Webster to get the company off the ground. One of their first employees was Sargent Waterhouse, Charles oldest son. He had built a strong reputation as a skilled craftsman while working Judkins.
George Briggs Weaver was a former tool and jewelry designer. He had studied at the Rhode Island School of design and had worked for his father at the Weaver automobile manufacturing plant before it was ruined by fire. 'Briggs' had a talent for creating designs and drawings and this appealed to the newly formed Waterhouse business. Samples of his work were shown to duPont Motors. After a visit to the factory, duPont Motors ordered five roadsters and five convertible coupe bodies. This would be the start of a relationship between these two companies, resulting in a total of 82 bodies and eight different body styles.
This had not been the first business for the young company. They had been searching all areas for work and anything that would allow them the opportunity to generate some cash flow. They found such an opportunity when they were tasked with building 200 small boats which they completed. This may not have been what they had hoped for, but it did generate some much needed cash.
In 1929 Packard requested a single body to be built for the Paris Saloon. The Waterhouse Company was given seven weeks to finish the job. The design was to be similar to the Alexis de Saknoffsky show car which had been created by Van den Plas a few years prior. A job of this size was estimated to take at least 12 weeks. The young company was eager to prove themselves which they did by completing the Convertible Victoria for Packard on-time and to an exceptionally high level of quality and craftsmanship. Packard was impressed and ordered ten more bodies for their Packard vehicles. After the order was satisfied, they continued to order Waterhouse bodies totaling around 100 examples.
The company's popularity and status within the industry was growing and they were receiving orders from many companies including Marmon, Cadillac, Lincoln, and Chrysler. Various body styles and designs were created, including limousines, coupes, speedsters, phaetons, and town cars to name. All were penned by Briggs Weaver. His talent was recognized by many and soon was offered a position to work for duPont, which he accepted. Even though he left Waterhouse, duPont agreed to allow him to 'moon-light' at his former employment to help insure the success of the company.
The onset of the Great Depression was tough for many businesses, especially the luxury car segment. Waterhouse had built a successful business that included almost 300 custom bodies. By 1933 Waterhouse was no longer producing custom bodies. They had switched their business to the manufacturing of furniture which later merged into a division of Ethan Allen, Inc.By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2006