Old rusty Maxwell car in for restoration

Maxwell – the history of the American automotive company

At Tim Walker Restorations, we are fortunate to work on a wide variety of vehicles, from the very earliest invention of the car through to the most stylish modern classics. In our time, however, we have never come across a Maxwell… until now! We thought we ought to share the history of the Maxwell motor company as well as some photos of the Maxwell that we have been entrusted with. Maxwell was a forward-thinking company that were well ahead of their time, especially with their appreciation of women!

History of the Maxwell motor company

Maxwell was an American motor company, that first began manufacturing in 1904 and ceased in 1925. They began under the name of  ‘Maxwell-Briscoe company’ of North Tarrytown, New York, named after founder Jonathan Dixon Maxwell and his business partner, Benjamin Briscoe. J.D.Maxwell had previously worked for the Oldsmobile marque, and Briscoe was part owner of the Briscoe Brothers Metalworks.

Maxwell was an American motor company, that first began manufacturing in 1904 and ceased in 1925. They began under the name of  ‘Maxwell-Briscoe company’ of North Tarrytown, New York, named after founder Jonathan Dixon Maxwell and his business partner, Benjamin Briscoe. J D Maxwell had previously worked for the Oldsmobile marque, and Briscoe was part owner of the Briscoe Brothers Metalworks.

Following a disastrous fire that destroyed the New York factory in 1907, Maxwell-Briscoe opened a new factory in Indiana. Both Maxwell and Briscoe shared a similar approach as well know Henry Ford, trying to own the entire process of vehicle manufacturing. The newspapers reported that the factory “will operate as a whole, like an integral machine, the raw material going in at one end of the plant and the finished cars out the other end.” 

For a time, Maxwell was considered one of the three top automobile firms in America, along with General Motors and Ford. In 1913, the Maxwell assets were overseen by Walter Flanders, who reorganized the company as the Maxwell MotorCompany, Inc. The company moved to Highland Park, Michigan. By 1914, Maxwell had sold over 60,000 cars!

Maxwell eventually over-extended and wound up deeply in debt, with over half of its production unsold in the post-World War I recession in 1920. The following year, Walter P Chrysler arranged to take a controlling interest in Maxwell Motors, subsequently re-incorporating it in West Virginia with himself as the chairman. One of his first tasks was to correct the faults in the Maxwell, whose quality had faltered. This improved version of the car was marketed as the “good Maxwell.”

Driving towards equality

Maxwell was one of the first car companies to market specifically to women. In 1909, it generated a great deal of publicity when it sponsored Alice Huyler Ramsey, an early advocate of women drivers, as the first woman to drive coast-to-coast across the United States. By 1914, the company had strongly aligned itself with the women’s rights movement. That year, it announced its plan to hire as many female sales personnel as male. At that time, it offered a promotional reception at its Manhattan dealership which featured several prominent suffragettes such as Crystal Eastman, while in a showroom window a woman assembled and disassembled a Maxwell engine in front of onlookers.

During the early years of Maxwell Motors, women were an essential part of the company and helped to move it forward. During World War I, the Maxwell Motor Car Company offered many new positions for women in the work place. From factory workers to clerical assistants, and sales women to handling machinery, women were beginning to make their mark on automotive history.

Approximately 1,600,000 women joined the workforce between 1914-1918 making this a historical mark in women’s history

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