Maxwell automobile

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Maxwell Motor Company
Automobile Manufacturing
Industry Automotive
Fate Acquired by Walter Chrysler
Successor Chrysler
Founded 1904
Founder Jonathan Dixon Maxwell
& Briscoe Brothers Metalworks
Defunct 1925
Headquarters Tarrytown, New York
Detroit, Michigan

The Maxwell was a brand of automobiles manufactured in the United States of America from about 1904 to 1925. The present-day successor to the Maxwell company is Chrysler Group.[1]


The brand name of these motor cars was started as the Maxwell-Briscoe Company of Tarrytown, New York. The company was named after founders Jonathan Dixon Maxwell, who earlier had worked for Oldsmobile, and the Briscoe Brothers Metalworks. Benjamin Briscoe, an automobile industry pioneer, was president of the company at its height.

Maxwell was the only profitable company of the combine named United States Motor Company formed in 1910. Due to a conflict between two of its backers, the United States Motor Company failed in 1913 after the failure of its last supporting car manufacturer; the Brush Motor Company. Maxwell was the only surviving member of the combine.

In 1907, following a fire that destroyed the Tarrytown, NY factory, Maxwell-Briscoe constructed what was then the largest automobile factory in the world in New Castle, Indiana. The factory continued as a Chrysler plant until its demolition in 2004. In 1913, the Maxwell assets were purchased by Walter Flanders, who reorganized the company as the Maxwell Motor Company, Inc.. The company moved to Detroit, Michigan. Some of the Maxwells were also manufactured at two plants in Dayton, Ohio.[2] For a time, Maxwell was considered one of the three top automobile firms in America (though the phrase the Big Three was not used) along with Buick and Ford. By 1914, Maxwell had sold 60,000 cars.[3]

The company responded to the increasing number of low-priced cars—including the $700 Ford Model N, the US$485 Brush Runabout,[4] the Black at $375,[5] the US$500 Western Gale Model A,[6] the high-volume Oldsmobile Runabout at US$650,[7] and the bargain-basement Success an amazingly low US$250)[7]—by introducing the Model 25, their cheapest four yet.[8] At $695, this five-seat tourer had high-tension magneto ignition,[8] electric horn and (optional) electric starter and headlights, and an innovative shock absorber to protect the radiator.[8]

Maxwell Mascotte Touring 1911

In a short period of time, however, Maxwell over-extended and wound up deeply in debt with over half of their 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. Maxwell Motors was re-incorporated in West Virginia with Walter Chrysler as the chairman. Around the same time that this was happening Maxwell was also in the process of merging, awkwardly at best, with the ailing Chalmers Automobile Company.[9] Chalmers ceased production in late 1923.[9]

In 1925, Chrysler formed his own company, the Chrysler Corporation. That same year, the Maxwell line was phased out and the Maxwell company assets were absorbed by Chrysler. The Maxwell car would continue to live on in another form however, because the new 4-cylinder Chrysler which was introduced for the 1926 model year was created largely from the design of the previous year's Maxwell.[10] And this former Maxwell would undergo yet another transformation in 1928, when a second reworking and renaming would bring about the creation of the first Plymouth.[11]

In media[edit]

Comedian Jack Benny (shown here shaking hands with Harry S. Truman from the seat of a c. 1908 Maxwell Roadster) kept the Maxwell familiar in U.S. popular culture for half a century after the brand went out of business.

In 1920 the Maxwell Company hired actress and producer Nell Shipman to create a short promotional film featuring the Maxwell. She was able to use the money budgeted for the film to make a multi-reel feature entitled Something New.[12] Maxwell dealers then presented this motion picture at various venues to promote the car. The Maxwell's abilities were prominently featured in this melodramatic film, which had Nell Shipman and Bert Van Tuyle escaping a band of Mexican bandits by racing the sturdy little car across the Mexican badlands where they overcame obstacles such as boulders, steep hills, rivers, gulches, and all other sorts of rough terrain. The Maxwell Company assisted in the film's production by deploying a mechanic to the filming location. The mechanic's job included repeatedly replacing the car's transmission, which kept getting torn up by the harsh desert landscape.[13]

A decrepit old Maxwell was famous as the car Jack Benny drove decades after it had stopped being manufactured. The running joke was that Benny was too stingy to buy a newer car as long as his old one still ran, however poorly. The sounds used for it used to be pre-recorded, but when a technical fault prevented the recording from playing, voice actor Mel Blanc himself improvised the sounds of the sputtering car starting up. His performance was received well enough for him to continue the role permanently.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Darke, Paul. "Chrysler: The Baby of the Big Three", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Vol. 4, p.366.
  2. ^ Williams' Dayton Directory (Cincinnati: Williams Directory Co., 1913), 876.
  3. ^ Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.148.
  4. ^ Clymer, p.104.
  5. ^ Clymer, p.61.
  6. ^ Clymer, p.51.
  7. ^ a b Clymer, p.32.
  8. ^ a b c Clymer, p.148.
  9. ^ a b Kimes, Beverly Rae; Clark, Jr., Henry A. Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942 (second edition). Krause publications. p. 257. ISBN 0-87341-111-0. 
  10. ^ Kimes, p. 901
  11. ^ Kimes, p. 1156
  12. ^ Armatage, Kay (2003). The Girl from God's Country: Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema. University of Toronto Press Incorporated. p. 137. ISBN 0-8020-8542-3. Retrieved 2016-01-31. 
  13. ^ Shipman, Nell; Trusky, Tom (1987). The Silent Screen & My Talking Heart: An Autobiography. Boise State University. pp. 87–88. ISBN 0-9321-2904-8. Retrieved 2016-01-31. 


  • Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925. New York: Bonanza Books, 1950.
  • Darke, Paul. "Chrysler: The Baby of the Big Three", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles, Vol. 4, pp. 364–9. London: Orbis, 1974.
  • Kimes, Beverly Rae, and Clark, Henry Austin, Jr. Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942 (second edition). Krause Publications, Inc. 1989. ISBN 0-87341-111-0.
  • Yanik, Anthony J. Maxwell Motor and the Making of the Chrysler Corporation. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009. ISBN 9780814334232.

External links[edit]