City’s link to auto parts dates back nearly a century
In recent years the city of Bellevue has been at the forefront of automobile technology with several local companies contributing to the industry — Tower Automotive for their vehicle frames; A. Schulman for their automotive plastic compounds; Autoplas and Precision Automotive for their tail light assemblies and other vehicle parts; and even MagReTech for their recycling of auto parts.
The current involvement in the auto industry is not new to the community. Nearly 100 years ago, the Bellevue Manufacturing Company was in the forefront of manufacturing automobile accessories.
It all began in April 1907, when Bellevue’s second largest manufacturing concern began operation as the Conway Steel Range Co. founded by John Conway. At that time the automobile was popularly known as the “horseless carriage.” It was cranked from the side to start the engine, usually had a large buggy whip socket and collected a crowd wherever one was parked. At that time no one ever thought a stove factory would even remotely have anything to do with the new fangled contraption that caused runaways and the popular slang expression, “git a horse.”
The company experienced financial difficulties during its first four years and was taken over by local capitalists. They hired John F. Martin, then serving as the Y.M.C.A. secretary. Martin, along with Frank Knapp, purchased the controlling interest and the Conway Steel Range became the Bellevue Manufacturing Company in 1913.
Martin attended an automobile show in Chicago in 1915. The result of Martin’s trip to that city led the company into manufacturing automobile accessories as their main staple. They had contracts with Lincoln-Zephyr, Studebaker, Willys-Overland, Chrysler, Packard, Hudson, Reo General Motors, and many other companies. In the mid-1930s, they began production of oil filters, a product that is still in production by the company.
It may be no surprise that this local company’s auto parts were being manufactured for designs created by a favorite son, Amos Earle Northup.
Northup was born in Bellevue February 1889 to Hiram R. and Louise Bannister Northup.
After graduating from Bellevue High School with the Class of 1908, Northup attended Cleveland Polytechnic Institute. He went to work as a furniture and interior designer, which really was a practice not far removed from creating luxury automobiles.
In 1918, he joined Pierce Arrow as the company’s truck designer. His talents were observed and he was promoted to designing colors and interior trim for automobiles. His newly found success led him to open a private studio in Buffalo, N.Y., but still did design work for Pierce Arrow.
He also did design work for Leon Rubay and Wills Sainte Claire. Rubay was a prominent auto body manufacturer who had a profound effect on the white vehicles creating superior styling for the white passenger cars. Wills was an auto brand by C.H. Wills Co. Wills was a perfectionist and focused on very high quality cars.
Northup’s flair in his design work began to be under the watchful eye of manufacturers and auto designers. In 1927, he was hired as chief designer by the Murray Corp. of America, Detroit’s second largest independent auto body manufacturer and had a hand in designing the 1928 Hupmobile.
In 1928, he joined Willys-Overland in Toledo. He designed the 1930 Willys “Plaidside Roadster” and restyled the Willys low-priced 1930 Whippet line.
In 1929, he returned to Murray where he designed the 1930 Hudson, several Hupmobiles, 1933 Willys, and the entire Willys-Overland line through 1938.
(To be continued)
Bellevue Historian Bill Oddo writes a weekly column for The Bellevue Gazette.