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“They Will Run: The Golden Age of the Automobile in St. Louis,” by Molly Butterworth and Tom Eyssell, Reedy Press, St. Louis, 2019. This 192-page coffee-table sized hardback tells the story of the auto industry in St. Louis–with many photos often from the Missouri Historical Society collection. At one time St. Louis was second to Detroit in the number of auto manufacturers. Many carriage and wagon makers made autos in the early days.

The book begins with a brief introduction to the history of St. Louis. The Lewis and Clark expedition and the construction of Eads Bridge is described. We learn that the safety bicycle became available in 1882. Bicycle riders via the League of American Wheelmen were the origin of the Good Roads Movement. St. Louis, with over 45 miles of granite covered roads, was recognized by the League as the city with the best roads in 1894. The National Good Roads Organization was created in St. Louis in 1891. Their national convention was held in St. Louis just before the 1904 World’s Fair. The Automobile Club of St. Louis formed in 1902 became the Automobile Association of Missouri in 1921, and was an early participant in the American Automobile Association.

After the Benz auto was patented in 1886, the book lists dozens of St. Louis companies that undertook production of automobiles beginning in 1893. There may have been over 100. The two best known were Dorris Motor Car and Moon Motors. George Preston Dorris entered the trade making auto parts. In 1899 he joined with a partner to form the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company. After the death of partner, John French, in 1903, his family moved the company to Peoria, IL, leaving Dorris behind. The Dorris company was founded in 1906 and expanded rapidly. After a decade of success, competition from low cost autos made on an assembly line impacted sales. Stockholders voted to dissolve the company in 1923, finally accomplished in 1926. Dorris had produced 3044 cars and 909 trucks.

Moon began as Moon Brothers Buggy Company in St. Louis in 1882. In 1892 one brother created the Joseph W. Moon Buggy Company and produced the Hercules, its first car in 1905. It was a luxury vehicle selling for $3000. Moon Motor Car Company was formed in 1906 after the production of 45 cars. The company was innovative and prospered. The founder died in 1919. His son-in-law took over the company and continued to innovate, but sales plummeted in 1929. Efforts to save the company failed. The company closed its doors in 1930.

The authors include numerous tidbits. The first gas station was built in St. Louis in 1905. It was at 420 S. Theresa and was by a subsidiary of Shell Oil. Customers carried a 5 gal gas can to a pump behind the store. William Carter built a factory for Carter Carburetor at 2840 N. Spring Ave in 1915. The company was sold to American Car and Foundry Co in 1924. It continued to operate until 1985. Ford built its assembly plant at 4100 Forest Park Ave in 1914. It was doubled in size in 1916. In 1923, the plant built 79,594 Ford Model Ts and 8,281 Ford tractors. The plant shut down during the Great Depression from 1933-35, then produced the Model A from 1935 to 1942, when the US Navy took over the building for the war. Ford moved to acreage in Hazelwood.

Chevrolet came to St. Louis via a contract with Banner Buggy Company to build bodies for Chevrolet. He sold the business to General Motors in 1918. GM built the new Chevy plant at 3809 Union Blvd. Production of light trucks began there in 1920.

General Manufacturing of St. Louis produced Monarch fire trucks in St. Louis from 1926 to 1936. They then moved to Detroit.

Several automobile rows formed in St. Louis. After the arrival of streetcars made Midtown St. Louis attractive for shopping and entertainment, an auto row formed on Delmar Blvd three miles west of Grand Blvd. Over 49 auto dealers, shops and stores located there by 1921. Another was on Locust from 18th west to Grand Blvd. A third formed on South Kingshighway, where 32 dealerships located between World War I and 1945.

During World War II, the Chevy plant made the famous deuce and a half, 2-1/2 ton truck. Chevy also made dump trucks and amphibious ducks. St. Louis Car Company built gliders, the flying boat, and LTV landing vehicles.

The Chevy plant took pride in the production of the Corvette from 1953 to 1981. The Corvette story is described in detail including production photos.

A chapter describes the big three auto plants in St. Louis. The Chevy plant closed in 1987. Ford began manufacturing in Hazelwood in 1948. Initially it made Mercury coupes and sedans. In 1995, production of SUVs, the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer, began. The plant closed in 2006. Chrysler opened its plant in Fenton in 1959. It built a variety of Plymouth and Dodge products. In 1991 it began production of minivans. A second “North” plant opened in 1966. It built Dodge Ram vans and wagons. It switched to Ram trucks in 1980. The plant closed in 2009.

A final chapter describes collectors of antique autos.

This book is loaded with excellent photos and much information. It’s a great read for the auto historian or those who enjoy St. Louis history. Photos. Index.
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