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October 2012 Baselines: Budd Wheel

Full Metal Jacket

Text By Bill Senefsky

Budd Wheel: A Steel-Stamping Innovator who Helped Form An Industry
In 1978, in the midst of a severe downturn in the automotive industry, another long-term innovator, builder, and supplier in the field, The Budd Company, disappeared from the American scene. Family owned and operated for more than half a century, this widely known firm was quietly merged into another global concern. Its many design and manufacturing innovations in the automotive, truck, diesel, and railroad fields deserve more than a passing glance in the North American industrial and automotive historical landscape.

Stamped In Steel
Henry George Budd, the Justice of the Peace in Smyrna, Delaware, was called home on a cold night in December 1870 for the birth of his son Edward Gowan Budd. Being reared during the Industrial Revolution, young Edward began an immediate interest in all things mechanical.

When he graduated from high school, Edward began an apprenticeship with the G. W. and S. Taylor Iron Works as a line machinist. He broadened his training by moving to Sellers Machine and Foundry in Philadelphia in 1890. The Bennett-Pond Toll Company was his next employer, because it offered him another skill to learn, that of machine tool and hydraulic press design. Like many tech-savvy Pennsylvanians in his day, Edward attended Franklin Institute, and then the University of Pennsylvania to study drafting and engineering.

During this period, Edward became friends with Thomas Corscaden of the American Pulley Company. This venture produced stamped-steel products, which were replacing earlier cast-iron versions, saving both production time and product weight. Edward was hired as the American Pulley Company’s chief draftsman in 1898.

Hale & Kilburn was a furniture-manufacturing firm that built a novel walkover coach seat for trains utilized in railways, subways, and trolley cars. This device incorporated a movable pedestal, which allowed the seats to be turned in the direction the train was traveling, so passengers could always face forward. During this period, most of the metal components in these walkover seats were manufactured from traditional cast-iron.

Edward’s stamped-steel engineering experience led Hale & Kilburn to join forces with American Pulley Company to produce steel parts. Edward’s combination of stamped-steel parts expertise and knowledge of the latest in oxy-acetylene welding advanced him to works manager and doubled his salary.

Automotive Interests
Edward began experimenting with a new process dubbed shallow-draw sheetmetal stamping. This concept was developed in conjunction with another supplier, the King and Paige Company. King and Paige’s claim to fame was the design and fabrication of composite metal bodies. Remember, during this period, bodies were produced with more wood and fabric components than metal pieces, and Edward only processed stamped-steel panels in very small production runs initially.

Hupp Motor Car Company, an industry leader, approached Edward to work together on a true all-steel body in 1909. Though experiments had improved the production and uniformity of the larger panels, the total number of panels needed for a completely welded structural unit remained time consuming and cost prohibitive. In short, none of the current manufacturers were interested in true metal body construction.

Edward utilized his specialized background, and with the help of Hupp engineers, produced a cost-effective all-steel vehicle body. The first phase in moving the concept along was to design a system in which the body components were welded together by hand along with a unique system of supports, which allowed the product to be transported to Detroit where they were assembled, welded, painted, and trimmed on the assembly line. The 1912 Huppmobile Model 32 was thus considered to be the first automobile produced in the Motor City featuring all-steel body construction. It should be noted that Marmon and Pierce-Arrow had utilized riveted-aluminum construction for their vehicle bodies before this, but they were, after all, the high-end players and did not utilize welding techniques.

As the company’s profitable automotive contracts continued, the firm J.P. Morgan Company purchased the Hale & Kilburn concern in its entirety for $9 million. The purchaser decided, as was its option, to utilize outside leadership, which had no clue as to the company’s unique position. Edward Budd managed to hang on for a very brief period but left in early 1912.

Budd Manufacturing Company Was Born
On July 22, 1912, Edward formed his own concern utilizing $75,000 from personal savings, along with an additional $25,000 from family friends. The larger amount came from his earlier profit sharing. The first product emerging from the new concern was an all-steel truck cab produced for a coal mine in Philadelphia. Initial profits paid for a metal stamping press, so the small concern began the long process of designing, engineering, and producing the various sized dies and jigs needed for new products along with the welding improvements needed. Arc welding was the favored method of manufacturing at Budd, and the company developed proprietary processes after years of experimentation.

Charles Nash, president of General Motors, approached the company with an order for a metal body for Buick. GM’s Oakland division followed suit with an order for 2,000 metal touring bodies. By 1913, Budd was making truck bodies for Peerless, fenders for Cadillac, and steel body parts for Packard, Franklin, Jeffery, and Willys-Overland.

Other trim panels and parts went to the Pullman and Cincinnati Car Company for railroad coaches. A year later, Budd received its first order from the Dodge Brothers for 5,000 touring bodies. The Dodge brothers were so pleased with Budd workmanship and cost savings that it placed another order for 50,000 units the following year. Other orders then followed from Ford, REO, and Buick. To protect this immense success, Budd filed for a number of patents in 1914 to cover its assets on all-steel-body construction.

By Bill Senefsky
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