Crosley Factory Circa 1945
Inspiration…It was a Monday morning and I was off to play golf with a group of my friends. Car talk turned to me mentioning an obscure brand of cars the Crosley and my friend Joe replying with fond memories of he and his brother both iron workers traveling to work in his brothers Crosley and its horrible fate, being crushed by a truck while parked. This conversation led me to doing some research and finding out the story of the two Crosley Brothers.
The story starts… before the French and Indian war when the west was an area colonized by settlers in what are now Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. The Crosley Clan
settled and farmed land first in New Jersey, then on this western frontier. One son split away to leave the life of a farmer and some years later settled near Cincinnati. Powel Crosley Senior was an energetic, industrious man, he became an attorney a theater owner, a successful entrepreneur, he married well, had two young sons and disaster struck. The depression of 1893 has been overshadowed in history by the great Crash some 35 years later. For the Powel Crosley Sr. family, his wife, young sons, investments, and home, it was a calamity. Although Powel Crosley Sr. at that point had become a millionaire on paper; when the banks called in his loans he and his family lost everything. Young Powel Jr. and Lewis were forever fearful of credit and loans because of this their entire lives.
As boys that knew what wealth meant and what the loss of it can cause, they forged a close bond with each other; they learned to share, and team up, for mutual gain. They were inseparable and complemented each other. For a period as they matured to men they took separate paths; that would lead them back to each other. Powel Jr. the elder married and became an entrepreneur with much success and failure; he achieved a level that was just enough to keep the spirit going but by no means create a pot of gold. Lewis,
married, became an engineer, joined the military and honed his skills building army camps and bridges. Both brothers lived near each other Powel Jr, in an upscale area of Cincinnati and eventually Lewis in a more moderate area. When Powel Jr’s Company Americo Automobile Accessories finally hit pay dirt.
It was time to reignite the bond between the two brothers. Not to long after the business reunion greater even more amazing things happened and it wasn’t about auto parts; it was about radio and the forging of the Crosley name as part of the broadcast phenomena.
It was 1919 The beginning of the Crosley Empire and the team of Powel Jr. and Lewis was about to start a three decade avalanche of success after success based on Powell’s product insights and Lewis’s ability to deliver them. It started with; Insyde Tyres, the, Pup, Gem box, Icy ball, WLW, The Go Bi Bi, The Shelvador, The Cincinnati Reds, Crosley Field, Proximity Fuse and dozens more all before the Crosley Car.
War put off the beginning of the Crosley Car that was introduced at the New York 1939 World’s Fair. The Brothers efforts were quickly turned to war production needed for the Allied Forces. By 1945 the War was over things had drastically changed, the brothers were older, a little tired, with no heirs apparent, they decided it was time to divest themselves of much of their Manufacturing empire, except for the car!.
The Story of the car actually started in 1901 when young Powel Jr. wanted to build a Horseless carriage. Powel Jr. accepted his Fathers Bet of $10 dollars if he did it. Powel Jr. lacked the funds he needed to build his own design, an electric-powered affair. Lewis funded his brother quickly solving the problem. Powel Jr. won the bet but without Lewis behind the scenes loan of money it could have never happened, Powel Jr’s next Venture in automobiles was The Marathon 6 this attempt resulted in a few manufactured and failure. In 1945 with almost all of their business interests sold and wealthy, Powel Jr. again spoke to his brother Lewis about moving ahead with the Crosley Car; Lewis as always asked how much are we willing to invest and this time Powel Jr. said make it happen with My Money! This was the first time there was no limit on their investment, also the beginning of Powel Jr’s last attempt to fulfill his automotive lifelong dream. The original Crosley Car when designed was well ahead of its time with its unusual engine design, disc brakes, low price, small size and high mileage. Unfortunately by the time they got started the big three were able to out produce them with more desirable products and other companies jumped into the small car arena. All their attempts’ failed to produce the required sales. In July of 1952 General Tire bought the Crosley Car Company, their interest was the CIBA engine and to assume a tax loss.
That was the end of the Crosley Brothers working together. Both men were very wealthy. Powel Jr. with spirit broken, became bitter, enjoying little of his success; Lewis as always
moved on,enjoying his love for farming and agriculture. Before Powel’s death Lewis while Driving his car saw Powel Jr. walking on a street traveled by both, he stopped to talk, they had little to say; Lewis drove away and Powel Jr. walked away, with his chauffeur following closely behind, they never spoke again.
Shortly after that conversation Powel Jr. passed on Lewis lived on for many years after.
Before I wrote this article I did a bit of research on the Crosley Brothers I also read a wonderful book “Crosley” Two Brothers and a Business Empire That Transformed a Nation by Rusty McClure. It is a wonderful story and worth reading. I have tried to include links in the copy to spark your interest and perhaps further investigation.
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